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Ex-spy poisoning row: Clash of ‘idiots’ in UK-Russia squabble

Leaders of the Conservative and Labour parties clashed on who was being an ‘idiot’ for their positions with regards to the poisoning of a former spy in Britain.

world Updated: Apr 08, 2018 22:08 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
File photo of Britain's foreign secretary Boris Johnson.
File photo of Britain's foreign secretary Boris Johnson.(Reuters)

As the condition of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia improves, leading lights of the Conservative Party and chief opposition on Sunday clashed on who was being an “idiot” for their positions in the row — foreign secretary Boris Johnson or Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Johnson used an article in The Sunday Times to rail against Corbyn, calling him “the Kremlin’s useful idiot” — the Labour chief has insisted that apportioning blame should await completion of investigations into the poisoning attack, allegedly caused by a nerve agent associated with Russia.

Johnson wrote that Kremlin had made a “cynical attempt to bury awkward facts beneath an avalanche of lies and disinformation”, and claimed that the Russian government and state-owned media had invented 29 theories about the attack.

“There is only one thing that gives the Kremlin succour and lends false credibility to its propaganda onslaught. That is when politicians from the targeted countries join in…Sadly, I am driven to the conclusion that Jeremy Corbyn has joined this effort ...Truly he is the Kremlin’s useful idiot”, he wrote.

Other Conservative leaders joined the attack on Corbyn. Communities secretary Sajid Javid said: “There’s no doubt when it comes up against this issue with Russia that we are having, this very serious issue, that Jeremy Corbyn has let the British people down.”

Policing minister Nick Hurd said that while the phrase “useful idiot” was part of “the lexicon of Johnson”, he added: “I feel very strongly that Jeremy Corbyn has been insufficiently clear in his condemnation of Russia.”

In response, Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner told BBC: “Boris Johnson is the government’s useful idiot because actually, what he’s done is he’s created a situation where he has contradicted the evidence and overstepped the mark.”

Also on Sunday, the Foreign Office said it had received a request from Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko for a meeting with Johnson, but saw it as Moscow’s diversionary tactic. It would respond to the request “in due course”.

Moscow has consistently denied any role in the attack.