WATCH John McDonnell: Vladimir Putin is responsible for Salisbury attack
John McDonnell has broken ranks with the Labour leadership to take a tough new line against Russia by declaring that Vladimir Putin is responsible for the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
The shadow chancellor has diverged from Jeremy Corbyn’s calls for more evidence gathering to accuse the Russian state of poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal.
The Labour leader has been under fire over his response to the incident, sparking anger on his own backbenches this week by pointedly refusing to lay the blame with Moscow - although he did condemn the attack.
In an article for the Guardian Mr Corbyn even suggested that "Russian mafia-like groups" may have carried out the poisoning after getting their hands on the potentially deadly substance.
But today Mr McDonnell took a different stance, telling ITV’s Peston on Sunday: "He is responsible, whichever way you look at it he is responsible and all the evidence points to him."
“It leads you to the conclusion that Putin has questions to answer because this is highly likely this could be state execution,” he added.
The remarks ally him more closely to shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith who has openly backed Theresa May’s response to the attempted assassination of Mr Skripal.
She told BBC Radio Four's Today programme: “Russia is responsible for this attack and therefore we are fully supporting the measures the Government is taking."
But despite the reported splits within the shadow cabinet over the issue, shadow attorney general and Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti this morning insisted it is united in its response.
She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “By the way Nia Griffith sent me a good luck text before I came on here so there is no difference between us.
“I am here to make clear that I am completely at one, not just with Jeremy, but with Nia Griffith, Emily Thornberry, Kier Starmer.”
When asked if she agreed with France and Germany that Mr Putin was responsible for the attack, she replied: “The Russian state is responsible for its stocks of chemical weapons or historic stocks of chemical weapons… You are responsible whether you lose control or personally direct extrajudicial killings.”
Elsewhere, Labour is calling for a £1bn 'Oligarch Levy' aimed at Russian tax dodgers.
The shadow chancellor urged Philip Hammond to clampdown on Kremlin-linked oligarchs sheltering their wealth in London in an attempt to strengthen the UK’s hand in its standoff with Russia.
Announcing the proposals today, Mr McDonnell said: “If we want to really take the fight to the gangster politicians and Russian elites hiding their money in the UK, then we need serious measures like the ‘Oligarch Levy’, which will hit them where it hurts – in their wallets.”