Theresa May’s warning that the nerve agent attack in Salisbury was “part of a pattern of Russian aggression against Europe” was as carefully calibrated as it was unequivocal.
The Prime Minister arrived in Brussels yesterday for a summit of the European Council where her EU counterparts will decide whether to agree the terms for the Brexit transition period. However, she has found herself seeking solidarity from fellow leaders over the “brazen and reckless” use of chemical weapons on European soil.
Earlier this week, foreign ministers of the 28-nation bloc issued a statement voicing “unqualified solidarity” with the UK, though they stopped short of pointing the finger of blame at Moscow for the attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Mrs May has taken a firm rhetorical tone to the nerve agent attack though the Government has been careful to ensure its response remains entirely lawful, and rightly so.
This has not been helped by the hapless Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, whose comparison between Mr Putin hosting this summer’s World Cup with Hitler’s 1936 Olympics drew an angry response from Russia. Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian Ambassador to the UK, called this an insult to the people of Russia and again demanded evidence from Britain that his country was behind the attack.
This war of words has escalated and there must be every effort to prevent it spiralling into something worse. At the same time, if the Russian state is proven beyond reasonable doubt to be behind an attack on British soil it is incumbent on each of the EU’s sovereign states to stand shoulder to shoulder with Britain.
Nobody wishes to see another Cold War; however, there are laws governing global democracy and those who flout them must be held to account.