Corbyn faces pressure from inside his own cabinet
Prime Minister Theresa May announced yesterday that she will remove 23 Russian diplomats from their post in London. The move has been met with widespread support but Jeremy Corbyn has been admonished for refusing to outrightly condemn Russia for an attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
The Opposition Leader said the most likely explanation was Russia that was “directly or indirectly responsible” for the attack but “culpability takes many forms”.
He pointed to the “problematic history” of UK intelligence on chemical weapons.
Later, his spokesman implied an equivalence between the flawed intelligence that led to the Iraq war and the interpretation of the evidence around the Salisbury attack. The briefing was reported in the Commons and provoked cries of “shame”.
Corbyn subsequently posted on Facebook: “The Russian authorities must be held to account on the basis of the evidence and our response must be both decisive and proportionate.”
But his inability to condemn Russia has caused an uproar from several crucial Labour Cabinet MPs. Most notably amongst them was Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith. In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Griffith – who has criticised Corbyn’s stance on Russia in the past – was repeatedly asked to clarify Labour’s position. She insisted Labour supported the government’s actions, and “fully accepts that Russia is responsible”.
Ms Griffith said she was more “plain speaking” than her leader and said he had made it clear in “the subsequent statement that he put out” on Wednesday evening that Labour was “fully supportive” of the Government’s actions.
Griffith echoed the sentiments of Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry who declared there was “prima facie evidence” against Russia, and supported all the measures announced by the government in response to it.
In clear damage control the Labour leader spoke today in Cardiff to clarify what he meant. Stating that he was doing his job as Opposition Leader, he pointed to the fact that he was asking questions about the weapon involved in the attack.
Nevertheless it does not seem to have helped Mr Corbyn, as he once again refused to point blank blame Russia for the attacks.
Although there is a long history of disagreement over foreign policy between Corbyn and some of his MPs, this is the first serious row since Labour’s election result exceeded expectations last June. Rumours are now beginning to unfold that there may be a series of resignations from his Cabinet over his stance on Russia.