THE BLOG
15/03/2018 16:41 GMT | Updated 15/03/2018 17:13 GMT

We Can Both Hold Russia To Account For Salisbury, And Acknowledge Britain's Problematic Foreign Policy History

I can’t work out why so few people seem able to hold both of these opinions at once

ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO via Getty Images

Here are two facts. One: Britain has a long history of foreign policy errors, some of which have had catastrophic consequences. Two: The Russian Government is vicious, authoritarian and downright dangerous, and it was almost certainly responsible for the recent nerve agent attack in Salisbury.

What I can’t work out is why so few people seem able to hold both of these opinions at once.

Many were angry on Wednesday when Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesperson noted that the record of British intelligence agencies had proved “problematic”. There was wave of rage from the commentariat at the very questioning of the secret agencies who, without doubt, do a lot of work to keep us all safe. But that rage is surely misplaced - and Jeremy’s spokesperson is proved right - if you take a brief look at the record of the spooks. It’s not just Iraq, but their role in the miners’ strike and their collusion with loyalist death squads are just two other examples of where they’ve got things wrong. Of course they do vitally important work, but sometimes they make big mistakes, too.

A distrust of British foreign policy shouldn’t just be based on past errors either. Take a look at our role in the world now. It might strike people as odd that we’re taking a hardline stance against Russia for this vile act in Salisbury - while happily arming Saudi Arabia, who are accused not only of war crimes in Yemen, but have also of turning a blind eye to the terrorism being exported across the world. It’s also puzzling to see people demand a blind subservience to the British foreign policy establishment when the Government steadfastly refuses to give an honest answer to repeated questions about the civilian impact of our ongoing drone warfare in the Middle East. The idea that we should sacrifice the truth to reach a political consensus on foreign policy is extremely dangerous.

Having said all of this, I am not afraid to say that sometimes governments get it about right on foreign affairs, and that Theresa May’s reading of the attack on Salisbury is likely one of those times. There is a caveat here, and it’s an important one: I have no access to classified documents. Unlike ministers, and indeed senior members of the Labour frontbench, I am not on the Privy Council - so I have access to the same evidence as those of you reading this.

It is on that basis, and my reading of what happened with the murder of Alexander Litvinienko too, that I have concluded that the Government is probably right to say that the Russian state was, at the very least, complicit in the attempted murder of the double agent Sergei Skripal. The nature of the attack, the nerve agent used and the target point towards Putin’s Government - and their response doesn’t suggest they truly want to prove it wasn’t them. France, Germany and the USA have quite clearly pointed the finger at Russia too - noting that this is the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War Two.

In light of this evidence - I do believe that the Government are correct to say they will “get tough” on Russia - indeed I wish they had done much more. While I can’t say I have a problem with expelling diplomats I believe that we also need harsher action against those Putin cronies who have money stashed away in London, often in speculative property - why not hit them where it really hurts and confiscate their assets? The Prime Minister could have frozen the luxury properties of people such as Alisher Usmanov or Igor Shuvalov, Russia’s deputy prime minister, who has a flat overlooking the Ministry of Defence. She didn’t - and today her own Defence Secretary was left telling the Russias to “go away and shut up” - probably because he knows that the measures announced so far just aren’t enough. It might be a good time for the Tories to think again about accepting huge sums of money from potentially dodgy Russian donors, too.

Nothing I have said here is original. I am a longstanding critic of British foreign policy - and an opponent of the authoritarian, quasi-imperialist, racist, homophobic politics of Putin. I think the Tories should be cleaning up their record on party donations and I believe that dirty money in London should be frozen. I just wish that holding all of these opinions at once were not so rare, because we might just find ourselves with an ethical foreign policy if we were able to engage with the facts a bit more.

Caroline Lucas is co-leader of the Green Party and MP for Brighton Pavilion