- Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has chaired a meeting of his security council in Moscow to discuss how to retaliate against the UK’s decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats from London. Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, said Russia would act soon. (See 12.02pm.) According to the Russian news agency Tass, Putin will personally chose the retaliatory measures Moscow takes against the UK. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said:
A final decision [on retaliatory measures] will, of course, be made by the Russian president. There is no doubt that he will choose the variant that best of all corresponds to the interests of the Russian Federation.
Peskov also said that Russia is “perplexed and does not comprehend the British leadership’s stance” and insisted the “accusations are unsubstantiated”.
- Jeremy Corbyn has said the “evidence points to Russia”, but declined to say that he believes the Russian state was directly responsible for the nerve agent attack in Salisbury. (See 2.52pm.) His words put him at odds with some members of his shadow cabinet who have said they think the Russian government ordered the attack. (See 10.52am.)
- Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, has confirmed the government is not calling for a World Cup boycott following the Salisbury attack. (See 8.50am.)
- The BMJ, a respected medical journal, is calling for an investigation into why death rates are apparently increasing. In an editorial it says:
Within the first seven weeks of 2018, some 93 990 people died in England and Wales. Over the same weeks in the previous five years, an average of 83 615 people died. This rise of 12.4%, or 10 375 additional deaths, was not due to the ageing of the population. Ageing is a slow process and leads to slow, not sudden, rises in mortality. An additional person died every seven minutes during the first 49 days of 2018 compared with what had been usual in the previous five years. Why?
The weather was unusually mild during the initial weeks of this year—very cold weather did not arrive until late February. The mean temperature was 4.1°C across the UK in January 2018, almost half a degree above the average for this time of year.
Nevertheless, the first seven weeks of 2018 were unusual in terms of the operation of the NHS. On 2 January, after “an unprecedented step by NHS officials,” thousands of non-urgent operations were cancelled, a clear sign of a system struggling to cope. Many hospitals were already at or beyond their safe working levels, “with high numbers of frail patients stuck on wards for want of social care,”and a rise in influenza cases had begun.
The proportion of deaths in the first seven weeks of 2018 caused by respiratory disease was 18.7%. This includes all deaths for which influenza or pneumonia was identified as the underlying cause and compares with 18.3% for the same period in 2017, 15.8% in 2016, 19.5% in 2015, 14.9% in 2014, and 17.9% in 2013. In short, mortality due to the large group of causes that include influenza was not unusually high. Whatever the key reasons are, they do not include an unusual influenza epidemic.
That’s all from me for today.
Thanks for the comments.
The US senate’s intelligence committee has joined those saying Russia was to blame for the nerve agent attack in Salisbury. Its chairman, the Republican senator Richard Burr, and Mark Warner, the vice chairman and most senior Democrat on the committee, put out this joint statement.
We stand with our British allies and the rest of the civilised world in denouncing the brazen and brutal chemical attack carried out against the United Kingdom. It has become clear that Russia is behind this effort to kill innocent civilians with a banned nerve agent. This reckless and hostile act violates every international and diplomatic norm. The Kremlin may deny it and spread misinformation through its propaganda machine, but we know the truth. We must come together as a global community and stand against Russia and the malicious actions of the Putin regime.
The Russian foreign ministry has published on its website an English language account of what was said at its press briefing today. Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman, accused the UK of using the UN to stir up “anti-Russia hysteria”, said Russia would announce retaliatory measures soon, complained that the UK was refusing to provide factual information about the nerve agent used in the attack and said Russia was seeking access to Yulia Skripal, who is a Russian citizen.
The government has defended asking businesses to sign secrecy agreements in private discussions about the UK’s future border arrangements with the EU, which reportedly include laying out scenarios for a no-deal Brexit, my colleague Jessica Elgot reports.
During her visit to Salisbury Theresa May welcomed the fact France, Germany and the US have joined the UK in signing a joint statement (see 1.08pm) saying there was “no plausible alternative explanation” other than Russia being responsible for the nerve agent attack. She said:
What is important in the international arena, and we have taken this into Nato, into the United Nations, we’ll take it through into the European Union, is that allies are standing alongside us and saying this is part of a pattern of activity that we have seen from Russia in their interference, their disruption that they have perpetrated across a number of countries in Europe. This happened in the UK but it could have happened anywhere and we take a united stance against it.
Asked if she could guarantee the public were safe, she said:
Well, Public Health England have been giving public health advice to people here in Salisbury, as has the chief medical officer and their advice is clearly that the risk to public health is low.
She also stressed that Salisbury was “open for business”.
What I’ve heard from the people here in Salisbury today, what I’ve heard from businesses here in Salisbury today, is that they do want to see support, which they will be given both by the council but also by the government, to ensure that the city can recover, that we see tourists coming back to this city in the numbers we’ve seen previously.
Salisbury is open for business, it’s business as usual here. It’s a great city, it’s a wonderful place to come visit – historic, beautiful, Salisbury is open.
Theresa May meeting members of the public in Salisbury after visiting the scene where former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found after they were poisoned with a nerve agent. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters
President Trump told reporters at the White House today that it “looks like” Russia was behind the Salisbury attack. He said:
It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it, something that should never ever happen. We are taking it very seriously as, I think, are many others.
President Trump in the Oval Office of the White House today with the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
The US has accused Russia of a cyber-assault on its energy grid, and has stepped up sanctions on Russian intelligence for its inference in the 2016 elections, my colleague Julian Borger reports.
Jeremy Corbyn has sought to dismiss claims that he did not condemn the Salisbury nerve agent attack properly in the Commons yesterday. In a broadcast clip shown on Sky News, he said that he was “extremely definite” in what he said. He seemed to be trying to quash claims that he is at odds with his party on this issue, although in fact his interview confirmed that this is the case.
Commenting on what he said yesterday, Corbyn told the interviewer.
I was extremely definite yesterday that I totally condemned this attack, the perpetrators must be brought to justice, the international chemical weapons convention must be invoked and the source of this weapon, which appears to be Russia – either from the state or rogue elements of the state – must be brought to justice as a result.
But it was then put to him that his view was not the same as his shadow defence secretary, Nia Griffith’s. Griffith said this morning: “Russia is responsible for this attack.” (See 10.35am.) Asked if that was what he was saying, Corbyn replied slightly tetchily:
The evidence points towards Russia. Therefore responsibility must be borne by those that made the weapon, those that brought the weapon into the country and those that used the weapon. What I was asking was questions, questions about the identity of the weapon, questions about the reference to the weapons convention and also the support of other allies in this. Those were the questions I was asking. That’s what oppositions are there for.
On Monday Theresa May floated the idea that the Russian nerve agent used could have come from a supply stolen from the government – and, hence, some rogue element might have been responsible – but yesterday May said that that theory had been discounted because of Russia’s response. So Russia must have ordered the attack, she told MPs. Griffith and some other members of the shadow cabinet also accept this conclusion. (See 10.35am.)
When Corbyn says the “evidence points towards Russia”, he is making a general point about culpability – because even if it did not order the attack, it was at fault for letting someone get hold of the nerve agent. But Corbyn is not saying he accepts that Russia directed the attack.
Jeremy Corbyn Photograph: Sky News
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has just tweeted a picture of the security council meeting he chaired today to discuss the Salisbury attack and its repercussions.
President of Russia(@KremlinRussia_E)
Meeting with permanent members of the Security Council: Russia-UK relations against the backdrop of Sergei Skripal’s case https://t.co/yALX9d7P2O pic.twitter.com/3FyfGtpRph
March 15, 2018
Here is the clip of Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, saying earlier that Russia should “go away and shut up”. (See 12.55pm.)
Gavin Williamson tells Russia to ‘go away and shut up’ – video
Williamson used to be chief whip. “Go away and shut up” might be the sort of language appropriate for dealing with a truculent backbencher, but opposition MPs (and a lot of other people, judging by Twitter) think that is is not the way to conduct public diplomacy with an autocrat armed with nuclear missiles.
Here are some comments from MPs.
From Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary
Russia should go away, it should shut up? Is this really our UK Defence Secretary reaction to the rapidly deteriorating international relations with a global superpower? l thought it was a spoof comedy sketch at first. Sort of response Capt Mainwaring from Dads army would give 😳 https://t.co/wDbv3HHdPX
March 15, 2018
As the diplomatic situation with Russia deteriorates we needed an appropriate response, up steps Gavin our intrepid Tory defence secretary who tells the Russians to “just go away and shut up” I am sure that will have Putin and the Kremlin shaking with fear in their winter boots
March 15, 2018
From Labour’s Chuka Umunna
Not the detailed, thoughtful response one expects of a Defence Secretary. Tone and content wrong when people want to be assured he has a grip. https://t.co/vbt7bHM0Eu
March 15, 2018
From the former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron
Hmmm. At times like this it’s not *that* reassuring that our defence secretary makes Donald Trump look like Henry Kissinger by comparison… https://t.co/G2HJRDuQHE
March 15, 2018
Rayner isn’t the first politician to compare Williamson to a character from Dad’s Army, but she has upgraded him to Captain Mainwaring. According to a Mail on Sunday story from last December, some of his Tory critics have compared him to Private Pike.
Earlier I said the UK, Germany and France had issued a joint statement saying they accepted Russia was responsible for the Salisbury attack. I’ve updated the post now (see 1.08pm) to include America, which also backed the statement. It was left out earlier by mistake. Sorry for that.
Steve Rosenberg, the BBC’s Moscow correspondent, has posted a clip of RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan (RT was formerly Russia Today) saying that, if RT is banned from the UK, British journalists would be expelled from Russia.
RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan tells me I’m a “very nice man, a gentleman.” Then warns that British media will be expelled from Russia if RT is censured in the UK. At least she was smiling. Camera: @mattgodtv Producer: @LizaShuvalova pic.twitter.com/64YHneNEok
March 15, 2018
According to Reuters and the Associated Press, the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said today that Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, could have been poisoned by enemies of Russia hoping to spoil the World Cup tournament.
Lavrov also claimed the UK government was using the “provocation with Skripal” to distract attention from how badly the Brexit talks were going.
According to the Associated Press, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting of his security council to discuss tensions with Britain over the Salisbury poisoning. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russian news agencies, that the participants in the meeting “expressed a great concern about the destructive and provocative position taken by the British side.” The meeting involved top Russian Cabinet members, parliamentary leaders and intelligence chiefs.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (centre) and Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (left) during a meeting of the Russian security council in the Kremlin. Photograph: Mikhail Klimentyev/TASS
Theresa May talks with Wiltshire Police’s chief constable Kier Pritchard as she is shown the police tent covering the bench in Salisbury where Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were discovered on March 4 Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images
Theresa May, the German chancellor Angela Merkel, the French president Emmanuel Macron and the American president Donald Trump have issued a joint statement condemning Russia for its role in the Salisbury attack.
From the UK’s point of view, it does not go beyond what May said in her statement to MPs yesterday. But Downing Street will be pleased that France (compared with what a government spokesman was saying yesterday) and Germany (compared with what the foreign minister said yesterday) have both firmed up their anti-Russia stance. They are now saying there is “no plausible alternative explanation” other than Russia being responsible for the attack.
On Monday the White House refused to say that Russia was to blame for the attack, but on Tuesday President Trump revised his stance and said he thought Russia was responsible.
Here is the statement in full.
We, the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, abhor the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, UK, on 4 March 2018. A British police officer who was also exposed in the attack remains seriously ill, and the lives of many innocent British citizens have been threatened. We express our sympathies to them all, and our admiration for the UK police and emergency services for their courageous response.
This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the second world war. It is an assault on UK sovereignty and any such use by a state party is a clear violation of the chemical weapons convention and a breach of international law. It threatens the security of us all.
The United Kingdom briefed thoroughly its allies that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack. We share the UK assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia’s failure to address the legitimate request by the UK government further underlines its responsibility. We call on Russia to address all questions related to the attack in Salisbury. Russia should in particular provide full and complete disclosure of the Novichok programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Our concerns are also heightened against the background of a pattern of earlier irresponsible Russian behaviour. We call on Russia to live up to its responsibilities as a member of the UN security council to uphold international peace and security.
French President Emmanuel Macron (left), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (centre) and Theresa May at an EU summit last year.
Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
UPDATE: I’ve corrected the post above to include President Trump, who also put his name to the statement. I left his name out originally by mistake.
Here are the main points from Gavin Williamson’s Q&A earlier. He was speaking after giving a speech in Bristol. Here are the key points.
- Williamson, the defence secretary, said he would like Russia to “go away and shut up”. He was speaking in response to a question about what the UK would do if Russia retaliates for the measures announced yesterday, including the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from London. He said:
What we will do is look at how Russia responds to what we have done. This is absolutely atrocious and outrageous what Russia did in Salisbury. We have responded to that. Frankly, Russia should go away and shut up. But if they do respond to the action we have taken, we will consider it carefully and we will look at our options. But it would be wrong to pre-judge their response.
Deborah Haynes, the Times’s defence editor, doesn’t seem impressed by his turn of phrase.
Just seen this reminder of the snappy quotes we used to get from @PhilipHammondUK when he was defsec. Quite a contrast to: “Russia should go away and shut up” from current @DefenceHQ incumbent @GavinWilliamson pic.twitter.com/8EY7RUiv3I
March 15, 2018
And the FT’s Jim Pickard is making a similar point.
Gavin Williamson, 2018 versus Lord Palmerston, 1850: pic.twitter.com/cxqPtoJSJD
March 15, 2018
- Williamson said that the government should not rush into taking action against Russia. Asked about possible further measures, he said they should be “thoughtful” and “calibrated”. He went on:
I don’t think what we should be doing is rushing to do too much too rapidly. We’ve got to make sure that everything we do is incredibly considered, and has a real impact and effect on those people at the very top of the Russian regime that have decided to cause this nation harm.
- He sidestepped a question about whether the UK would invoke Nato’s article 4 after the Salisbury attack. Article 4, which is rarely used, allows any Nato country to convene a meeting of Nato members when it feels its security is threatened. Julian Barnes, a Wall Street Journal security correspondent, thinks some Nato members would welcome that happening in this case.
Julian E. Barnes(@julianbarnes)
Several allies have privately signaled in the alliance that they would welcome Article 4 consultation to show the seriousness of the attack. https://t.co/6UUCNDClrX
March 15, 2018
- He admitted that he would like to get his hands on some of the aid budget. Asked about this, he said he recognised that aid spending played an important role in projecting British soft power. But he went on:
I have to admit, I do have great ideas of how I could spend an extra £13bn or £14bn. I think all secretaries of state for defence have amazing imaginations when it comes to spending money. But that is why we always have chancellors in order to frustrate them.
Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Theresa May is in Salisbury now. She has just recorded a clip for broadcasters saying she is the city to thank the emergency services for their work in response to the poisoning attack and to reassure people.
Theresa May in Salisbury Photograph: BBC
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