Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen, including PM’s statement in Commons about Salisbury attack
Turning away from Russia for a moment, the Scottish government has this afternoon rejected the amendments to the EU withdrawal bill tabled by the UK government. Mike Russell, the Scottish government’s Brexit minister, has explained his stance in an open letter to MSPs. Here’s an extract.
The UK government has today tabled amendments to the clauses in the EU withdrawal bill relating to devolution. The fact that these amendments have been tabled is recognition on the part of the UK government that its original approach was deeply flawed.
None the less I must be clear at the outset that, whilst we welcome that recognition, the amendments tabled today have not been agreed with the Scottish and Welsh governments and are not supported by us.
May’s statement is now over. I will post a quick summary shortly.
Here is Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, responding to Theresa May’s statement.
Exactly right. Cool heads certainly required but also a firm response. Russia simply cannot be allowed to launch attacks on our streets with impunity. https://t.co/pWvurQ2XhM
What the Prime Minister has just outlined is a sobering and horrifying example of the range of threats we now face – not unknown to our Baltic allies. Cool heads must prevail, but this crime cannot go unpunished.
Earlier I described Nick de Bois as a Tory MP. That was wrong; he lost his seat in 2015. Sorry about that.
Here is the statement from the SNP leader Ian Blackford in response to what May told MPs about the Salisbury attack.
There can be no denying that this assassination attempt on Mr Skripal and his daughter is not only a step too far – but calls into questions every aspect of our current and future relationship with Russia.
This ruthless action from Russia put not only the lives of our emergency services at risk but also threatened the safety of the wider public.
The Labour MP John Woodcock (one of the most hawkish and Blairite of all Labour) commends Theresa May for the stance she has taken. He says national security would be at risk if the country were led by someone who did not understand the threat posed by Russia.
The level of resilience voiced by the prime minister in the chamber today has been many years in coming but it is hugely welcome and indeed it would put our national security at significant risk if we were led by anyone who did not understand the gravity of the threat which Russia poses.
Labour’s Phil Wilson asks if May agrees that MPs should not appear on Russia Today.
May says all MPs should be careful what they appear on. She says RT is a matter of concern to parliamentarians. She says she will be coming back to the Commons to say more about what retaliatory measures are being planned.
Richard Graham, a Conservative, asks May to confirm that novichok is totally illegal.
May says it is very clear that the use of this nerve agent goes against the spirit of the chemical weapons treaty.
These are from the BBC’s home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani.
Novichok Nerve Agent Facts: 1) It apparently means newcomer/newbie (so I’m told by others with better Russian than me).
Novichok Nerve Agent Facts: 3) Back in 1999, the US helped Uzbekistan dismantle and decontaminate the facility where Novichok had been developed https://t.co/t7YvvCKBAA
The Labour MP Chris Leslie says, when the country is under attack, MPs should put aside their party differences and come together. It is probably the closest we have had to explicit criticism of Jeremy Corbyn’s response to May from a Labour MP, although other MPs from Leslie’s wing of the party (the right) have struck a similar note.
May says the government will be considering whether dignitaries and ministers from the UK will be attending the World Cup.
But she did not say anything about the England team boycotting the event, which suggests that that is not on the agenda.
Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Moscow (under the Obama adminstration), has challenged President Trump to respond to the Salisbury attack.
According to PM May, Russia attacked one of our most closest allies, using an illegal weapon to harm hundreds. Whether an assassination attempt or a terrorist attack, President Trump must respond. NATO must respond.
This is from my colleague Luke Harding.
May says some of what the government does in response might not fall into the category of what you would conventionally think of as defence.
Labour’s Chris Bryant asks if the government will stop anyone involved in the killing of Sergie Magnitsky from coming to the UK and it it will ban RT (formerly Russia Today) from broadcasting in the UK.
May says the government is still considering the Magnitsky amendments. (See 5.43pm.) And she says, when she comes back to the Commons, she will outline what the government intends to do in retaliation.
Andrei Lugavoi, the Russian suspected of killing Alexander Litvinenko in Britain, has suggested that May’s comments were predictable, ITV’s Carl Dinnen reports.
Andrei Lugavoi – accused of the Litvinenko murder – says May’s statement “attests to a situation evolving under a prearranged scenario”
Theresa May says the government is in discussions with the opposition about whether the amendments to the sanctions bill Labour has tabled calling for Magnitsky Act-type powers (powers that would enable ministers to impose sanctions directly affecting those involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky) are practical. Jeremy Corbyn challenged May to accept the amendments in his response. (See 5.34pm.)
Previously the government has said the amendments are unnecessary because it says it already has the power to impose sanctions of this kind. But now it is sounding as if ministers will accept some Magnitsky-type amendments.
Senior Conservative Tom Tugendhat says poisoning of Sergei Skripal is “war like act” by #Russia.
The Russian foreign ministry had dismissed Theresa May’s comments as a “circus show”, the BBC reports.
According to Ifax – Russian Foreign Minister says comments by PM are a ‘circus show’
This is what the Press Association has filed about Jeremy Corbyn’s response to Theresa May.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “We need to continue seeking a robust dialogue with Russia on all the issues dividing our countries, both domestic and international – rather than simply cutting off contact and simply letting tensions and divisions get worse, and potentially even more dangerous.”
He faced shouts of “shame” and “disgrace” from Conservative MPs as he told the Commons: “We’re all familiar with the way huge fortunes, often acquired in the most dubious circumstances in Russia, sometimes connected with criminal elements, have ended up sheltering in London and trying to buy political influence in British party politics.
Here is my colleague Luke Harding, a Russia expert, on Theresa May’s statement.
My take: a major diplomatic row between UK and Russia is looming. Expulsions inevitable, and aggressive response from Kremlin to be expected, possible eclipsing UK measures
The use of novichok in Salisbury not surprising but remarkable. Developed by Soviet Union in 70s and 80s, and more deadly than VX nerve agent. A brutal calling card that would inevitably be discovered. Conclusion: Putin and FSB wanted this row now
#Russian response to UK measures over Skripal may go beyond tit-for-tat. BBC likely to be in firing line, as well as all serving British diplomats. A rough ride ahead for expats in Moscow
Here are the key passages from Theresa May’s statement
Mr Speaker, this morning I chaired a meeting of the National Security Council in which we considered the information so far available.
As is normal, the Council was updated on the assessment and intelligence picture, as well as the state of the investigation.
In his response to May Jeremy Corbyn condemned the Salisbury attack, but also included a passage attacking the Tories for taking money from Russian donors.
May responded by saying her party follows all the rules on political donations.
Not a single word of condemnation for Russia from Corbyn on the Salisbury attack in the Commons now, instead calling for “dialogue”. Instead questions Tory donations. Shouts of “Are you saying this for a clip on Russia Today?” #weak
May says she chaired a national security council meeting today.
The government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergie and Yulia Skripol.
May pays tribute to the police officer who fell ill.
This incident has caused understandable concern, she says. But the risk to public health is low.
Theresa May is now making a Commons statement on the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
It was “reckless and despicable”, she says.
The Labour MP Paul Farrelly, one of the MPs accused of bullying Commons staff in the Newsnight report last week, started his question by saying he had utmost respect for all the staff he worked with.
He said he was a victim of selective briefing six years ago, and the same thing has just happened again, he said.
Here is the quote from James Duddridge, the Conservative MP who suggested earlier that it was wrong for John Bercow, the Commons speaker, to remain in his chair. Duddridge asked:
Is it appropriate for Mr Speaker to remain in his place while there are allegations against him which he is trying to suppress using taxpayer-funded money through sending out letters through speaker’s counsel?
This is from HuffPost’s Paul Waugh.
VERY pointed support from Leadsom for her ‘excellent secretariat’ on the harassment working group. And a member of that secretariat is Kate Emms – the clerk whom Bercow is accused of bullying. (Emms seconded to Cab Office by Parliament).
Andrew Bridgen, the Conservative MP who yesterday was planning to table a motion of no confidence in John Bercow, welcomes the fact that there will be an inquiry. (He was going to table a motion calling for one – see 10.50am.) He asks when it will start and when it will conclude?
Leadsom says the House of Commons commission will meet next Monday. She will propose an inquiry then, and it should start as soon as possible.
The Tory MP Michael Fabricant says the accused can be victims too in cases like this. But he says it would not be right for the House of Commons commission to be in charge of the inquiry, because some members of the commission are implicated. (John Bercow chairs the commission.)
Leadsom accepts this. She says she is proposing that the commission sets up an independently-led inquiry.
Some journalists are outraged that John Bercow is still in the chair.
From the Telegraph’s Christopher Hope
Unbelievable. Speaker John Bercow has decided to chair a debate about the bullying of Commons staff despite being accused of it last week. He denies the allegations.
This is utterly outrageous and shameful. What will victims of bullying think when they see this? Mr Speaker denies the claims about him but he simply had to stand aside during this debate. https://t.co/vYOmV2SeeZ
Can someone explain how John Bercow can chair an Urgent Question into his own alledged bullying.
This looks pretty bad for Bercow. Can’t see how he can stay in the chair during the investigation.
James Duddridge, a Conservative, asks if it is appropriate for John Bercow to remain in the chair when there are allegations against him. He says Bercow is using taxpayers money to try to suppress the allegations by sending out letters of denial.
Leadsom says all MPs in the House want to tackle this problem.
Valerie Vaz, the shadow leader of the Commons, commends John Bercow for granting this urgent question despite being one of the people accused of bullying. She says he has always been committed to accountability and transparency.
She asks Leadsom if any specific complaints have been made.
Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, is responding to the urgent question about the bullying of Commons staff. John Bercow, the Commons speaker and one of the alleged bullies (although he denies the alllegations against him) is in the chair.
Leadsom says she is committed to stamping out all types of bullying in the Commons.
ITV’s political editor Robert Peston says the government is set to agree that the Brexit transition should end on 31 December 2020, the EU’s preferred date, not March 31 2021, the government’s original proposed date. Here is an extract from his Facebook post.
A government source told me that although it would be useful to have longer to prepare the UK for life outside the single market, customs union and other important EU structures and institutions, it was just “too complicated” to negotiate what to pay for additional transition months.
The problem is that the EU’s current budget arrangements – or multi-annual financial framework (MFF) – terminate at the end of 2020, so it is impossible to calculate what a fair payment would be for continuing to trade with the EU on current terms after that.
Jeremy Corbyn was at the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey too.
In the Commons the Conservative MP Michael Fabricant has just asked about an incident in the House of Commons earlier. Police were called to investigate a suspicious package sent to Mohammad Yasin, the Labour MP for Bedford. Fabricant said that could be connected to the “punish a Muslim day” letters.
Victoria Atkins, the Home Office minister, told Fabricant that the package sent to Yasin was found to be not hazardous.
Holocaust survivors and their families will lose their ability to seek the return of art stolen by the Nazis next year, Theresa Villiers has warned, as she brings in a 10-minute rule bill to try to reverse the decision.
The Tory MP wants to lift the 10-year sunset clause attached to an existing law, introduced in 2009, which allowed looted art to be restored to its rightful owners.
There remains a moral obligation for the UK to reunite objects looted by the Nazis with their rightful owners, and I believe we are failing in that responsibility if we do not renew this legislation.
Although nothing can make-up for the trauma and suffering of those who lived through the Holocaust, or who lost loved ones as a result of that atrocity, this bill will allow families to continue to claim in perpetuity the precious works of art which were stolen from them.
Victoria Atkins, a Home Office minister, is currently responding to a Commons urgent question about the “punish a Muslim day” letters sent to some households in the country. She said the letters were still being investigated, but that the government condemned hate crime.
Yasmin Qureshi, the Labour MP who tabled the question, said Muslims, including members of her own family, have fought for their country. Muslim hate crime is on the increase, she said. She asked why no minister has given a speech about Islamophobia in the last eight year. And she asked what the government intends to do to tackle the problem.
A shadow minister has denied behaving inappropriately after claims that he made offensive sexual comments and slapped a woman on her buttocks, the Press Association reports. Karl Turner is alleged to have touched the party member’s bottom in his constituency office in 2015, according to the Financial Times (paywall). Anonymous witnesses told the newspaper the Kingston upon Hull East MP said to the woman, who had had a double mastectomy, that she “shouldn’t have got rid of her real tits because they were great”. Labour insisted it takes all complaints about inappropriate behaviour “extremely seriously” and appealed for anyone with a complaint to contact the party to allow allegations to be fully investigated. After the alleged bottom-slapping incident, Turner reportedly said something like “I couldn’t help myself” when he was challenged. The shadow transport minister allegedly followed up his comments about the woman’s mastectomy by adding: “The ones you’ve got now are nice enough.”
I am aware of reports in the media about my alleged inappropriate behaviour. I strongly reject any suggestion that I behaved inappropriately or in a misogynistic manner.
The party takes all complaints of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination extremely seriously. We ask that anyone with a complaint comes forward so that allegations can be fully investigated, and any appropriate disciplinary action taken in line with the party’s rule book and procedures.
Here is Theresa May arriving at Westminster Abbey for the Commonwealth Day service.
Sir Bill Cash, the Conservative Brexiter and chair of the Commons European scrutiny committee, promised “very straight talking” ahead of his meeting today in Brussels with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, the Sun’s Nick Gutteridge reports.
Tory MP Bill Cash vowed not to mince his words during today’s meeting with Michel Barnier. Told me on his way in: ‘We’ll have some very straight talking because there are big issues at stake. Frankly the Commission have significantly overplayed their hand in a number of matters.’
The Russian embassy in London has said that it is “outraged by the anti-Russian media campaign” that it claims is being conducted in the UK, with the government’s approval, following the Salisbury nerve agent attack. It has also accused the government of playing “a very dangerous game”. In a statement it said:
We would like to stress once again that we are outraged by the anti-Russian media campaign, condoned by the government, that influences the investigation and has a psychological effect on British residents. Our compatriots and British nationals of Russian origin are worried about their future in this country. UK-based Russian journalists are receiving threats.
Current policy of the UK government towards Russia is a very dangerous game played with the British public opinion, which not only sends the investigation upon an unhelpful political track but also bears the risk of more serious long-term consequences for our relations.
It’s Commonwealth Day, and the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan is celebrating.
Happy Commonwealth Day to 2.5 billion people bound together by a dream of liberty.
In 60 years of Commonwealth summits, LGBT+ issues have never been discussed by leaders, not even once. Surely in 2018, as London plays host to the summit, we can at least have a discussion with the Commonwealth heads of government? 100 to 200 million LGBT+ people are persecuted on a daily basis and treated as criminals in 70% of Commonwealth nations.
HuffPost’s Paul Waugh has got the text of the urgent question on the alleged bullying of parliamentary staff that the Green MP Caroline Lucas will ask in the Commons this afternoon, at about 4pm. She will ask:
Will [the leader of the Commons] convene an urgent meeting of the cross party independent complaints and grievances working group to immediately discuss bringing all parliamentary staff currently covered by the respect policy, including clerks, under the new procedures; will she clarify that historic complaints of bullying will be permitted to be heard under the new procedures and that in both bullying and sexual misconduct cases there will be a presumption in favour of investigation?
Theresa May will be in the Commons this afternoon to make a statement about the Salisbury nerve agent attack. But it will start after 4.30pm because there are two urgent questions first (including one relating to John Bercow and the treatment of Commons staff).
MPs will be particularly interested in whether May concludes that Russia was to blame for the attack. This morning Tom Tugendhat, the Tory chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said he thought she would “point the finger at the Kremlin”. (See 9.46am.)
1. @YasminQureshiMP: Hate crime
2. @CarolineLucas: Treatment of House of Commons staff
1. @theresa_may: Salisbury incident
2. Karen Bradley: Northern Ireland finance
3. @LiamFox: US imposition of tariffs
4. @DFID_UK: Civilians in Afrin
Order subject to change.
Chris Cook, the Newsnight journalist whose report about the bullying of House of Commons staff by MPs has led to calls for an investigation into John Bercow (see 10.50am and 12.29pm), has just posted this on Twitter. It is a copy of a letter sent by David Natzler, the clerk of the Commons (the most senior official in the building) to staff in the House. In it he acknowledges that there are “unresolved issues over bullying and harassment” of Commons staff and that an email sent out on Friday playing down the significance of the Newsnight revelations struck the wrong note.
David Natzler, Clerk of the House, has sent out this letter today: “There is no doubt in my mind there are unresolved issues over bullying and harassment, which needs to be addressed. The public testimony of colleagues confirms that.” A long journey from “grotesque exaggeration”. pic.twitter.com/Lyr2zVs5ny
The culture department has published the terms of reference (pdf) for the review of the sustainability of the press that Frances Cairncross will chair. (See 11.48am.) In a news release the department says the review will “investigate the overall state of the market, threats to financial sustainability, the role and impact of digital search engines and social media platforms, how content and data flows are operated and managed and the role of digital advertising.”
Andrew Bridgen, the Conservative MP planning to table a Commons motion calling for an investigation into John Bercow (see 10.50am), has now told the Daily Politics that he hopes MPs who are supporters of the speaker will back his initiative. Given that Bercow has denied the bullying allegations, an investigation will be “an opportunity for him to clear his name”, Bridgen said.
Bridgen has changed his tune somewhat from yesterday, when he told journalists he was planning to table a motion of no confidence in Bercow.
The question at the Number 10 lobby briefing about whether the government still expects to reach a deal on the Brexit transition at next week’s EU summit (it does) was probably prompted by this report from Sky’s Faisal Islam, suggesting that an agreement by the end of March is now in doubt.
Frances Cairncross, the economist, has been appointed to chair the review of the sustainability of the press announced by the government last month, Matt Hancock, the culture secretary, announced this morning.
.@MattHancock: We have launched an external review to examine the sustainability of this country’s press. The review will be led by Dame Frances Cairncross. Francis will bring her experience as a journalist, in business and in academia #OMCippr
I’m back from the lobby briefing. It was almost entirely news-free, and, logistically, perhaps the most useful thing we learnt was that Theresa May won’t be giving a Commons statement about the nerve agent attack at 3.30pm, because she is attending the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey.
The prime minister’s spokesman would not say anything about the national security council meeting, which started at 10.45am and is presumably still going on. It is still possible that another cabinet minister could end up making a statement to the Commons on its conclusions this afternoon. Or that May could turn up later, if something else gets scheduled first.
Here are some more lines from the speech that Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, is giving at the South by Southwest conference in Texas later today. Substantial extracts have been released by his office in advance.
Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have brought huge benefits to society. They’ve made it easier for us to stay in touch with those we love, meet like-minded people and have easier access to information we want.
But – understandably – there are growing concerns about the way some of the biggest companies on the planet are impacting our lives and the overall wellbeing of our societies. In some cases, these new platforms have been used to exacerbate, fuel and deepen the divisions within our communities.
At its best, the sharing economy can make it easier for people to sell their skills, their time, and even their home, in a way that suits them, at a fair price. But at its worst, it can drive down pay, workers’ rights and safety standards.
If the sharing economy is real, it should be as liberating for the worker or supplier as it is for the consumer. Yes – innovative new companies are providing fantastic services to people around the world, and have created tens of thousands of new jobs in the process.
Ultimately – there must be greater responsibility taken by some tech companies for the impact they’re having on the world. And, crucially, no business or industry should ever consider itself above the local rules, or laws set by democratic processes.
In London, we’ve been clear with Uber and other companies – that everyone – no matter how big or small – must play by the rules. No exceptions.
Facebook, Twitter and other platforms are finally starting to react to the criticisms and are developing technology to make sure the reporting process becomes quicker and more effective. I welcome this. But – with the skills and resources these companies have at their disposal – I believe it’s possible to go further and faster.
What we need to see is a stronger duty of care so that social media platforms can live up to their promise to be places that connect, unify and democratise the sharing of information – and be places where everyone feels welcome and valued.
Andrew Bridgen, the Conservative backbencher who has one of the MPs most critical of John Bercow since bullying allegations against him were reported last week, has given an interview to Sky’s All Out Politics. Bridgen has revealed that his animus against Bercow is partly motivated by Bercow’s views on Brexit. But Bridgen also said that he had dropped the plan he announced yesterday to table a motion of no confidence in the speaker. Here are the key points.
Well, if no other colleague is willing to do it, I’m going to lay a motion as an EDM, early day motion, for testing the atmosphere in the House for support for an independent investigation into the allegations of bullying against Mr Bercow.
Well, he is innocent until proven guilty. He has categorically denied it …
No one deserves to come to work and be bullied or harassed. And, given the speaker’s position, it is absolutely fundamental to the culture of the House of Commons. I think we need to have an independent investigation.
However, I think colleagues who see the way that the speaker behaves to backbenchers, to cabinet ministers – it doesn’t take much imagination to work out how he might be dealing with clerks.
I think the speaker has not performed his duties with impartiality. I think’s he overstepped the mark historically, with regard to his open remarks with regard to Brexit, when he is going to be in the chair for a of very sensitive debates around us leaving the European Union, and also his remarks about Donald Trump, saying he would ban Donald Trump from speaking in Westminster Hall.
Mr Speaker, John Bercow, is quite at liberty to hold those views privately. But given his apolitical position as speaker of the House of Commons, he shouldn’t be able to trumpet them from the rooftops as he does. And that’s wrong.
As my colleagues Peter Walker and Andrew Roth report, on the Today programme Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons foreign affairs committee, said that he expects Theresa May to announce that Russia was behind the nerve agent attack in Salisbury. Here is their story.
We’re expecting the prime minister to make an announcement soon, and frankly I’d be surprised if she did not point the finger at the Kremlin.
So it’s clear that we have got the Russia government behaving certainly aggressively towards people in the United Kingdom, and even in quite a corrupting way.
A wide boycott by a number of countries of the World Cup would send a very powerful message that Russia is no longer regarded as a responsible country. I don’t know how likely that is, frankly.
Theresa May is chairing a meeting of the national security council this morning to discuss the nerve agent attack on the former Russian double agent in Salisbury. It is likely to be followed by a statement in the Commons, possibly this afternoon, with May under pressure to announce retaliatory measures against Russia. Here is our overnight preview story.
The onus for change should not just be on tech companies and innovators. One of the biggest problems over the last few years is that politicians and governments have just been passive – sitting on their hands – while the tech revolution has happened around them.
There’s been a failure to ensure that our economies and our regulatory structures are prepared and relevant. It must ultimately fall to government – working with tech businesses and leaders – to ensure that this revolution is not detrimental to our long-term progress.