Theresa May orders largest expulsion of Russian diplomats for 30 years in wake of poison attack

Posted On: 
14th March 2018

Theresa May has given 23 Russian diplomats suspected of being spies one week to leave Britain in the wake of the nerve agent attack in Salisbury.

Theresa May set out Britan's response to a nerve agent attack on British soil in the Commons today

The move is a further ratcheting up of tensions with Moscow and constitutes the biggest expulsion of foreign officials for some 30 years.

The Prime Minister laid into the Kremlin after it missed a deadline to explain the attack that landed ex-spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia and a police officer in hospital.

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Among a range of retaliatory measures, she announced a boycott of the upcoming World Cup by British officials and the Royal family this summer.

And she said there would be new powers to protect the UK from hostile state activity and an end to high level contacts with Russian figures. 

In a dramatic Commons statement, Mrs May told MPs today: “Their [Moscow's'] response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events.

“They have provided no credible explanation that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent, no explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the UK, [and] no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law.

"Instead they have treated the use of a military nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.

"So there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter."

The Prime Minister also lashed out specifically at Vladimir Putin, saying it was “tragic” that the Russian president had “chosen to act in this way”.

Other measures she announced included more checks on Russians coming into the UK and the addition of Magnitsky-type amendments to a bill on sanctions.

But Russian Ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko said the measures were "absolutely unacceptable".

Speaking to Sky News after being summoned to the Foreign Office by the Government, he said: "We believe this is [a] very serious provocation."


Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for “strong diplomacy and political pressure” as part of an international effort to “secure a world free of chemical weapons”.

Responding to the Prime Minister in the Commons, he laid into cuts to the diplomatic service and demanded to know if Russian requests for a sample of the nerve agent had been met. 

He added: "Does the PM agree it is essential to maintain a robust dialogue with Russia?"

But Mrs May replied: “This is not a question of our diplomacy... this is a question of the culpability of the Russian state for an act on our soil."

And in a withering attack on the Labour leader, she added: "It's clear from the conversations I've had that we have a consensus with our allies; there is a consensus across the back benches of this House.

"I am only sorry that the consensus does not go as far as the Right Honourable Gentleman... who could have taken the opportunity, as the UK Government has done, to condemn the culpability of the Russian state."