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Labour Party leader Corbyn breaks ranks on UK-Russia spy row

Jeremy Corbyn, a life-long socialist known for standing by his convictions, faced ridicule and worse in the House of Commons by refusing to blame Russia for the attempt on former spy Sergei Skripal’s life.

world Updated: Mar 16, 2018 17:52 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Russian spy,Sergei Skripal,Jeremy Corbyn
File photo of Labour Party chief Jeremy Corbyn.(Reuters file)

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has infuriated many of his party MPs and the Theresa May government by refusing to blame Russia for the suspected poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia, warning against “rushing way ahead against evidence”.

Corbyn, a life-long socialist known for standing by his convictions, faced ridicule and worse in the House of Commons by refusing to blame Russia, as May announced a series of retaliatory measures, including the expulsion of 23 diplomats.

Despite facing open criticism from party MPs, Corbyn reiterated his stand in a signed article in Friday’s The Guardian, calling for a “calm, measured” approach and warning against the drift towards a “new cold war” with Russia.

The atmosphere in Westminster, he wrote, had become “fevered”, and insisted on waiting for investigations to be completed before laying blame. Russia has strongly denied any involvement in the incident that has sparked a row between Russia and the West, as the US, Germany, France and other countries rallied behind Britain.

Corbyn wrote: “This horrific event demands first of all the most thorough and painstaking criminal investigation, conducted by our police and security services. To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security.”

Warning against what he called a “McCarthyite intolerance of dissent” over Russia,he added: “Labour is of course no supporter of the Putin regime, its conservative authoritarianism, abuse of human rights or political and economic corruption.”

“(The) Russian authorities must be held to account on the basis of the evidence, and our response must be both decisive and proportionate. But let us not manufacture a division over Russia where none exists.”

Recalling the Iraq war and other crises, he said too many times he had seen clear thinking on international issues overwhelmed by emotion and hasty judgements: “Flawed intelligence and dodgy dossiers led to the calamity of the Iraq invasion.”

On Friday, foreign secretary Boris Johnson said it was overwhelmingly likely that President Vladimir Putin himself made the decision to use a military-grade nerve toxin to strike down Skripal, who continues to be in a critical condition.

Russian has denied any involvement in the incident.

First Published: Mar 16, 2018 17:52 IST