Tuesday briefing: PM blasts spy poisoning as likely Russian plot
Top story: Novichok â" the deadly toxin released in Salisbury
Hello, itâs Warren Murray with you, on a day when it seems that friendship with North Korea and the Russians at the same time was too much to ask.
Theresa May has all but directly accused Russia of poisoning Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, saying it is âhighly likelyâ Moscow is to blame for the âindiscriminate and reckless actâ. The Russian ambassador has been summoned today, with the Kremlin effectively given until midnight to make an explanation. It seems likely that Alexander Yakovenko or other diplomats could be expelled, which would set of a wave of tit-for-tat expulsions as relations enter freefall.
The Skripals were exposed to one of a family of nerve toxins known as Novichok agents that were secretly developed in the Soviet Union during the cold war. They are considered more letha l and long-lasting than the better known agents VX and sarin. âThe government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal,â May said.
âEither this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others,â she added, calling the attempted murder an âindiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at riskâ. May reeled off a list of Russian offences against international sovereignty and decency, including the annexation of Crimea, hacking other countries including âmeddling in electionsâ, and the mu rder using polonium of Alexander Litvinenko in London.
Jeremy Corbyn came under fire from within his own party after an equivocating response. The Labour leader condemned it as a âdeeply alarming attackâ but went on: âWe need to continue seeking a robust dialogue with Russia on all the issues currently dividing our countries, rather than simply cutting off contact and letting the tensions and divisions get worse and potentially even more dangerous.â The Labour MP John Woodcock â" a longtime Corbyn critic â" praised May and made obvious reference to his leader when he warned against the UK being led by âanyone who did not understand the gravity of the threat which Russia posesâ. As the investigation continues on the ground in Salisbury, a man has been jailed for 16 weeks after getting drunk and breaching the cordon around the bench where the Skripals were found â" while shouting abuse about Russians.
Salt scare â" Chinese takeaways and ready meals should have compulsory health warnings for their âastonishing and harmfulâ salt levels, health experts says. Action on Salt found the worst Chinese takeaways have five times the salt of a Big Mac while some supermarket versions have more salt than 11 bags of ready-salted crisps. It is Salt Awareness Week (get out the bunting) and heart expert Prof Graham MacGregor said: âReducing salt is the most cost-effective measure to reduce the number of people dying or suffering from strokes or heart disease. We are now calling on Public Health England to take immediate action.â PHE agreed that âsome products are still too high in salt and we know this can be reduced furtherâ.
Worboys parole battle â" A high court case to keep the âblack cab rapistâ John Worboys in jail begins today. Worboys, now 60, was jailed in 2009 for drugging and sexually assaulting women. The recent decision by the Parole Board to release him on licence led to a major public outcry. Two of his victims have crowdfunded their court challenge, where they will argue the boardâs decision was irrational and failed to take into account all relevant issues. They are calling for the board to reveal how it came to its decision. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is also involved in bringing the case to judicial review. Worboys was jailed after being convicted of 19 offences, including rape, against a total of 12 women.
Spring statement â" Not about making an impact in the fashion stakes, but a preview of what the chancellor will discuss today when he gives an update on the state of the nationâs finances. Philip Hammond has promised a short and snappy summation â" the real budget will come in the autumn. Hammond will be unable to boast about the UK outperforming other economies â" the whole G7 has been beating us, apart from Italy. But the UKâs outlook for growth is looking marginally better than it was three months ago. Prod uctivity is forecast to grow modestly. The government may not have to borrow to cover its day-to-day expenses this year, but the ratio of the national debt to Britainâs annual GDP sits at 85% â" it was below 40% of GDP when the financial crisis began in 2007.
Trump parrots NRA policy â" Donald Trump is being accused of caving in to the National Rifle Association on gun control. The president â" who chastised members of Congress for being âpetrifiedâ of the NRA after the Parkland shooting â" has released a school safety plan that stops short of measures such as raising the minimum age for gun purchases from 18 to 21. Instead, it talks about arming teachers to carry guns, which is the NRAâs own suggestion. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the age limit and other measures were still on the table for review, but the president was focused on âpushing through things â¦ that we can do immediatelyâ. The House leader of the Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, said Trump was âcravenly tiptoeing around the NRAâ.
Lunchtime read: Is Corbynâs gravitational force enough?
Could Jeremy Corbyn become prime minister? On election eve, that prospect itself, writes Rafael Behr, might do more to swing voters than any factor that can be gauged in the interim. Current polling has Labour either leading or level with the Conservatives. On preferred prime minister, Theresa May is reliably in front of Corbyn â" ââdonât knowâ sometimes knocks him into thirdâ.
But Mayâs leadership is shaky and she might be gone by the next election. In contrast, Corbyn has become well ensconced against challenge to his authority, writes Be hr, and increasingly prime ministerial from his dress sense to how he voices his politics. âMuch of British politics is a battle between rival ideas of Jeremy Corbyn â¦ one tends to absolute wickedness, the other to infallible virtue. Neither has much resonance with the wider public. That debate has not illuminated what Corbynism means for people who donât read manifestos or argue about politics on Twitter. So â" most people.â The closer the election looms, the more âwhat Corbynism meansâ, and what the man behind it stands for, will come into play.
West Ham once gave life to a part of east London, but the Boleyn ground is gone and the heart has been ripped out of the club, argues Richard Williams. Don Armand is hoping to add to his solitary England cap, belatedly summoned by Eddie Jones to face Ireland in Six Nations. It is hard to get away from Buveur DâAir (3.30)in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival, not least because he appears more at home in the mud than on drier ground. Southampton, meanwhile have sacked Mauricio Pellegrino after a miserable run of one win in 17 Premier League matches left them embroiled in a fight to avoid relegation with nine games remaining.
Shares have been mixed in Asia following a lacklustre day on Wall Street. Investors are keeping a close eye on continuing tensions over the Trump tariffs. Shares in Shanghai and Hong Kong fell as China announced a revamp of its financial regulatory regime.
The pound has been trading at $1.389 and â¬1.126 overnight.
Twin themes for the newspaper front pages today: Britain pointing the finger at Moscow over the Salisbury spy attack, and the death of Ken Dodd, both of which grace the Guardianâs page one.
The Telegraph leads with the news that Theresa May has given Vladimir Putin until midnight tonight to respond to the accusation, with the Times saying the prime minister âhas cleared the way for a cyberattack on Russiaâ. The Sun, Financial Times, the Express, the i and Scotlandâs Herald all take up the ultimatum line, while the Metro declare the Novichok nerve agent was delivered âfrom Russia with hateâ. The Mail has a different worry, asking: âHow can we go to Putinâs World Cup now?â
The Mirror swerves it all, instead leading on news that the family of a girl who was spat at by Jamie Carragher doesnât want Sky Sports to sack the football pundit.
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