Latest: Watchdog asked to verify Britain's findings on Salisbury nerve agent attack

Update 10.08pm: Britain has asked the international chemical weapons watchdog to verify its findings that Moscow is behind the nerve agent attack in Salisbury.

The news came after British Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed the UK will expel 23 suspected Russian spies over the incident.

The UK's deputy UN ambassador, Jonathan Allen, told a special meeting of the Security Council that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has been called on to go over the British analysis of the attack.


In heated exchanges at the Security Council gathering, Russia strongly denied it was involved in the Salisbury incident, and the US offered Britain its full support.

The Russian permanent representative to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said: "We demand that material proof be provided of the allegedly found Russian trace in this high-resonance event.

"Without this, stating that there is incontrovertible truth is not something that we can take into account."

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley gave the strongest American support for the UK's position so far in the dispute.

She said: "The United States stands in absolute solidarity with Great Britain.

"The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent. Dozens of civilians and first responders were also exposed.

"If we don't take immediate concrete measures to address this now, Salisbury will not be the last place we see chemical weapons used. This is a defining moment."

The UN showdown came after Mrs May announced the largest mass expulsion of diplomats since the Cold War, as relations with Moscow plunged into the deep-freeze.

Announcing the action in the House of Commons, Mrs May said the attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia amounted to "an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom".

She announced the suspension of high-level contacts with Russia, including a boycott of this summer's World Cup by Government ministers and members of the royal family.

And she said Russian state assets will be frozen "wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents".

Russia's Ministry for Foreign Affairs branded Mrs May's statement as "an unprecedentedly crude provocation that undermines the foundations of a normal interstate dialogue between our countries".

The Ministry said: "We consider it categorically unacceptable and unworthy that the British Government, in its unseemly political aims, further seriously aggravated relations, announcing a whole set of hostile measures, including the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from the country."

Mrs May said Russia had failed to provide a "credible" explanation for how the Novichok nerve agent which it had developed came to be used in the attack on the Skripals, who remain in hospital after being found slumped on a bench on March 4.

She told MPs: "This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom."

Mrs May addressed MPs after being briefed by senior military and intelligence chiefs at a meeting of the National Security Council at which it was agreed to take "immediate actions to dismantle Russia's spy network in the UK".

The 23 Russian diplomats identified as undeclared intelligence officers have been given a week to leave, in the largest mass expulsion since 31 were ordered out in 1985 following the defection of double agent Oleg Gordievsky.

Mrs May told MPs the Government will also develop new powers "to harden our defences against all forms of hostile state activity", including by tightening checks on cross-border movements of those who may endanger UK security.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was barracked by Conservative MPs as he asked the Prime Minister how she had responded to requests from the Russian government for a sample of the nerve agent used in the attack so it could run its own tests.

Condemning the Salisbury incident as a "dreadful, appalling act", Mr Corbyn called for multilateral action in response and said it was a matter of "huge regret" that the UK's diplomatic network had been cut by 25% in the last five years.

Mr Corbyn drew criticism after his spokesman said the history of information from UK intelligence agencies is "problematic" and refused to say that the Labour leader accepted the Russian state was at fault.

Update 8pm: US ambassador tells UN Security Council 'United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack'

At a meeting of the UN Security Council called to discuss the incident in Salisbury, the US ambassador to the world body, Nikki Haley, said: "Let me make one thing clear from the very beginning, the United States stands in absolute solidarity with Great Britain.

"The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent. Dozens of civilians and first responders were also exposed.

"No two nations enjoy a stronger bond than that of the United States and the United Kingdom. Ours is truly a special relationship. When our friends in Great Britain face a challenge, the United States will always be there for them. Always."

The Russian permanent representative to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said: "We demand that material proof be provided of the allegedly found Russian trace in this high-resonance event.

"Without this, stating that there is incontrovertible truth is not something that we can take into account."

Meanwhile, in a display of unconcern about Mrs May's actions, the Russian Embassy in London tweeted: "The temperature of Russia-UK relations drops to minus-23, but we are not afraid of cold weather."

Earlier: Russian official claims nerve agent Novichok is not included in weapons ban

Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok, which the UK has said was used to poison ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, is not part of an international ban on chemical weapons, the head of a Russian government agency has said.

Vladimir Uiba, the head of the Federal Medical and Biological agency, said according to the Interfax news agency that Novichok did not fall under the Chemical Weapons Convention that entered force in 1997.

He would not say if Russia inherited any amounts of Novichok from the Soviet Union and whether they were destroyed.

Russian Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov said earlier today that Russia completed the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpiles last year under the convention.

Britain said it will expel 23 Russian diplomats, sever high-level contacts with Moscow and take other measures in response to the poisonings.

Soldiers wearing protective clothing load an Ashley Wood recovery vehicle onto an Army vehicle. Pic: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Earlier: Theresa May expects FA officials will be 'considering their position' over World Cup attendance

Theresa May has said she expects senior Football Association officials will want to be "considering their position" over attending the World Cup in Russia.

The British Prime Minister said any decision over attendance is one for the sporting authorities, although reiterated that no ministers nor members of the Royal Family will visit the football tournament this summer.

England will face Belgium, Panama and Tunisia in the group stages of the competition, which begins on June 14 in Moscow as Russia take on Saudi Arabia.

Speaking in the Commons, Labour's Luciana Berger asked: "Further to the confirmation that no minister or member of the Royal Family will be attending the World Cup this summer, does she believe this should also extend to senior FA officials, and will she ask our Nato and EU allies to join us in this endeavour?"

Mrs May replied: "I think the attendance at sporting events is a matter for the sporting authorities, it's a matter for them.

"They will be aware of the statement I have made today, they will be aware that we're saying no ministers or members of the Royal Family will be attending the World Cup and I'm sure they will want to be considering their position."

Ms May has signalled approval for MI5 to review Putin's influence over "universities, think tanks, financial institutions and political parties" in the UK.

She told MPs that she would "look at" tasking the security services to review Russia's influence, after giving an update in the Commons on the Salisbury incident.

Senior Labour figure Ben Bradshaw made the suggestion after welcoming her approach to Russia, which drew cheers from the Tory benches.

He said: "Will she task the intelligence and security services to investigate Putin's influencing operations in our universities, in our think tanks, in our financial institutions and in our political parties?"

Mrs May said: "He raises an important issue about the propaganda activities that are being undertaken by the Russian state and I will certainly look at the suggestions he has made."

A number of MPs from across the house as well as the Scottish and Welsh First Ministers have given their support for Mrs May's measures against Russia after her statement.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "Russia's actions cannot be tolerated."

She said a "proportionate but firm response" was right and backed the Prime Minister's initial actions.

"Russia cannot unlawfully kill/attempt to kill on our streets with impunity," she said.

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones backed Theresa May's actions.

"Appalling acts like these cannot be tolerated," he said. "A robust and proportionate response is the right call."

Earlier: UK to expel 23 Russian diplomats, British royal family not to attend the World Cup

The UK is to expel 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the nerve gas attack in Salisbury, Theresa May has told British MPs.

The British Prime Minister said the diplomats being expelled had been identified as “undeclared intelligence officers” and had been given a week to leave.

In her oral statement to the House of Commons, Mrs May told MPs that Russia had responded to her demand for an explanation of events in Salisbury with "sarcasm, contempt and defiance".

Mrs May said: "Their response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events."

Russia had failed to provide any "credible" explanation of events and of why it has "an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law", she said.

She said that the UK was suspending high-level contacts with Russia and that dignitaries, including members of the UK's royal family, will not attend this summer’s World Cup.

She announced the suspension of “all planned high-level bilateral contacts between the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation”.

This includes the revocation of an invitation for foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to visit the UK, said Mrs May.

Mrs May said the British Government would "urgently develop proposals" for new legislative powers to "harden our defences against all forms of hostile state activity".

She said: "This will include the addition of a targeted power to detain those suspected of hostile state activity at the UK border.

"This power is currently only permitted in relation to those suspected of terrorism."

The PM has also asked the UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd to consider whether there is a need for new counter-espionage powers to "clamp down on the full spectrum of hostile activities of foreign agents in our country".

The Prime Minister said the Salisbury incident was an "unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the UK".

Theresa May told MPs the National Security Council had agreed "immediate actions to dismantle the Russian espionage network in the UK".

There would be "urgent work to develop new powers to tackle all forms of hostile state activity and to ensure that those seeking to carry out such activity cannot enter the UK".

Russian ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko told Sky News the UK’s response to the Salisbury incident is “unacceptable” and a “provocation”.

Mr Yakovenko told Sky News after his Foreign Office meeting: "I said everything what is done today by the British Government is absolutely unacceptable and we consider this a provocation."

He said the UK should "follow international law" and under the rules of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons "they have to present a request to the organisation and then we are happy to consider this within 10 days".

The UK's actions were "nothing to do with the situation that we have in Salisbury, we believe this is very serious provocation".

12.39pm: UK summons Russian ambassador to brief him on measures after Sergei Skripal nerve agent attack

The UK's Foreign Office said: "The UK has called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to update Council members on the investigation into the nerve agent attack in Salisbury."

Russia's ambassador Alexander Yakovenko has been summoned to the Foreign Office to be updated on measures to be announced by British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Mr Yakovenko was in a meeting with a senior Foreign Office official immediately before the PM's statement to the House of Commons.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was in the House to hear the PM's statement.

Nato said the UK had briefed its North Atlantic Council today about the Skripal attack.

A statement said: "Allies expressed deep concern at the first offensive use of a nerve agent on Alliance territory since NATO's foundation.

"Allies expressed solidarity with the UK, offered their support in the conduct of the ongoing investigation, and called on Russia to address the UK's questions including providing full and complete disclosure of the Novichok programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

"Allies agreed that the attack was a clear breach of international norms and agreements.

"Nato regards any use of chemical weapons as a threat to international peace and security."

11.45am: Russia accuses UK of 'grossly misleading' world as EC president expresses 'full solidarity' with Theresa May

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the UK of trying to "grossly mislead" the world community over the Skripal case.

According to Russian news agency Tass, Mr Lavrov told a press conference that Britain was acting as if suspicion should be regarded as "the queen of evidence".

Mr Lavrov said Moscow had not yet received an official request from the UK under the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and would be prepared to respond within 10 days to an approach of this kind.

Downing Street has confirmed that Theresa May will make an oral statement to the House of Commons on the Skripal case following Prime Minister's Questions.

European Council president Donald Tusk said he would put the poisoning on the agenda of next week's European Council meeting.

He tweeted: "I express my full solidarity with PM @theresa_may in the face of the brutal attack inspired, most likely, by Moscow. I'm ready to put the issue on next week's #EUCO agenda.

"For real friends, this should be obvious: At a time of fake news spreading, meddling in our elections, and attacks on people on our soil with nerve agent, the response must not be transatlantic bickering but transatlantic unity."

10.09am: Theresa May chairs national security council as Russia says it 'won't accept the language of ultimatum'

Theresa May is chairing a meeting of the UK's national security council after the midnight deadline she set Moscow over the spy poisoning case passed.

Russia said yesterday it would ignore demands for an explanation over how a nerve agent was deployed in Salisbury unless Britain agreed to send it samples of the poison.

The Federation's embassy in the UK fired off a salvo of tweets warning the threat of sanctions would "meet with a response".

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that Russia had "no connection" to the Skripal poisoning and "won't accept the language of ultimatum" from the UK.

According to Russian news agency Tass, Mr Peskov said: "Moscow's stance is well-known, London was told about Moscow's position through diplomatic channels. Moscow has no connection to the incident that took place in the United Kingdom.

"Moscow won't accept absolutely unfounded accusations against it, which are not substantiated by any evidence, and won't accept the language of ultimatum."

Mr Peskov said Russia was "open for co-operation" in investigating the incident, but had not received any "mutual readiness" from the UK.

"We hope that common sense will prevail and that other countries will at least stop to think if there is any proof or there is none, and if reproaches against Moscow have grounds to rely on," he said.

"Common sense prompts and demonstrates that no grounds for charges can exist."

Counter-terrorism police in the UK, meanwhile, launched an investigation into the death of a Russian exile who was a close friend of Vladimir Putin critic Boris Berezovsky.

Scotland Yard said a man in his 60s was found at a home in Clarence Avenue, New Malden, south-west London on Monday and that the cause of his death is unexplained - but there was "no evidence to suggest a link to the incident in Salisbury".

Mrs May has warned she will set out a "full range" of measures to be taken in response if there is no credible response from the Kremlin about the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

She is chairing a meeting this morning of senior intelligence officials and ministers to discuss developments in the case.

The British premier is likely to make a statement in the House of Commons to update MPs after Prime Minister's Questions.

Britain's options are being weighed up by the Government - with a cyber counter-strike said to be among the possible measures being considered, along with economic, financial and diplomatic action.

In a series of tweets, the Russian Embassy said: "Moscow will not respond to London's ultimatum until it receives samples of the chemical substance to which the UK investigators are referring."

"The incident appears to be yet another crooked attempt by the UK authorities to discredit Russia," it added.

The embassy said those calling for the expulsion of Russian diplomats "don't care about Global Britain and its diplomats in Moscow".

World leaders, including Donald Trump and Angela Merkel, voiced their support for the UK as the deadline approached.

Mrs May said on Monday her Government had concluded it is "highly likely" Russia was responsible for the attack which left ex-spy Mr Skripal and his daughter in a critical condition in hospital.

She demanded that Moscow account for how a Russian-produced nerve agent could have been deployed in Salisbury and vowed to set out measures Britain would adopt if no credible response was received by the end of Tuesday.

President Trump told Mrs May in a phone call the US is "with the UK all the way" and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she stood in "full solidarity" with Britain, according to Downing Street.

Police said investigations could take several weeks as they carry out a "painstaking" operation to identify how the Novichok nerve agent was used to poison Mr Skripal on British soil.

The former double agent, 66, and his daughter, 33, were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury, Wiltshire, on March 4.

Police in the UK and MI5 are to look into allegations that a string of other deaths on UK soil may be linked to Russia.

- Digital Desk and PA

More on this topic

Novichok poisoning: Intelligence services probed 'unusual' activity at Russian embassy in London

Salisbury to be declared decontaminated after Novichok poisoning

Russian intelligence officer ‘in UK during Salisbury Novichok attack’ named

Skripal house undergoes decontamination work

More in this Section

Utrecht shooting suspect has confessed, say prosecutors

Brexit: the past seven days

Astronauts take spacewalk to swap space station’s batteries

Link with China must be two-way street, says Italian president


Has KRIB sounded the death knell for the immersion?

Bake: Delicious recipes with chocolate - the ultimate dessert ingredient

Trend of the week: How to simmer in a boiler suit

Ask an expert: Is my IVF child more likely to have behaviour problems?

More From The Irish Examiner