An international display of support for UK over poison attack

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The international response yesterday against Russia in solidarity with the United Kingdom is, as Boris Johnson says in the tweet below, an extraordinary development.

In the immediate aftermath of the nerve attack in Salisbury, Britain looked isolated. After all, how much can a nation of 65 million people feasibly do against a country of almost 150 million people, located 1,500 miles away, and which is an important provider of gas to Europe?

For a while, it seemed that even France was not going to offer much support to the UK. Meanwhile, the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker congratulated Vladimir Putin on his implausible landslide re-election as Russian president, despite the attack in England.

But gradually support for the UK grew. Unusually, the MEP Guy Verhofstadt, a key EU figure, implicitly rebuked Juncker’s message to Putin. Then France and Germany and the United States issued a statement blaming Russia.

Now this additional, and almost unprecedented, array of diplomatic expulsions is the clearest possible signal of support for Britain after such an attack with murderous intent on UK soil. Jeremy Corbyn’s slowness to respond to the scandal and his reluctance to blame Moscow for the poisoning is made to look naive.

Often the West seems spineless in the face of aggressive behaviour by rogue governments. The murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London 2006 did not lead to much in the way of serious sanction against Moscow.

But this co-ordinated response to the Sergei Skirpal poisoning shows that allies of the UK understand the grave implications that flow from having a major international power that believes it can carry out such assassinations.

The expulsions demonstrate that the world’s leading democracies consider the current Russian leadership to be pariahs, so at the very least these expulsions should cause embarrassment to a nation that places much store by pride.