Update: EU vows 'unprecedented' response to Salisbury attack

Update: EU vows 'unprecedented' response to Salisbury attack

Update 4.47pm: EU leaders have promised an "unprecedented" diplomatic response to the Salisbury nerve agent attack after backing Theresa May's assertion that Russia was to blame.

At the end of the two-day summit in Brussels, European Council president Donald Tusk said the recall of the EU's ambassador to Moscow for "consultations" would be followed by further action by member states.

French President Emmanuel Macron said France and Germany would be among the countries taking "co-ordinated measures" against Russia, with an announcement due "very shortly".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Dublin would be conducting a "security assessment", with a decision early next week on possible "individual action relating to Russian diplomats in Ireland".

Update: EU vows 'unprecedented' response to Salisbury attack

Latvia's foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics joined Lithuania in suggesting his country could follow Britain's lead and "decide on the expulsion of Russian secret service employees working under diplomatic cover".

The moves came after leaders issued a statement supporting the UK's assessment that it was "highly likely" Moscow was responsible for the attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, and that there was "no plausible alternative explanation".

It represented a significant hardening of the EU's position after foreign ministers issued a statement earlier this week expressing solidarity with the UK while stopping short of blaming Russia.

Mrs May, who set out Britain's case against the Kremlin over dinner on Thursday night, welcomed the strong recognition of the threat Russia posed to their collective security.

She said that in the run-up to the summit Britain had been sharing what information it could through "intelligence channels" as it sought to make the case for Russian responsibility.

"The threat from Russia is one that respects no borders," she said.

Update: EU vows 'unprecedented' response to Salisbury attack

"I think it is clear that Russia is challenging the values we share as Europeans, and it is right that we are standing together in defence of those values," she said.

Her comments were echoed by Mr Macron, who told a joint news conference with Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel: "We consider this an attack on European sovereignty."

He disclosed that France had been asked for technical assistance relating to the Salisbury investigation, which it stood ready to provide.

Mr Tusk said the EU response to the incident was "unprecedented" with the next steps by national governments expected as early as Monday.

"It is very difficult to prepare an adequate reaction to this kind of behaviour with nerve agents. We will never have a real chance to respond adequately because we are completely different to the perpetrators of this attack," he said.

Mr Tusk expressed satisfaction that he had achieved his goal of maintaining a "united" front among the 28 EU member states, despite their different stances towards Russia due to differing geographical positions and political traditions.

"I think it was the best reaction we were able to decide on," he said.

Update: EU vows 'unprecedented' response to Salisbury attack

In a hint at the underlying tensions, he acknowledged that not all member states would be taking further measures. Asked how many might take action, he said: "More than one, but I don't think it will be the whole group."

Earlier, British diplomats ordered out of Russia, in a tit-for-tat retaliation for Britain's expulsion of 23 suspected spies, began heading back to the UK.

A convoy of minivans left the British embassy in Moscow on Friday as the deadline for the expulsions was reached.

Update 12.42pm: 'Coordinated measures' to be announced in response to Salisbury incident, says Emmanuel Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron said a number of EU member states - including France and Germany - would be announcing "coordinated measures" in response to the Salisbury incident "very shortly".

"We, like the United Kingdom, concluded that there is no alternative plausible explanation other than the responsibility of Russia," he told a joint news conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Update: EU vows 'unprecedented' response to Salisbury attack

"We consider that this is an attack on European sovereignty. We therefore call for a coordinated and responsible reaction from the European Union and its member states."

Update 12.42pm: Britain shared inteligence on Salisbury nerve agent attack with EU allies

Theresa May has confirmed she shared UK intelligence on the Salisbury nerve agent attack with EU allies before they issued a joint statement blaming Russia for the outrage.

The British Prime Minister won the backing of EU leaders for Britain's assessment that the only "plausible explanation" for the March 4 poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal was that Russia was responsible.

In a further development it emerged the European Union was recalling its ambassador to Moscow "for consultations", although the move was not a formal sanction.

Update: EU vows 'unprecedented' response to Salisbury attack

Ireland and Lithuania confirmed they were considering following the UK's lead and expelling Russian diplomats, while France, Poland, Estonia and Latvia were reported to be mulling a similar move.

Meanwhile, British diplomats ordered out of Russia, in a tit-for-tat retaliation for Britain's expulsion of 23 suspected spies, have started heading back to the UK.

A convoy of minivans left the British embassy in Moscow on Friday as the deadline for the expulsions was reached.

In a joint statement issued at the European Council summit in Brussels, EU leaders offered "unqualified solidarity" with the UK and said they shared its assessment that Russia was "highly likely" to be culpable.

They said they would "co-ordinate on the consequences to be drawn in the light of the answers provided by the Russian authorities".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said a "security assessment" would be conducted in the coming days, with a decision early next week on possible "individual action relating to Russian diplomats in Ireland".

He stressed that any action would be targeted at individuals believed to be involved in suspect activities, saying: "We are not going to randomly expel people who are genuine diplomats."

The EU's External Action Service said the head of the EU Delegation in the Russian Federation had been recalled to Brussels for "consultations" with high representative Federica Mogherini.

Mrs May earlier set out a detailed account of the evidence against the Kremlin in a private meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France's President Emmanuel Macron, followed by an address to fellow leaders over dinner.

Asked whether she had relied on UK intelligence information to convince EU partners, the PM said: "We have been throughout sharing on intelligence channels what intelligence we can share with our colleagues.

"What is crucial is that there was recognition around the table last night about the threat that Russia poses."

She added: "The threat from Russia is one that respects no borders.

"I think it is clear that Russia is challenging the values we share as Europeans, and it is right that we are standing together in defence of those values."

Thursday night's joint statement represented a significant hardening of EU backing for Britain's confrontation with the Kremlin.

On Monday foreign ministers of the 28-nation bloc had issued a statement voicing solidarity with the UK, but stopping short of blaming Moscow.

Earlier on Thursday, it was announced that the police officer exposed to the Novichok nerve agent had been discharged from hospital.

In a statement Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey said he had been "overwhelmed" by messages of support, but acknowledged: "Normal life for me will probably never be the same."

Meanwhile a Court of Protection judge has given doctors permission to take blood from the Skripals - who remain in a critical condition in hospital - and to provide samples to chemical weapons experts.

Mr Justice Williams said he had been asked to make decisions because Mr and Ms Skripal were unconscious and therefore unable to give their consent to blood samples being taken or tested.

Earlier:

Russian ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko has sent his well wishes to those who were directly affected by the use of a nerve agent in Salisbury.

"Glad to know that detective sergeant Nick Bailey has been discharged from hospital. Hoping for recovery of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, too," he wrote on Twitter.

- PA

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