Russia to expel British diplomats soon, foreign minister says

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said British allegations of Russian’s involvement in the attack were unacceptable. (Reuters)
Updated 15 March 2018

Russia to expel British diplomats soon, foreign minister says

MOSCOW/LONDON: Russia will soon expel British diplomats in retaliation for Britain’s decision to kick out 23 Russian envoys over a chemical attack on a former Russian double agent, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday.
In London, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson ratcheted up the rhetoric against Russia, accusing it of glorying in the attack on Sergei Skripal, which he described as a way of scaring anyone who stood up to President Vladimir Putin.
Britain says Russia is responsible for the poisoning with a Soviet-era ‘Novichok’ nerve agent of Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33. They were found unconscious on March 4 in the city of Salisbury in southern England and remain critically ill in hospital.
Moscow denies any involvement. The Kremlin said the British position was irresponsible and not backed up by evidence. It said Britain would not have to wait long for Russia’s response.
Lavrov was quoted by the official news agency RIA as saying the accusations were unacceptable and that British diplomats would be expelled.
But in a series of British media interviews early on Thursday, Johnson said the evidence of Russian guilt was “overwhelming” because only Moscow had access to the poison used and a motive for harming Sergei Skripal.
“There is something in the kind of smug, sarcastic response that we’re heard from the Russians that to me betokens their fundamental guilt,” he told the BBC.
“They want to simultaneously deny it and yet at the same time to glory in it.”
Johnson said the attack was a way for Putin to send a message to anyone considering taking a stand against it that ‘You do that, you are going to die’.
A former agent of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, Skripal betrayed dozens of Russian agents to Britain before being arrested in Moscow and jailed in 2006. He was freed as part of a spy swap deal in 2010 and took refuge in Britain.
At home, the British government has been under pressure from lawmakers and media to show it is getting tough on Russia, with some experts saying that despite the rhetoric the response did not go far enough to bother Putin.
Johnson defended the measures announced on Wednesday and suggested that there could be further consequences for wealthy Russians with assets in Britain.
“We will go after the money and actually we are going after the money,” he said, adding that the National Crime Agency and Economic Crimes Unit were investigating a wide range of individuals. He declined to give details, citing legal reasons.
“What people want to see is some of the very rich people ... whose wealth can be attributed to their relationship with Vladimir Putin, it may be that the law agencies, that the police will be able to put unexplained wealth orders on them, to bring them to justice for their acts of gross corruption,” he said.
Johnson also said he had been heartened by strong expressions of support from the United States and other allies — although it remains unclear whether there will be a coordinated international response to the Novichok attack.
France, which on Wednesday had said it wanted proof of Russian involvement before deciding whether to take action against Russia, appeared to change its position on Thursday, saying it agreed with the assessment of its NATO ally Britain.
“France agrees with the United Kingdom that there is no other plausible explanation (than Russian involvement) and reiterates its solidarity with its ally,” President Emmanuel Macron’s office said.
Macron added that he would announce unspecified "measures" in the coming days over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal.
"I will announce the measures that we are going to take in the coming days," Macron told reporters during a visit to central France on Thursday. He added that he condemned the attack in the "strongest possible terms."
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Wednesday that Washington believed Moscow was responsible for the attack, adding it was a crime worthy of UN Security Council action.
Any effective Security Council action seems highly unlikely, however, given that Russia, like Britain and the United States, is a permanent, veto-wielding member of the body.
Russia has repeatedly said Britain was refusing to provide a sample of the nerve agent used in Salisbury.
Johnson said Britain would send a sample of the nerve agent to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons for them to independently assess it.


Britain's Johnson puts Brexit deal to 'final' vote

Updated 40 min 54 sec ago

Britain's Johnson puts Brexit deal to 'final' vote

  • The House of Commons will hold its first vote on the bill at around 1800 GMT, followed by another vote on Johnson's timetable motion to rush it through parliament ahead of Brexit day

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces two crucial Brexit votes in parliament on Tuesday that will determine if he can fulfil his "do or die" promise to take Britain out of the European Union next week.
As MPs threatened to derail the ratification of his Brexit deal, Johnson warned that defeat would see him abandon the legislation -- and instead seek to call a snap election.
Britain is entering a cliffhanger finale to a drama sparked by the 2016 referendum vote on whether to leave the EU, which has plunged the country into three years of political turmoil.
Johnson was forced on Saturday to ask EU leaders to postpone the October 31 deadline for leaving -- something he once said he would rather be "dead in a ditch" than do.
He was required by law to send the letter after MPs refused to back the divorce deal he struck with Brussels last week, which paves the way for an orderly end to 46 years of integration.
However, he still has a chance of avoiding a delay if he can get legislation implementing the treaty through parliament by October 31.
The House of Commons will hold its first vote on the bill at around 1800 GMT, followed by another vote on Johnson's timetable motion to rush it through parliament ahead of Brexit day.
Opening the debate, Johnson urged MPs to support the legislation so "we can get Brexit done and move our country on".
He warned that if they failed, the "bill will have to be pulled... and we will have to go forward to a general election," adding: "I will argue at that election: let's get Brexit done."
Two previous attempts to call an election have failed, however.
"What on earth will the public think of us if this House again tonight votes not to get on with it, not to deliver Brexit on October 31 but to hand over control of what happens next to the EU?" the Conservative leader said.
Johnson warned defeat would kill any hope of leaving the EU with a deal on October 31, and risks a "no deal" exit if the EU declines to approve a third Brexit delay.
However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned the prime minister was trying to "blindside" parliament into supporting a substandard deal.
"A deal and a bill that fails to protect our rights and our natural world, fails to protect jobs and the economy, fails to protect every region and every nation in the UK," he said.
European Council President Donald Tusk said the other 27 EU leaders were mulling Johnson's request to delay Brexit, but it would depend on how MPs vote.
"It is obvious that the result of these consultations will very much depend on what the British parliament decides, or doesn't decide," he told the European Parliament.
"We should be ready for every scenario."
He added on Twitter: "I made clear to PM @BorisJohnson: a no-deal #Brexit will never be our decision."
MPs voted to demand Johnson delay Brexit to try to avoid the damage of a "no deal" exit, where Britain severs ties with its closest trading partner with no new plans in place.
The prime minister on Tuesday said that if they backed his bill, "we can de-escalate those no-deal preparations immediately".
The deal is the second of its kind, after a Brexit text agreed by his predecessor Theresa May was rejected three times by MPs earlier this year.
Outgoing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Tuesday that the bloc had "done all in our power" to assure an orderly divorce.
Even if Johnson wins the two votes on Tuesday evening, MPs could still derail his bill.
Some lawmakers want to secure much closer future trade relations with the EU after Brexit, seeking to amend the bill to demand Britain stay in the bloc's customs union.
After tens of thousands of people demonstrated in London on Saturday in favour of a second referendum, some MPs will also seek to attach plans for a "People's Vote" to the legislation.
If the Brexit withdrawal bill passes the Commons unscathed, it must still be approved by the unelected upper House of Lords -- and then the European Parliament.
The withdrawal deal covers EU citizens' rights, Britain's financial settlements, a post-Brexit transition period until at least the end of 2020 and new trade arrangements for Northern Ireland.
But it only sets out the broad parameters for Britain's future ties with the EU, and EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned this could be a much lengthier process.
"We will have to renegotiate for one year, two years, three years, maybe more in some areas, to rebuild all that will have been pulled apart by the desire of those backing Brexit," Barnier said.