When Theresa May came to the House of Commons on Monday and pointed the finger for the Salisbury poisoning at Russia and the Kremlin, she gave a deadline of midnight last night for a full response. When it soon became apparent that Russia wouldn’t be forthcoming, the Prime Minister had to come forward with strong “response” she promised.
So this afternoon, following a meeting of the National Security Council where Theresa May described the Salisbury incident as a “Kremlin calling card” she returned to the Commons to set out the sanctions Russia now faces.
May accused Russia of showing “complete disdain” for the process and the gravity of the situation. She added, “the Russian state is culpable” for the events, which she branded “an unlawful use of force” which forms part of a “well-established pattern of Russian aggression”.
The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have spent the past week discussing potential sanctions with allies both in the EU and NATO, but ultimately the steps set out this afternoon only involve the UK.
There will be 23 diplomats expelled from the UK, all of which have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers. This is the biggest expulsion for more than 30 years and these individuals will have just one week to leave.
The Government will also bring forward an amendment to the Sanctions Bill to enable further steps to be taken, despite blocking a similar amendment when proposed by Labour in the past month. The Home Secretary is also considering new powers to detain suspects at the UK border, something currently only available for suspected terrorists.
Some state assets from Russia will be frozen and all planned high-level bilateral contact has been suspended. This means that the planning visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has been cancelled. May stopped short of cutting all diplomatic ties. And some dialogue will continue with Russia. May also eluded to other secret actions which may be taking place, following speculation that cyber attacks could be conducted against the Russians.
Responding to the statement Jeremy Corbyn raised the cuts that have taken place to the budget of the Foreign Office, and called for both strong diplomacy and political pressure.
The Government has stopped short of some of the other suggested sanctions including withdrawing England from the football World Cup, though no members of the Government or Royal Family will attend, and taking RT – formerly Russia Today – off the air.
It remains to be seen how the Russian Government will react in the coming days, but it’s almost certain that UK officials will be expelled from Moscow in response.