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8 March 2018updated 28 Jun 2021 4:39am

UK government will be under pressure to act if Russia is behind attack on ex-spy

Britain will be forced to respond with a sanction harsher than Prince William boycotting the World Cup.

By Stephen Bush

Who was behind the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, both still in critical condition? That the former double agent was attacked with a nerve agent, likely one grown in a lab, increases the likelihood that the attack on Skripal was the result of state action by the Kremlin, rather than a former associate with a grudge.

If that turns out to be the case (and the Russian government still denies any involvement) that in turn will increase the pressure on the British government to respond with a sanction harsher than merely announcing that the Duke of Cambridge will stay home and watch England struggle through the group stages on television, rather than go to Russia himself.

But the difficulty for the government is that any deterioration in diplomatic relations risks exposing some of the decisions made since 2010 to greater pressure. The United Kingdom can’t be an effective advocate for greater EU-wide sanctions because it will not be a member for much longer. More importantly in this instance, defence hasn’t been exempt from the consequences of spending restraint since the financial crisis. Britain’s top military intelligence officer Chris Deverall warns in today’s Sun that the United Kingdom is hugely vulnerable to cyberattacks from Russia and elsewhere.

Yes, it would cause a lot of eyebrow-raising, both among his opponents and some of his longstanding allies, if Jeremy Corbyn reinvented himself as a tribune for a better deal for our boys – but the same was true of his audacious use of police cuts to turn a traditional area of Labour weakness into one of Tory discomfort in 2017. The government could soon find that the poisoning of Sergei Skripal becomes a domestic headache as much as a diplomatic one.

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