Britain has plunged into the gravest battle with Russia since the Cold War as the prime minister unveiled her response to the “reckless and despicable” attack on the ex-Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
Theresa May announced 23 of Russia’s 58 London diplomats would be expelled as she condemned the nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury.
May, who also plans to freeze Russian assets, said she had invoked the new rules to send a “clear message” to Moscow.
She also said that Britain will “fundamentally degrade” Russian intelligence capability in the UK and prevent them from rebuilding it in the years to come.
The Mirror reports: UK ministers and the Royal Family will also boycott the World Cup; high-level contacts will be suspended; Britain will bring in new counter-espionage laws and checks on flights; and Russian assets will be frozen if they could be used in a bid to threaten life.
Mrs May firmly declared the attack was an “unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the UK”, and warned Russia has an “undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law.”
“They have treated the use of a military grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance,” Mrs May told MPs.
“It is tragic that President Putin has chosen to act in this way.”
The Kremlin’s London embassy instantly branded the response a “hostile action” that is “totally unacceptable, unjustified and shortsighted”.
Moscow flagrantly ignored a deadline of midnight last night to explain how Skripal, 66, his daughter Yulia, 33, and bystanders including DS Nick Bailey were hit with Novichok .
Mrs May’s move is set to prompt furious retaliation by the Kremlin. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – whose invitation to visit Britain was also today revoked – declared: “Britain has continued to stage a political performance.
“Without concrete facts, it is a flagrant attempt to mislead the international community – to which we will have to respond.”
Russia’s Ambassador is understood to have been summoned to the Foreign Office today and handed the list.