Pro-Russia rebels driving a tank through Donetsk today as international tensions increase over access to the MH17 crash site. Photo: Getty
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David Cameron: Russia faces tougher sanctions for MH17 crash

The Prime Minister warned President Putin to stop aiding separatists in Ukraine, as responsibility for the MH17 crash was laid at Russia's feet.

The Prime Minister has called for tougher sanctions on Russia, after detailing evidence that pro-Russian separatists were responsible for shooting down flight MH17.

Speaking in the Commons this afternoon, David Cameron demanded a ban on the sale of military wares from the EU to Russia and asset freezes on Putin's “cronies”.

He said that Russia cannot expect to keep enjoying access to European markets, capital, knowledge and technical expertise.

Noting the “reluctance” of some European countries to confront Russia about its involvement in the destabilisation of Ukraine, he said that they “should not need to be reminded of the consequences of turning a blind eye when big countries bully smaller countries.”

"It is time to make our power, influence and resources count," he added.

The Prime Minister confirmed he has spoken with Presidents Obama and Hollande and Chancellor Merkel, as well as the premiers of the Netherlands, Australia, Poland and Malaysia and said: “We're all agreed on what must happen.”

He called on Russia to exert influence on the pro-Russian separatists at the crash site to allow the repatriation of the bodies of the victims, “ensuring they are treated with dignity”. He also demanded uninhibited access for international investigators.

Russia must halt its support of separatists in the Ukraine too. Cameron said: “President Putin must use his influence to ensure an end to the conflict in Ukraine by halting supplies and training for the separatists.”

Pulling no punches, he made clear when the blame should be laid for the "appalling" crash: “The weight of evidence is pointing in one direction. MH17 was shot down by an SA11 missile fired by separatists.”

After paying tribute to the victims, Cameron said: “Alongside sympathy for the victims, there is anger. There is anger that this could happen at all. There is anger that the murder of men, women and children has been compounded by the sickening reports of looting of victims' possessions and interference with the evidence.

“And there is rightly anger that a conflict that could have been curtailed by Moscow has instead been fomented by Moscow.”

He added: “This has to change now.”

Earlier today Tony Blair called for a common EU defence policy in order to stand up to Russian aggression “on its doorstep”.

Giving the Philip Gould memorial lecture on the 20th anniversary of his selection to the Labour leadership, Blair said that Putin must realise that if pro-Russian separatists are proven to be responsible for the “hideous” shooting down of MH17, the Russian leader must “take responsibility.”

The Prime Minister also made a statement about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. He made clear that the current crisis was “triggered by Hamas raining hundreds of rockets" on Israeli cities and reiterated “Israel's right to take proportionate action to defend itself.”

He added, however, that when he spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night: “I urged him to do everything to avoid civilian casualties and bring the situation to an end.” 

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.

 

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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