Jeremy Corbyn: As Russia has no chemical weapons – they were all destroyed by September last year – he might just be right to question Theresa May’s reasoning over the alleged ‘Novichok’ nerve agent.

Once again, Jeremy Corbyn has shown he is a consummate statesman – and his opponents, even within the Labour Party, have been exposed as clumsy bandwagon-jumpers.

Theresa May is, of course, driving the bandwagon in question. She told the House of Commons yesterday (March 14) that former double-agent Sergei Skripal had been poisoned with Novichok, a nerve agent developed by Russia. “Based on this capability, combined with Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations—including against former intelligence officers whom it regards as legitimate targets—the UK Government concluded it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for this reckless and despicable act. There are only two plausible explanations: either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country; or, conceivably, the Russian Government could have lost control of a military-grade nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

She said Russia had failed to respond in a meaningful way to her demand for an explanation within a 36-hour deadline that ended at midnight on March 13: “Its response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events. The Russian Government have provided no credible explanation that could suggest that they lost control of their nerve agent, no explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the United Kingdom, and no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law. Instead it has treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.

“There is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter, and for threatening the lives of other British citizens in Salisbury, including Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey. This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.”

She went on to announce that 23 Russian diplomats will be expelled, as they have been identified as “undeclared intelligence officers” (or: spies) among other measures to strengthen the UK against incursions by foreign powers.

There’s just one problem: The evidence really isn’t solid – especially as Russia’s entire chemical weapons stockpile was verified as destroyed last September.

This is what Mr Corbyn was saying in his response to Mrs May’s statement. He told the Commons: “Our response as a country must be guided by the rule of law, support for international agreements and respect for human rights. When it comes to the use of chemical weapons on British soil, it is essential that the Government work with the United Nations to strengthen its chemical weapons monitoring system and involve the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

“Our response must be decisive, proportionate and based on clear evidence. If the Government believe that it is still a possibility that Russia negligently lost control of a military-grade nerve agent, what action is being taken through the OPCW with our allies? I welcome the fact that the police are working with the OPCW.

“Has the Prime Minister taken the necessary steps under the chemical weapons convention to make a formal request for evidence from the Russian Government under article IX(2)? How has she responded to the Russian Government’s request for a sample of the agent used in the Salisbury attack to run their own tests? Has high-resolution trace analysis been run on a sample of the nerve agent, and has that revealed any evidence as to the location of its production or the identity of its perpetrators?

“Can the Prime Minister update the House on what conversations, if any, she has had with the Russian Government? While suspending planned high-level contacts, does she agree that is essential to retain a robust dialogue with Russia, in the interests of our own and wider international security?”

He added: “Can the Prime Minister outline what discussions she has had with our partners in the European Union, NATO and the UN and what willingness there was to take multilateral action?”

From her response, it seems Mrs May has not made a formal request for evidence from Russia under the chemical weapons convention – nor has she responded to Russia’s request for a sample of the nerve agent. Nor, it seems, has high-resolution trace analysis been carried out to show where the substance was created. OPCW rules, I’m told, say that an accused government should have 10 days to respond, yet Russia was given less than two.

Doesn’t that all seem a little slapdash?

This Writer, in Mrs May’s position, would have done everything possible to appear reasonable – and to deny an aggressive foreign power any opportunity to suggest that correct procedure had not been followed (which is what the Russians have done, by the way). Apparently she feels it isn’t necessary.

One person who does feel it is necessary – if only to prove the existence of Novichok (or Novichoks – apparently it’s a term for a potential series of nerve agents. The name literally means “newcomer”) – is former diplomat Craig Murray.

In his blog, he stated that, as late as 2016, “the evidence for the existence of Novichoks was scant and their composition unknown”.

He continued: “Yet now, the British Government is claiming to be able instantly to identify a substance which its only biological weapons research centre has never seen before and was unsure of its existence. Worse, it claims to be able not only to identify it, but to pinpoint its origin… It is plain that claim cannot be true.”

He wrote: “Indeed the OPCW was so sceptical of the viability of “novichoks” that it decided – with US and UK agreement – not to add them nor their alleged precursors to its banned list.”

And he stated: “Given that the OPCW has taken the view the evidence for the existence of “Novichoks” is dubious, if the UK actually has a sample of one it is extremely important the UK presents that sample to the OPCW. Indeed the UK has a binding treaty obligation to present that sample to OPCW. Russa has – unreported by the corporate media – entered a demand at the OPCW that Britain submit a sample of the Salisbury material for international analysis.

“Yet Britain refuses to submit it to the OPCW.


Good question.

Furthermore: “Novichoks” were specifically designed to be able to be manufactured from common ingredients on any scientific bench. The Americans dismantled and studied the facility that allegedly developed them. It is completely untrue only the Russians could make them, if anybody can.

“The “Novichok” programme was in Uzbekistan not in Russia. Its legacy was inherited by the Americans during their alliance with Karimov, not by the Russians.”

So Novichoks may not exist – and even if they do, they probably weren’t developed by Russia.

Perhaps that is why Mr Corbyn’s spokesman, in a statement to the press, suggested: “There is a history in relation to weapons of mass destruction and intelligence which are problematic, to put it mildly.”

Yes indeed. The Russians reckon that – to know it – the British government must have a stockpile of it, and said as much at the United Nations:

But some of Mr Corbyn’s front-benchers agree with Mrs May – allegedly.

According to the Daily Mirror: “Jeremy Corbyn faces a fresh wave of frontbench resignations amid anger at his response to the Sergei Skripal poisoning.

“At least two Shadow ministers were said to be considering their positions tonight after the Labour leader said he did not believe there was proof the Kremlin was behind the attempt on the ex-spy’s life.

“A former frontbencher told the Mirror: ‘People are f***ing livid, aghast at what he said.'”

Really? In the real world (as reflected by Twitter), people seemed to be disagreeing radically:

This is true.

And dissenting voices – including those in the Labour Party – have been getting short shrift from the rest of us. Here’s blast-from-the-past David Miliband:

And here’s what he got back:

He got what he deserved. The record of the UK Parliament when Government and Opposition agree is lamentable:

Chuka Umunna fared no better:

Correct. Those who wanted to condemn Mr Corbyn for demanding evidence suffered a major setback when another world leader echoed the Labour leader’s demands.

According to Reuters, French President Emmanuel Macron “declined to point a finger directly at Russia”.

The news agency stated: “French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said it was too early for Paris to decide whether action should be taken and a decisions would be made only once a case of Russian involvement was proven.”

So Mr Corbyn’s speech has not only exposed the glaring errors in Mrs May’s reasoning; it has also exposed (again) the traitors in the Parliamentary Labour Party.

All in all, a good day’s work.

It would be spectacular if Mr Corbyn could use the information about Novichoks to stop the major international incident that Mrs May seems determined to provoke.

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