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Theresa May under increasing pressure to retaliate against Russia for “brazen act of war”

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 09/03/2018 By Gordon Rayner, Political Editor

Related: Theresa May Says UK Will Respond If Evidence Proves Russia Behind Nerve Attack (provided by Wochit News)

Theresa May is under increasing pressure from her own ministers to retaliate against Russia for its “brazen act of war” in using nerve gas on the streets of Britain.

The Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the Government was being “pushed around” by Russia and “we have to change the way we deal with it” amid calls for fresh sanctions against Moscow and the expulsion of Russian diplomats.

© getty

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, has already threatened new sanctions if Russia is proved to be behind the attack which has left former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in a coma and Sgt Nick Bailey in intensive care.

Yesterday he repeated his insistence that Britain would respond “robustly” against any country found to be behind the attacks.

Downing Street insisted it could not make any diplomatic moves until police had proved who was behind the attempted murders.

A Whitehall source said: “There is a process to go through. These things have to be done in the right order.”

© getty

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, told the Commons that there would be “consequences” for whoever was responsible and that the perpetrators would be brought to justice “whoever they are and wherever they may be”.

But MPs are impatient for action and Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, made it clear to Mrs May that: “The first duty of government is to protect the British people - I think using nerve agents on British streets really does demand a response.”

Mr Williamson, who has in the past said that Russia is ready to kill “thousands and thousands” of British people, said Russia was becoming an “ever-greater threat”, particularly to its closest neighbours.

He said: "Russia's being assertive, Russia's being more aggressive, and we have to change the way that we deal with it because we can't be in a situation in these areas of conflict where we are being pushed around by another nation."

Pictured in this file image dated August 9, 2006, is retired colonel Sergei Skripal during a hearing at the Moscow District Court © getty Pictured in this file image dated August 9, 2006, is retired colonel Sergei Skripal during a hearing at the Moscow District Court

Former minister Sir Edward Leigh said the circumstantial evidence against Russia was “very strong” and told the Commons: “If Russia is behind this, this is a brazen act of war, of humiliating our country.”

She said the investigation must be based on “facts, not rumour”, but added: “The use of a nerve agent on UK soil is a brazen and reckless act. This was attempted murder in the most cruel and public way.Ms Rudd said: “There will come a time for attribution and there will be, then, consequences and there will be further information that follows.”

“People are right to want to know who to hold to account. We are committed to doing all we can to bring the perpetrators to justice - whoever they are and wherever they may be."

The forensic tent, covering the bench where Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found © getty The forensic tent, covering the bench where Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found

Mr Tugendhat, a former Army officer, said it now seemed “likely” that Mr Skripal’s wife Lyudmila and son Alexandr had both been murdered. The circumstances of both their deaths are disputed, with some reports claiming both died in car crashes.

Pointing to threats made against former Colonel Mr Skripal and its similarity to the fatal attack on Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, Mr Tugendhat said: “We are beginning to see, not only a very strong pattern, but a very strong centre to that pattern - and that centre appears very strongly to be the Kremlin.”

Mr Johnson said: “It is an ongoing investigation. I think we have to wait for the outcome. But if, and it's still a big if, it turns out this is the agency of another state attempting to kill people on UK soil then of course the UK will respond robustly."

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