Emily Thornberry defies Jeremy Corbyn and says Russia must 'face the consequences' for spy attack
Emily Thornberry has said Russia must "face the consequences" for the nerve agent attack on a former double agent - in a clear challenge to Jeremy Corbyn.
The Shadow Foreign Secretary said there was "prima facie evidence" that the Kremlin was responsible for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yuria, in Salisbury nearly two weeks ago.
Her comments came just hours after Mr Corbyn pointedly refused to support Theresa May's claim that Moscow was to blame.
In a further sign of the splits at the top of the Labour party over the issue, Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith said she was also "pointing the finger at Russia".
Ms Thornberry broke ranks with Mr Corbyn at a lecture on human rights and Labour's foreign policy at the TUC headquarters in central London last night.
According to one person present at the event, she said: "What could better sum up the challenge we face in protecting human rights and the rule of law around the world than the idea that a foreign state should launch an attack on British soil using an internationally-banned nerve agent?"
She said Labour backed the Government's decision to expel 23 Russian spies from the UK, and to hand over samples of the nerve agent for independent experts to examine them.
And she added: "You do not have to be a lawyer, like so many in this room, to know that when there is prima facie evidence against a suspect, then that suspect has a case to answer.
"In this case, the Russian government has been given every opportunity to provide any credible, alternative explanation as to how its nerve agents came to be used in this attack but they have not even tried to do so, and they must therefore face the consequences."
Ms Thornberry also accused Vladimir Putin of consistently taking "a hammer to human rights and the rule of law, in Syria, in his own country, and in ours".
She said: "We currently face the biggest challenge to the world order since the 1930s and the collapse of the League of Nations, with many countries around the world behaving as though the rules do not apply to them, and in the case of Russia, almost defying Britain and the rest of the world to try and stop them."
Mr Corbyn's spokesman sparked anger yesterday by pointing to the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as proof that government assertions based on intelligence briefings are not always reliable.
But speaking to the Daily Mirror, Nia Griffith said: "They are very different instances because in this case you have Litvinenko and the other attacks.
"We’ve seen Russia’s cyber attacks and the annexing of Crimea, which is occupied territory now. There are other instances, such as the interfering with elections. We can see a pattern here of different types of activity and it’s really important we say that this cannot continue. The evidence has built up over time of different instances."
She added: "As the Prime Minister has made quite clear, this was a very high-grade weapon and it obviously comes from a state.
"Unfortunately, this is not the first thing we have seen done in this way by Russia and I think the context is very important.
"And quite clearly, because of the nature of the weapon, the message that the Prime Minister has conveyed to us is that this is an act of aggression. And that is why we are fully supporting the expulsion of 23 diplomats.
"Looking back, perhaps it would have been easier for us if he had made it clear at the beginning of what he said, just how much we support the expulsion of the diplomats.
"It would have been easier and perhaps we would not have had the conversations we are seeing."
Meanwhile, prominent Labour MPs have also put down a Commons motion giving their full support to the Government's approach to the crisis.