Lisa Nandy accuses Jeremy Corbyn of 'standing with Russia' over Salisbury attack

Posted On: 
15th January 2020

Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy has accused Jeremy Corbyn of siding with Russia in the immediate aftermath of the Salisbury chemical attack.

The hopeful successor took aim at Jeremy Corbyn’s initial stand on the major incident in 2018
Credit: 
PA

In an outspoken attack on the Labour leader, the Wigan MP said the party had "failed the test of solidarity" by casting doubt on the security services' version of events.

Former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were both left seriously ill after coming into contact with the Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury in March, 2018.

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The pair survived, but four months later, Dawn Sturgess died in nearby Amesbury after also coming into contact with the deadly substance.

Mr Corbyn initially refused to blame Moscow for the attack on the Skripals, despite being given access to government intelligence on the case.

At one point the Labour leader even suggested sending samples of the nerve agent to Russia for their authorities to verify if it had originated there.

Spelling out her vision for Britain’s post-Brexit international role in London, Ms Nandy launched an outspoken attack on Mr Corbyn's response to the attack.

“We must acknowledge how – in recent times - we have failed to infuse our internationalism with the values we believe in,” she said.

“Russia is a regime that discriminates against LGBT people, that demonises Muslims and other minorities and suppresses basic rights…That used chemical weapons on the streets of the UK and murdered a homeless person. 

“It was completely wrong that our response to this was to cast doubt on what happened and call only for dialogue."

Ms Nandy added: “At a crucial moment, we hesitated in condemning an authoritarian regime…We stood with the Russian government, and not with the people it oppresses, who suffer poverty and discrimination. 

“We failed the test of solidarity.”

The former Shadow Cabinet minister also said the party’s reaction had allowed the Tories to get away with their own “shocking weakness” on Russia, accusing Number 10 of sitting on Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee report on Russian influence in UK politics.

The backbencher meanwhile used the appearance at the Royal Society of Arts to argue that Labour could move away from debates about the Iraq war and Brexit.

And she warned against viewing a post-Brexit Britain as "British Empire 2.0".

Hitting out at those who she argued had failed to make a strong case for staying in the EU, Ms Nandy said: “Set against the seismic changes happening in the world beyond Europe, we didn’t give any serious thought to what Britain’s place in it should be.

“Three and a half years later, we’re still on the back foot. We’ve allowed the right to frame the debate into a series of false binaries, and in so doing enabled a fully-fledged culture war to be unleashed.

“The trap was set. You can either be for your country or for the world. And senior Labour politicians rushed headlong into it. 

“It was a serious failure of leadership."

FREE MOVEMENT

Elsewhere in her speech, Ms Nandy also mounted a strong defence of freedom of movement, which she said Labour should have defended more strongly.

She said: "We should have been bold enough to defend free movement and the opportunties and benefits it brings.

"But this would have required recognising it has flaws, and not dismissing concerns as simply racist anti-immigrant sentiment. We should acknowledge that over decades governments have used the steady influx of skilled labour to cover up a lack of investment in skills and training in the UK and address this.

"I believe in free movement. If it were paired with renewed and radical investment that enabled opportunities for young people, decent jobs, training and skills - then the same concerns would have fallen away."