Jeremy Corbyn spokesman says lack of WMD in Iraq shows Russia may not be behind spy poisoning
The failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq shows government claims that Russia was behind the Salisbury nerve agent attack may be wrong, Jeremy Corbyn's spokesman has declared.
In comments which drew an instant rebuke from the Prime Minister, the spokesman said politicians' handling of UK intelligence was "problematic to put it mildly".
He also suggested that the chemical weapon may have fallen into the hands of a country other than Russia following the break-up of the Soviet Union.
The spokesman spoke out after Mr Corbyn was criticised by MPs from across the House of Commons for his refusal to directly blame Russia for the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.
The pair were found unconscious on a bench in a shopping precinct in Salisbury, Wiltshire, 10 days ago.
Theresa May told the Commons earlier this week that Russia was "highly likely" to be responsible for the attack, and today said the Kremlin had failed to provide an explanation for what had happened.
"There is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter," she said.
Speaking to journalists, Mr Corbyn's spokesman refused to say that the Labour leader agreed with the Prime Minister's assessment.
He said: "The Government has access to information and intelligence on this matter which others don't.
"However, there is a history in relation to weapons of mass destruction and intelligence which is problematic to put it mildly.
"So the right approach is to seek the evidence, to follow international treaties, particularly in relation to chemical weapons attacks carried out on British soil."
The spokesman added: "I think a second option that Theresa May set out on Monday and again today, that the Russian government had lost control of weapons grade nerve agents which may have been produced during the Soviet period, contains within it a series of different possibilities of who then might have been directly responsible for that.
"The break up of the Soviet state led to all sorts of military material ending up in random hands."
However, the spokesman rejected criticism by some MPs of Mr Corbyn's response to the Prime Minister's Commons update on the crisis.
He said: "In these kinds of crises, there are often initial reactions which aren't necessarily later backed up by reality of facts.
"I think Jeremy's record in relation to judgement in relation to international crises is probably better than anybody else in the House of Commons.
"He's been proved to make the right call time and again over the last 15/20 years in particular, when many others made the wrong calls and some of those calls had disastrous consequences."
Told about the spokesman's WMD remarks by Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke, Theresa May said: "I am surprised and shocked at the statement that has been put out by the spokesman for the Leader of the Opposition.
"It is very clear by the remarks that have been made by backbenchers from the Labour party that they will be equally concerned by that remark. They stand full square behind the Government and the action we have taken."
The Prime Minister added: "What we are talking about here in the UK is the use of a chemical weapon, a military grade nerve agent, against people here in the UK.
"That is very clear and it is quite wrong and outrageous that the Leader of the Opposition’s spokesman has made the comments in relation to this that he has."
Mrs May announced today that 23 Russian diplomats thought to be spies have a week to leave Britain in the wake of the attack.