Salisbury Attack: National Security Council to meet after Russia expels 23 British diplomats

The Foreign Office said the retaliatory action does not change the fact that an attempted assassination took place on British soil

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Saturday 17 March 2018 11:49
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Sergei Skripal poisoning: Russia expels 23 British diplomats in retaliation to UK

Britain’s National Security Council will meet next week to discuss Vladimir Putin’s decision to expel 23 UK diplomats from Russia.

The Foreign Office said Britain had anticipated the action after Theresa May announced she would expel Moscow’s diplomats on Wednesday, in response to the attack in Salisbury involving a Russian-made nerve agent.

A statement from the Foreign Office said that in the first instance the UK would focus on looking after returning diplomats, but that the Kremlin’s response did not change the fact that an assassination had been attempted on UK soil for which Russia was “culpable”.

After three days of threats that Russia’s response was coming, Moscow announced on Saturday that it would expel 23 diplomats, close the British Consulate General in St Petersburg and close the British Council in Moscow.

The Foreign Office said: “In light of Russia’s previous behaviour, we anticipated a response of this kind and the National Security Council will meet early next week to consider next steps.

“Our priority today is looking after our staff in Russia and assisting those that will return to the UK.

“Russia’s response doesn’t change the facts of the matter – the attempted assassination of two people on British soil, for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable. It is Russia that is in flagrant breach of international law and the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

Boris Johnson says it is 'overwhelmingly clear' nerve agent attack was directed by the Russians

The statement went on to underline that the UK had no “disagreement with the people of Russia” and still wanted some dialogue, but added “the onus remains on the Russian state to account for their actions and to comply with their international obligations”.

Ms May also froze assets and called for stronger security powers to detain people at borders suspected of “hostile activity” in the UK, when she announced expulsions earlier this week.

But insiders indicated that the Government has held back some measures, in order to take further action if Russia responded in kind as its government had promised.

Ex-spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter and a British policeman are still in serious conditions in hospital following the 4 March attack which saw a military-grade Novichok nerve agent released in the Salisbury.

After Ms May made her announcement she received strong backing from France, Germany, the US, Australia, Canada, the EU and Nato, while the issue is also expected to be discussed at the European Summit next week.

The Kremlin’s move to expel British diplomats was announced by the Russian Foreign Ministry this morning, in a statement which accused the UK of “provocative actions” and “groundless accusations” against Moscow over the attack.

The Ministry said in a statement: “The British side is warned that in case of further unfriendly actions against Russia, the Russian side reserves the right to take further retaliatory measures.”

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