Jeremy Corbyn refuses to blame Russia for Salisbury attack despite seeing new evidence
Jeremy Corbyn has refused to blame Russia for the Salisbury nerve agent attack, despite being given access to the latest government intelligence on the case.
The Labour leader said there must be “incontrovertible evidence” before Putin’s regime can be held responsible for the assassination attempt on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, which took place on British soil last month.
Mr Corbyn’s stance reopens a split in Labour’s top team, with shadow chancellor John McDonnell unequivocally condemning the Russian state over the attack.
In the wake of the poisoning, Mr McDonnell told ITV’s Peston on Sunday that Vladimir Putin was “responsible, whichever way you look at it he is responsible and all the evidence points to him”.
But asked if he agreed with the shadow chancellor, Mr Corbyn told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show today: “What I would say is, if we are going to make a very, very clear assertion like that we have got to have the absolute evidence to do it.
“Because listen – we believe in rules-based diplomacy. We believe in rules-based international relationships.
“Therefore, you have got to have incontrovertible evidence otherwise you reduce your ability to criticise other people…
“Assertions and probability are not the same as certainty.”
Despite being given access to the latest evidence on the case, Mr Corbyn repeatedly refused to blame Russia for the attack but said that President Putin’s regime should be challenged over its production of the nerve agent, Novichok.
He said: “I think it is very clear that the nerve agent itself is very similar to those made in Russia, Novichok is what we call it.
“Obviously there has to be some challenge to Russia on this and that is what is going on.
“And I would want to challenge the Russians on the production of this as indeed I would any other countries producing something that is wholly and totally illegal.”
This comes after the Foreign Secretary said the findings of the chemical watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, proved unequivocally that Moscow was responsible for the poisoning.
Boris Johnson said the OPCW’s ruling, which backed the Government's stance, meant there was "no alternative explanation about who was responsible - only Russia has the means, motive and record".
However, Mr Corbyn disputed this conclusion, saying: “The OPCW’s job is to identify what the agent was and they have done that.
“Sadly, it is not their job to identify who made it or necessarily where it was made and I do think we need to strengthen the role of the OPCW in the future.”