John Sawers says Russia only carried out Salisbury because of Brexit

Britain’s former top spy says Russia only dared to mount the Salisbury novichok attack because they thought the UK was ‘weak and isolated’ after voting for Brexit

  • Ex MI6 chief John Sawers said Moscow would not have dared strike Germany
  • Tory MP Jack Lopresti branded the ex spy’s remark ‘abject and utter nonsense’
  • Agents poisoned Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia and killed Dawn Sturgess
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Britain’s former head spy today said Russia only mounted the Salisbury novichok attack because the country was ‘weak and isolated’ after voting for Brexit.  

Sir John Sawers, a former MI6 chief, said Moscow would not have dared strike against a German or American city.

But MPs branded the remarks ‘abject and utter nonsense’ and said Britain’s allies rallied to the country’s defence by expelling 150 Russians as pay back.

Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were left fighting for their lives after being poisoned by agents from the GRU military intelligence squad.

While British mother-of-three Dawn Sturgess, 44, was killed after finding and spraying herself with the perfume bottle used to carry the deadly novichok.

Sir John Sawers, a former MI6 chief (file picture, of Mr Sawers leaving Downing Street) said Moscow would not have dared strike against a German or American city

Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia (pictured together) were left fighting for their lives after being poisoned by agents from the GRU military intelligence squad

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Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme, Sir John said: ‘They thought they could pick on Britain and bully us because we were looking weak.

‘Actually Theresa May and her Government responded very strongly and forcefully to the Skripal attack but it was only because we were able to carry our European partners, the Americans and others, with us.

‘It was through engagement with others that we were able to push back and have a credible response to the Skripal attack.’

The Government and Britain’s intelligence community said that Russia carried out the strike in Salisbury in march this year.

What is the Novichok nerve agent used against the Skripals?

Novichok was secretly developed by the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold war in the 1970s and 1980s.

Communist scientists developed the poison so it would not be able to be detected by Nato’s chemical detection equipment.

They come in the form of a ultra-fine powder, Novichok is up to eight times more potent than the deadly VX gas.

Victims who are poisoned by the powder suffer muscle spasms, breathing problems and then cardiac arrest.

There is a known antidote to the nerve agent –  atropine can block the poison.

But doctors find it very tricky to administer the antidote because the dose would have to be so high it could prove fatal for the person.

The Kremlin have furiously denied any involvement in Salisbury – and even suggested that the whole tragedy could have been staged by Britain.

But Britain and more than 20 allies around the world expelled more than 100 Russian diplomats as they hit back at the Kremlin over the brazen attack.  

And the two agents behind the strike were unmasked as GRU agents Dr Alexander Mishkin and Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga. 

Sir John warned in future Britain’s diplomatic leverage would be weakened as it heads out of the EU in March 2019.

‘Our strength in the world has come from our ability to work with both the United States and our European partners,’ he said.

‘The more influence we have with the European Union, the more weight we have with America and vice versa.

‘The Americans are to some extent walking away from their relationship with Europe, the transatlantic relationship, and we are walking away from the European Union. The West is fragmented.’

He added: ‘What we are doing is losing traction both in Washington and in Europe, and that will make Britain less influential on the world stage.’

But Tory MPs hit back at his controversial remarks.

Conservative Jack Lopresti, a leading Brexiteer, said: ‘What abject and utter nonsense, Sir John really should know better. 

Theresa May (pictured at the EU summit in Brussels today with Donald Tusk) has said that Russia was to blame for the Salisbury attack and rallied support among the international community which saw 150 diplomats expelled worldwide

‘The UK is a leading member of NATO, and we are one of the worlds highest defence spenders and have a unique relationship with the United States. 

‘The first duty of any government is defence of the realm and protection of our people. 

This will not be diminished in any way once we have left the European Union. To suggest Brexit has encouraged Putin is ridiculous.’

Tory MP Mark Francois, who sits on the defence select committee, told MailOnline: ‘If this was what the Russians thought then they massively miscalculated.

‘The mass expulsions of over 150 Russian diplomats by Britain’s allies around the world, including in both Europe and the United States, shows that we were anything but isolated – in fact, completely the reverse. 

‘When we were attacked our allies from around the globe came rapidly to our aid. So this proves, empirically, that we were not isolated and our friends stood by us.’   

A timeline of the key developments in the Salisbury poisoning case

2010 – Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer jailed for spying for Britain, is released and flown to the UK as part of a swap with Russian agents caught in the United States. He settles in Salisbury.

March 3, 2018 – Yulia Skripal arrives at Heathrow Airport from Russia to visit her father in England.

March 4, 9.15am – Sergei Skripal’s burgundy BMW is seen in suburban Salisbury, near a cemetery, where his wife and son are commemorated.

March 4, 1.30pm – The BMW is seen driving toward central Salisbury.

March 4, 1.40pm – The BMW is parked at a lot in central Salisbury.

A police officer stands guard outside the Zizzi restaurant where Sergei and Yulia had lunch before they collapsed in a nearby park

March 4, afternoon – Sergei and Yulia Skripal visit the Bishops Mill pub.

March 4, 2.20pm to 3.35pm – Sergei and Yulia Skripal have lunch at the Zizzi restaurant.

March 4, 4.15pm – Emergency services are called by a passer-by concerned about a man and a woman in Salisbury city centre.

Officers find the Skripals unconscious on a bench. They are taken to Salisbury District Hospital, where they remain in critical condition.

March 5, morning – Police say two people in Salisbury are being treated for suspected exposure to an unknown substance. 

Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey was among the first police officers on the scene and was himself hospitalised

March 5, afternoon – Wiltshire Police, along with Public Health England, declare a ‘major incident’

March 7 – Police announce that the Skripals were likely poisoned with a nerve agent in a targeted murder attempt.

They disclose that a police officer who responded to the incident is in serious condition in a hospital.

March 8 – Home Secretary Amber Rudd describes the use of a nerve agent on UK soil was a ‘brazen and reckless act’ of attempted murder

March 9 – About 180 troops trained in chemical warfare and decontamination are deployed to Salisbury to help with the police investigation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow might be willing to assist with the investigation but expresses resentment at suggestions the Kremlin was behind the attack. 

March 11 – Public health officials tell people who visited the Zizzi restaurant or Bishops Mill pub in Salisbury on the day of the attack or the next day to wash their clothes as a precaution.

March 12, morning– Prime Minister Theresa May tells the House of Commons that the Skripals were poisoned with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. 

March 12, afternoon – Public Health England ask everyone who visited Salisbury town centre on the day of the attack to wash all of their clothes and belongings. 

Officers wearing chemical protection suits secure the forensic tent over the bench where Sergei and Yulia fell ill

March 14 – The PM announces the expulsion of 23 suspected Russian spies from the country’s UK Embassy.  

March 22 – Nick Bailey, the police officer injured in the attack, is released from hospital.  

March 26 – The United States and 22 other countries join Britain in expelling scores of Russian spies from capitals across the globe. 

March 29 – Doctors say Yulia Skripal is ‘improving rapidly’ in hospital. 

Unknown time in the spring’  – Dutch authorities expelled two suspected Russian spies who tried to hack into a Swiss laboratory

April 3 – The chief of the Porton Down defence laboratory said it could not verify the ‘precise source’ of the nerve agent.  

April 5, morning – Yulia Skripal’s cousin Viktoria says she has received a call from Yulia saying she plans to leave hospital soon.

Dawn Sturgess died in hospital on July 8

April 5, afternoon – A statement on behalf of Yulia is released by Metropolitan Police, in which she says her strength is ‘growing daily’ and that ‘daddy is fine’.

April 9 – Ms Skripal is released from hospital and moved to a secure location.

May 18 – Sergei Skripal is released from hospital 11 weeks after he was poisoned.

June 30 – Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley fall ill at a property in Amesbury, which is eight miles from Salisbury, and are rushed to hospital.

July 4 – Police declare a major incident after Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley are exposed to an ‘unknown substance’, later revealed to be Novichok. 

July 5 – Sajid Javid demands an explanation over the two poisonings as he accuses the Russian state of using Britain as a ‘dumping ground for poison’. 

July 8 – Mother-of-three Dawn Sturgess, 44, dies in hospital due to coming into contact with Novichok.

July 10 – Mr Rowley regains consciousness at hospital, and later tells his brother that Dawn had sprayed the Novichok onto her wrists.

July 19 – Police are believed to have identified the perpetrators of the attack.

August 20 –  Charlie Rowley is rushed to hospital as he starts to lose his sight, but doctors can’t confirm whether it has anything to do with the poisoning.

August 26 – Charlie Rowley admitted to intensive care unit with meningitis 

August 28  – Police call in the ‘super recognisers’  in bid to track down the poisoners

September 4 –  Charlie Rowley’s brother says he has ‘lost all hope’ and doesn’t have long to live.

Independent investigators, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, confirm the toxic chemical that killed Ms Sturgess was the same nerve agent as that which poisoned the Skripals. 

September 5 – Scotland Yard and CPS announce enough evidence to charge Russian nationals Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov for conspiracy to murder over Salisbury nerve agent attack. 

September 13 – Britain’s most wanted men speak to RT and claim to be humble tourists 

September 26 – The real identity of one of the two assassins, named by police as Ruslan Boshirov, is reported to be Colonel Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga.

October 3: New photo emerges that appears to show Col Chepiga on the Wall of Heroes at the Far-Eastern Military Academy, providing more evidence against the Kremlin’s denials. 

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