POLITICS
05/04/2018 19:00 BST | Updated 06/04/2018 10:00 BST

Labour MP Chris Williamson Tells RT Tories Using Salisbury Poisoning As 'Smokescreen'

Government is trying to deflect criticism over austerity and Brexit, Corbyn ally tells Kremlin-backed broadcaster

Labour MP Chris Williamson has claimed Tory ministers are using the Salisbury nerve agent attack “as a smokescreen” to mask their domestic problems. 

In an interview with the Kremlin-funded broadcaster RT, the former frontbencher said the Government had used the incident as a “diversion tactic” and “not so much as a smoking gun but as a smoke screen.” 

Williamson, appearing on RT after Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell asked Labour MPs to stop doing so, added the diplomatic row with Russia over the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal was “very convenient for the Government” as ministers had been under pressure over Brexit and austerity. 

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had “egg on his face” and had “raced ahead of the evidence”, he added. 

Fellow Labour MP John Woodcock, who was recently involved in a Commons spat with Williamson over Corbyn’s response to Russia, was quick to hit out over the interview, saying his colleague “appears to believe he belongs to the wrong country”. 

It came as Boris Johnson faced claims he misled the country after saying UK scientists had concluded the Novichok nerve agent, used on Skripal and his daughter Yulia, had been made in Russia. He was directly contradicted by the chief executive of Porton Down laboratory. 

Asked about the row, Williamson said: “It seems to me that the Government were indulging in political point scoring; particularly Boris Johnson, who raced ahead of the evidence and used this terrible incident not so much as a smoking gun but as a smoke screen.

“It was very convenient for the government to use it as a way of diverting attention away from Brexit and economic policy.”

Hannah Mckay / Reuters
Chris WIlliamson with Jeremy Corbyn 

Williamson, who was sacked from Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench after an interview with HuffPost UK in which he backed doubling council tax on high-value homes, added: “I think Jeremy Corbyn was absolutely right to urge caution and to ask for clear evidence before we start to raise international tensions.”

Labour also attacked the Government after Security Minister Ben Wallace admitted some intelligence about the Salisbury attack had been withheld from Jeremy Corbyn.

Yulia Skripal, meanwhile, has made her first public comments since the poisoning last month, saying her “strength is growing daily”.

In a statement issued by the Metropolitan Police, she said: “I am grateful for the interest in me and for the many messages of goodwill that I have received.

“I have many people to thank for my recovery and would especially like to mention the people of Salisbury that came to my aid when my father and I were incapacitated. Further than that, I would like to thank the staff at Salisbury District Hospital for their care and professionalism.

“I am sure you appreciate that the entire episode is somewhat disorientating, and I hope that you’ll respect my privacy and that of my family during the period of my convalescence.”