Saturday 14th July 2018
Stephen Gethins, a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and Scottish National Party MP for North East Fife
At the time of writing, I have just returned from listening to the Prime Minister’s second statement on Russia in the House of Commons, following the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.
Given the Russian authorities’ refusal to explain how Russian-developed military grade nerve agent Novichok came to be used on UK soil, the Prime Minister concluded that “there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable” and that “this represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom.”
I understand the active police investigation has been expanded beyond the Salisbury case and that MI5 confirmed that they are re-examining a number of deaths from previous years, including one involving a man from Dundee, for any Russian involvement.
This state-sponsored assassination attempt is not only a brazenly unlawful use of force by the Russian Federation against the UK, but calls into question every aspect of our current and future relationship with Russia.
Whilst we, of course, must always look forward to a time of peace and cooperation, there must be a robust response to the use of terror on our streets. Whether in Salisbury or St Andrews, Strasbourg or Sevastopol, individuals must not have their liberties, safety or lives put at risk by Vladimir Putin’s attempt to expand the scope of his tyranny.
This ruthless act not only put the lives of our emergency, medical, military and other services – to whom who owe a huge debt – at risk, but also threatened the safety of the wider public. There must be firm and strong action taken to send a clear message to the Kremlin; that we will not accept Russian interference in our democracy or our way of life.
Police have, so far, identified more than 200 witnesses and 240 pieces of evidence in the attempted killing and, whilst Health England made clear that the risk to public health is low, my colleague and SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford was right to ask the Prime Minister to give reassurances to members of the public who may have real concerns that they have been exposed to the effects of the nerve agent used. He was also right to note legitimate concerns that it took a week for the Chief Medical Officer to advise the public who had been at the restaurant and pub to wash their clothing and personal items.
Whilst it is more important than ever that opposition MPs fulfil their duty to scrutinise the effectiveness of a government’s response during times of crisis, we all have a duty to ensure that this is both constructive and in service to the national interest. I would politely and generously welcome Jeremy Corbyn to join the SNP, his own backbenchers, the UK Government and the rest of those in the House of Commons to unequivocally condemn the actions of the Russian Federation and support the UK Government in its robust response.
The fact that the UK has expelled the biggest number of undeclared intelligence officers in over 30 years is welcome, as is the desire to examine what can be done from a legislative perspective to defend against hostile state activity. SNP MPs have previously supported the so called Magnitsky measures – I am pleased that the government is signalling action in this area. Financial sanctions are welcome and we must re-double our efforts against money laundering. It must be clear to the Russian authorities that we will not tolerate activities that infringe international law and, whilst we must ensure proper scrutiny of new legislation, we support the Prime Minister’s actions.
It has been encouraging to hear support from our closest friends across Europe, North America, Asia and beyond and, in the coming weeks, the United Nations must speak with a clear voice on state sponsored terrorism.
International pressure must be applied to Russian aggression which is, clearly, an international problem, as is made clear by the actions of the Russian authorities in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine, as well as in other countries. It is telling that so many of Russia’s neighbours have such poor relations with Moscow.
Our thoughts are also with those in Russia who have suffered from abuse of state power. I am most concerned that the actions of the Russian Government have had the biggest impact on the people of Russia who suffer most from President Putin’s regime. Attacks on human rights, rule of law, freedom of speech and other activists are far too common and should have no place in a democratic society.
Never since the end of the Cold War has Russia’s domestic and international policy been of greater concern, and Mr Putin must not be allowed to succeed in testing the unity and resolve of the Western alliance. Our response must, of course, be measured and proportionate, but also resolute. Our long-term objective remains peaceful-cooperation, but to achieve that we must first contain Mr Putin’s thirst for conflict.