Front Bench: Is there anything the UK can do to respond to Russia?


Front Bench: Is there anything the UK can do to respond to Russia?Today's Front Bench looks at the Government's response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Salisbury. A sample of the email is below. If you like what you see, sign up here. Don't forget to vote in the poll and leave your reasoning in the comments below. The best responses will feature in this afternoon's Brexit Briefing. Front Bench Three days in and it’s still hard to escape the story of Sergei Skripal, the former Russian spy and double agent who was poisoned with his daughter in Salisbury on Sunday. Two major developments have come to light overnight. First, investigators now believe the poison used was a nerve agent. Second, the first police officer to help the Skripals is now in a critical condition in hospital. He had been discharged, but his condition then deteriorated. Extremely critical condition That this was a nerve agent would seem to rule out anyone but a state actor – nerve agents are difficult to produce and hard to store safely. Meanwhile, The Telegraph reports that the visit of Yulia may have triggered the assassination attempt, but that last week’s snow likely disrupted the hit team. An intelligence source told The Telegraph that “It now looks as though they got desperate by Sunday afternoon and decided to strike”. The critically ill police officer may therefore been collateral damage from a bungled attack. The Times reports that Sergei is in an “extremely critical condition” and quotes a Whitehall source as saying “the feeling is that he is not going to make it out of this”, but that “I think it could be more positive [for Yulia]. They are hopeful that she might be able to pull through.” Meanwhile, there were reports last night that Sergei may still have been involved in the intelligence business in some way. Another Russian exile, Valery Morozov, told Channel 4 News that Skripal worked in cybersecurity and regularly visited the Russian embassy. And The Telegraph reports that Skripal become close to a security consultant who worked for Orbis – a company run by Christopher Steele, the former British spy who compiled a dossier on US President Donald Trump’s alleged Russia ties. Little room for manoeuvre The poisoning of the officer appears to have raised the stakes for the UK. However, with sanctions already in place over the Ukraine crisis and UK-Russia relations as bad as ever, it’s not clear that Downing Street has many tools left to use beyond a mass expulsion of diplomats. As Front Bench predicted yesterday, Britain’s limited room for manoeuvre is already being linked to Brexit. James Landale at the BBC points out the UK will struggle to get the EU to agree to new sanctions, with attitudes on the continent softening to Russia and Brexit using up our diplomatic capital. The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, will make an urgent statement to the Commons today, but the Government is unlikely to act unless it finds hard evidence of Russian involvement. This at least buys it some time, but if the Russian link is proved, the expectation will be there for tough response. It’s not clear that Britain will be able to deliver one. Like what you read? Want more? Sign up for the Front Bench newsletter direct to your inbox every weekday morning . It has all the best political analysis like that above and much more. Sign up here

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