Speaker grants emergency Commons debate on allegations about Vote Leave breaking election spending rules

Jeremy Corbyn has firmed up his language about Russia being to blame for the Salisbury attack, while leaving open the possibility that the Kremlin did not directly order the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter. (See 6.45pm.)

No, I’m sorry, that is not what I should be doing, my political secretary does a very good job. As I have said any statements that have been made were personal statement.

That’s all from me for today.

Thanks for the comments.

This is what Jeremy Corbyn said in his speech about the evidence for Russia being responsible for the Salisbury attack.

 Based on the analysis conducted by government scientists, there can be little doubt that the nerve agent used in this attack was military-grade novichok of a type manufactured by Russia. Since that analysis was revealed by the prime minister two weeks ago the Russian state has had every opportunity to offer a plausible explanation as to how a nerve agent stock of this type came to be used in this attack.

They’ve offered nothing concrete in response except denials and diversion. Indeed, the only solid assertion they’ve offered so far in their defence was that all stocks of nerve agent were destroyed many years ago, an assertion that has been contradicted by intelligence reports. That suggests that just over a decade ago Russia invested in the use of nerve agents and developed new stockpiles of novichok to that end.

There is clear evidence that the Russian state has a case to answer and that they’ve failed to do so and we can therefore draw no other conclusion other than Russia has a direct or indirect responsibility for this.

This stance Corbyn is taking her is subtly different from the stance he was taking in the week straight after the Salisbury attack (the week before last). In his Guardian article on Thursday 15 March he referred to the possibility of a Russian mafia-like group being responsible. Here he does not explicitly float that possibility. Also, he expresses no doubt about the accuracy of UK intelligence (contrary to the line taken by his spokesman on Wednesday 14 March.) Most of what is in this statement echoes in tone the joint UK/US/France/Germany statement, and the joint EU statement issued on Thursday night. He even uses a version of the Boris Johnson argument that you can tell Russia is guilty because of the “smug sarcasm” (Johnson’s phrase) that Moscow has been deploying.

But Corbyn did not quite give full backing to the May/US/joint EU position. He gave himself a two-word let-out.


There is clear evidence that the Russian state has a case to answer and that they’ve failed to do so and we can therefore draw no other conclusion other than Russia has a direct or indirect responsibility for this.

Corbyn is still holding out the possibility that a third-party may have got hold of Russian nerve agent and used it to try to kill Sergei Skripal and his daughter. The UK government and its allies have dismissed this as a plausible theory. Corbyn hasn’t – although he was making the point that the Russians would deserve the blame even if a third-party were directly responsible (because they produced the nerve agent – he is not contesting that).

So, Corbyn has firmed up his stance on Russia being to blame, but still won’t say it was definitely directly responsible for ordering the attack.

In the Commons Corbyn says he has been criticising Russia for 20 years.

The Labour MP John Woodcock intervenes. He says that is just not true. He recalls reading articles by Corbyn about Ukraine which did not criticise Russia.

Corbyn thanks Woodock sarcastically for his intervention.

  • Corbyn claims he has been criticising Russia for 20 years, but Labour MP tells him that’s not true.

A Tory MP intervenes, and asks Corbyn for a clear answer: does he hold it responsible for the Salisbury attack, yes or no?

Corbyn says he has already answered that.

Vicky Ford, a Conservative MP, goes again. Can Corbyn confirm that he thinks there is no alternative explanation other than the Russian state being responsible?

Corbyn says he has been very clear. He suggests Ford is trying to deflect attention from what Corbyn is saying about Russian money.

The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw intervenes. Bradshaw (no Corbynite, by any stretch), says Corbyn has been clear; Corbyn said there was no alternative explanation to the Russian state being responsible, Bradshaw says.

Corbyn thanks him for what he said.

In the Commons Jeremy Corbyn is now speaking in the Russia debate, following May.

He condemns what happened in Salisbury. And he says the Russians have offered no plausible explanation for what happened.

There is clear evidence that Russia has a case to answer. It has failed to do that, and therefore there is no alternative other than that Russia has direct or indirect responsibility, he says.

  • Corbyn says Russia has either direct or indirect responsibility for the Salisbury attack.

Back in the Commons May is winding up her speech now.

She says the UK does not want to be in a permanent state of dispute with Russia. Many of us thought that, after the cold war was over, a better relationship would be possible, she says. But she says the UK will do everything necessary to keep its people safe.

Here is Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, on why EU countries have been so willing to support the UK’s stance against Russia.

Charles Grant

Why has EU been more supportive of UK on #Skripal than expected? 1) UK provided convincing intel on Russia’s likely involvement; 2) Macron, Merkel & Tusk gave a firm lead; and 3) EU wants UK to contribute to European security post-Brexit – support on Skripal makes it more likely.

March 26, 2018

Jeremy Corbyn has posted on Twitter the text of the open letter he has sent to the British Board of Jewish Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council. (See 5.10pm.)

Jeremy Corbyn

I have written to the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council. I will never be anything other than a militant opponent of antisemitism. In this fight, I am an ally and always will be.

March 26, 2018

The Board of Deputies of British Jews, which has helped to organise the rally outside parliament protesting about antisemitism in the Labour party, has been tweeting from the event.

Board of Deputies of British Jews

Members of the Jewish community, Labour MPs (including @LouiseEllman @ChukaUmunna and @wesstreeting) and anti-racist allies are amassing in Parliament Square to say #EnoughIsEnough

March 26, 2018

Board of Deputies of British Jews

.@JohnMannMP ‘’what is going wrong with our party when we have to hold this kind of event.’

March 26, 2018

Here is another picture of the protesters.
Protesters hold placards as they demonstrate in Parliament Square against antisemitism in the Labour party. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

And her is the counter protest, organised by Jewish Voice for Labour. (See 1.59pm.)

Labour supporters hold a banner as people protest against antisemitism in the Labour party in Parliament Square.

Theresa May is now opening a general debate about national security and Russia.

She says Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are still critically ill and “may never fully recover”.

She says 130 people in Salisbury may have been exposed to the novichok nerve agent that was used.

She says there is no plausible alternative to Russia being responsible.

She says the Russians have offered 21 alternative theories as to what might have happened. But they are “preposterous theories”. She says this is unworthy of the Russian people.

John Bercow, the speaker, says he is satisfied that this is a proper subject for an emergency debate. If there were to be a debate, it would be a general debate, he says. It would not be anything more or less than that. It would not be a matter of the Commons taking sides.

He asks if Brake has the leave of the House. MPs do not object, and so Bercow says Brake has the leave of the House.

  • Bercow allows MPs to hold a two-hour emergency debate on election rules and allegations Vote Leave broke spending limits. It will take place tomorrow.

The Lib Dem MP Tom Brake is now making an application for an emergency debate on the allegations published in the Observer at the weekend about Vote Leave breaking the rules on referendum spending limits.

He says he has written to the Electoral Commission about these allegations.

Given the closeness of the referendum result, it would be a travesty if these matters were not investigated, he says.

He says he would not use an emergency debate to raise matters that were sub judice. But he would ask for assurances that election rules are robust.

During May’s statement the Labour MPs Ben Bradshaw and Angela Eagle both asked Theresa May to justify the decision of her political secretary, Stephen Parkinson, to out a whistleblower who accused Vote Leave of breaking EU referendum spending rules. (See 4.46pm and 4.49pm.)

They are both among the 16 Labour parliamentarians who have signed an open letter to May on this subject saying Parkinson should be sacked.

Ben Bradshaw

The outing of the whistleblower who exposed evidence of law breaking by the Leave campaign as gay, thereby endangering his family in Pakistan, was completely unacceptable & the PM must act.

March 26, 2018

Outside the House of Commons around 300 people have reportedly turned up for the joint Jewish Leadership Council/Board of Deputies of British Jews rally calling for Labour to to take antisemitism more seriously.

Christopher Hope ?

Around 300 protesters now in Parliament Square for the “Enough is Enough” protest against anti-Semitism in the Labour party, organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council

March 26, 2018

But there is a counter rally too. (See 1.59pm.)

Michael Deacon

Before the big demo against antisemitism there’s a counter-demo – also in Parliament Square – in support of Corbyn

March 26, 2018

steve hawkes

Now Board of Deputies cry “Shame on You” to pro Corbyn lobby

March 26, 2018

It all seems to be getting a bit chaotic and undignified, according to some of the tweets coming out.

Michael Deacon

The two demos have now come together. “Left-wing fascists!” “Corbyn, anti-racist? You must be joking!” “Shame on you!”

March 26, 2018

steve hawkes

“Oh Jeremy’s a racist” sing one group. “You don’t speak for us,” responds irate teenager

March 26, 2018

Back in the Commons Simon Hoare, a Conservative, asks if the ugly rise of antisemitism came up at the EU summit. May says it did not come up, but she says it has no place either on the continent or here.

Jeremy Corbyn has conceded that there is a problem with antisemitism in the Labour Party. Responding to last night’s forceful attack from the British Board of Jewish Deputies in a letter to them and the Jewish Leadership Council, he apologised “sincerely”. He said:

I recognise that antisemitism has surfaced within the Labour party, and has too often been dismissed as simply a matter of a few bad apples. This has caused pain and hurt to Jewish members of our Party and to the wider Jewish community in Britain. I am sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused, and pledge to redouble my efforts to bring this anxiety to an end.

In the letter, which goes beyond any previous apology including his overnight recognition that there were “pockets” of anti-semitism in the party, he expressly apologised for failing to study the content of an anti-semitic mural in the East End of London that has been at the centre of the latest controversy. He said:

While the forms of antisemitism expressed on the far Right of politics are easily detectable, such as Holocaust denial, there needs to be a deeper understanding of what constitutes antisemitism in the labour movement. Sometimes this evil takes familiar forms – the east London mural which has caused such understandable controversy is an example. The idea of Jewish bankers and capitalists exploiting the workers of the world is an old antisemitic conspiracy theory. This was long ago, and rightly, described as “the socialism of fools.” I am sorry for not having studied the content of the mural more closely before wrongly questioning its removal in 2012.

In a much more nuanced recognition of the forms that antisemitism can take, in the letter he accepted that criticism of Israel could be antisemitic.

Newer forms of antisemitism have been woven into criticism of Israeli government. Criticism of Israel, particularly in relation to the continuing dispossession of the Palestinian people, cannot be avoided. Nevertheless, comparing Israel or the actions of Israeli governments to the Nazis, attributing criticisms of Israel to Jewish characteristics or to Jewish people in general and using abusive phraseology about supporters of Israel such as “Zio” all constitute aspects of contemporary antisemitism. And Jewish people must not be held responsible or accountable for the actions of the Israeli government.

Insisting that he is committed to eliminating antisemitism “wherever it exists”, he promised that the party would implement in full the “overdue” recommendations of the Chakrabati report.

The battle against antisemitism should never become a party political issue. It must unite all of us if we are both to honour the memory of the victims of the bestial crimes of the 20th century and build a future of equality and justice for all.

In that spirit, I must make it clear that I will never be anything other than a militant opponent of antisemitism. In this fight, I am your ally and always will be.

Asked about claims that rules were broken by Vote Leave in the EU referendum, May says that is a matter for the Electoral Commission.

Alistair Jack, a Conservative, asks for an assurances that fishing rights will not he hard-wired into a future trade deal with the EU. (He means fishing rights for EU countries. Jack is a Scottish MP, representing Dumfries and Galloway.)

May say, having looked at what happened to fishing rights in the negotiations to join the EEC in the 1970s (when, by general consent, the UK got a very poor deal on fishing), she is determined to do things very differently this time.

  • May insists fishing communities will get much better deal out of Brexit deal than they did from EEC accession deal.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory Brexiter, says as part of the transition the government has had to compromise on its red lines. He says this will be acceptable proved they are restored after the transition is over. Can May assure him that, at that point, the UK willr regain control of its borders and its laws and that the European court of justice will no longer have jurisdiction.

May says, after the transition, the UK will leave the single market, the customs union and the common fisheries policy. She says the UK is clear it is taking back control of its laws. But she says Rees-Mogg will know that the agreement reached in December said the ECJ would continue to have a role in deciding cases relating to the rights of EU nationals after Brexit.

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