There was only one story in town today as the Sunday politics shows took to the airwaves: the fallout from the poisoning of a Russian double agent and his daughter in Salisbury earlier this month.
View from Moscow
An interview from Russia’s EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov on The Andrew Marr Show injected fresh oxygen into the poisoning row.
Chizhov said “Russia had nothing do with it” when asked about the assassination attempt of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Wiltshire on March 4.
His various defences were that Russia had never produced Novichek, the nerve agent used in the attack; the country stopped making chemical weapons in 1992; all stockpiles of such poisons were destroyed last year; Moscow had “nothing against” Skripal from a legal point of view; and that what with the UK’s military laboratory of Porton Down being just 8 miles away from Salisbury the poison could have originated from there.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson appeared on Marr, describing Russia’s claim that Porton Down could have been the source of the poison as “satirical”.
He claimed Russia had been stockpiling nerve agents for the past decade, and that Moscow’s response to the attack had been a “mixture of smug sarcasm and denial”.
Johnson revealed experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will travel to the UK on Monday to carry out further tests on the substance used in the attack.
Johnson was also grilled over his own party’s links to Putin’s regime, with the Foreign Secretary admitting he played tennis with the wife of former Russian minister who paid £160,000 at a fundraising auction for the game.
Johnson insisted that not all Russians should be tarred with the same brush as Putin and his cronies.
Marr: “This lady’s husband was a minister of Vladimir Putin and was given an award by Vladimir Putin, so he was close to the regime. And you as a party were prepared to take £160,000 from her so that she could have a game of tennis with Boris Johnson. Bit odd.”
Johnson: “Well if there is evidence of gross corruption in the way that gentleman you mentioned obtained his wealth or – then it is well within the - it is possible for our law enforcement agencies to deprive him, deprive him of his wealth with an unexplained wealth order. That is a matter for the authorities. It’s not a matter for me and it is very, very important now, because I’m getting a lot – people are emailing me from Russia who feel that – they feel that Russians - no it’s very very important that we stress the Russians themselves are in no way the object of our wrath. It is not the Russian people.”
Johnson later added: “I have to say I think it is quite extraordinary at a time when you have two people lying gravely ill in hospital in Salisbury, when a police officer is still not out of hospital, for the fire somehow to be turned on Conservative Party funding. To be best of my knowledge all possible checks have been made. And they will continue to be made.”
Tory Party Chairman Brandon Lewis was questioned more about Tory links to Putin by Robert Peston on ITV.
After being asked if he knew “for an absolute fact” that no Tory donors had an “unhealthily close relationship” to Putin, Lewis said the party had carried out “due diligence” checks.
When asked about Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s much mocked “shut up” and “go away” attack on Russia, Lewis admitted “we all have our own different ways of doing things” but defended the broad point his colleague was making.
Appearing on Sky News’ Sunday with Paterson, Lewis struggled to defend Boris Johnson’s claim that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had “let down” his country with his response to the attacks.
On the BBC’s Sunday Politics, Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan claimed Russia had “violated” the post-war chemical weapons convention.
Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti appeared on Marr to explain Labour’s response to the poisoning.
She said if the Government is certain Putin ordered the attack, they must have new evidence not yet seen by the Labour leadership.
Chakrabarti argued the nerve agent could have fallen into rogue hands, and the attack had not been ordered by the Kremlin.
On the criticism of Corbyn’s response, she claimed the leader’s words had been “spun” and that his tone had been “robust”.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell adopted a harder line on Peston, saying that Putin “is responsible”, and “all the evidence points to him” – regardless of whether he ordered the attack or allowed the nerve agent to be stolen.
McDonnell added it was “highly likely” it could have been a “state execution” as it fitted a pattern of other attacks on Russian dissidents.
He claimed Corbyn’s media spokesman, Seumas Milne, had repeated what the Prime Minister had said in her criticism of Russia.
In a further sign of a less than united front from Labour’s top team, Shadow Security Minister Nick Thomas-Symonds took a different line from Corbyn on how to progress during an appearance on Radio 5Live’s Pienaar’s Politics.
Tory backbencher Anna Soubry was not won over by McDonnell’s performance, claiming the Shadow Chancellor was “one of the most dangerous people in British politics.”
Home Affairs Select Committee Chairwoman Yvette Cooper told the BBC’s Sunday Politics it was “implausible the Russian state wasn’t involved.”
She also defended her party leader for “taking a slightly different view” on the row, as Corbyn wants to see further evidence before blaming Putin directly for the attack.