Tom Richmond: Staunch May let down by ministers over Putin

SUPPORTERS of Russian '˜dictator' Vladimir Putin were quick to credit Theresa May '“ and her stance over the Salisbury spy poisoning case '“ for their leader's re-election despite ballot boxes being stuffed with voting papers mass produced on an industrial scale.

Theresa May has taken a tough stance with Russia, but has she been let down by some cabinet ministers? (PA).

Yet, paradoxically, the reverse is true. May’s decision to stand up to Moscow after the poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia has strengthened the Prime Minister’s position after a stuttering start to the year.

Her strong leadership, and the fact that next Thursday will mark the year-long countdown to Britain’s departure from the EU on March 29, 2019, has, in fact, shamed those Western leaders who have allowed Russia to tamper with their domestic affairs.

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That said, Mrs May continues to be let down by three senior of her most senior – and most ambitious – Ministers whose lack of statesmanship in recent days and weeks has not been prime ministerial. The culprits?

First, Gavin Williamson, the Scarborough-born Defence Secretary, told Russia to “go away and shut up”. He might have been trying to prove that he’s a tough talker but he sounded weak and unnerved at a time when the nation’s defences need shoring up.

Second, Boris Johnson continues to go rogue and make assumptions before they have been validated. As Foreign Secretary, he’s supposed to be the nation’s chief diplomat. Instead, he continues to blunder and bluster rather than follow the PM’s lead.

Finally, Brexit Secretary David Davis. Not only has the Haltemprice and Howden MP gained an unfortunate reputation for dodging awkward Parliamentary questions, but it’s emerged – from one of his junior Ministers – that he’s not visited Northern Ireland’s border with the Irish republic since his appointment.

Given this issue is critical to Brexit, and the Northern Ireland peace process, this disclosure is breathtaking. I would have thought that Mr Davis would have wanted to see the lie of the land for himself and speak to local businesses.

With all three men tipped in recent weeks to take over from Mrs May, it does appear – for now – that the Prime Minister’s position looks far more assured than at any time since last June’s misguided election.

TO be fair to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, he has asked a number of pertinent and valid questions about the Salisbury spy poisoning case – and the extent of the evidence against Russia.

His mistake was trying to make cheap political points and appearing to give the Kremlin the benefit of the doubt.

He could have supported Theresa May’s response while pointing that it is also the Leader of the Opposition’s duty to challenge and scrutinise on issues of national security where necessary.

It’s what Michael Foot did after the Falklands were invaded in 1982. And it’s what Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith failed to do over the 2003 Iraq invasion.

ANY boycott by England of football’s World Cup in Russia this summer won’t make a jot of difference – Gareth Southgate’s side are minnows on the international stage.

Yet, if Europe’s leading football nations Germany, France and Spain were to pull out of the tournament in solidarity with the UK government, the competition would be bereft of credibility.

Evidently, it would hurt Vladimir Putin’s “popularity more than any economic or diplomatic sanction”.

Who said so? Christian Purslow in a letter to The Times this week. And who is he? He was managing director of Chelsea from 2014-17 and has the ear of the London club’s Russian oligarch owner Roman Abramovich. Interesting.

NO wonder Leeds City Council is broke and sent out a politically partisan letter from leader Judith Blake with council tax bills that blamed the Government for anything and everything.

Effectively a free plug for the Labour Party ahead of May’s local elections when every seat is up for grabs, the council clearly prioritised this ‘dodgy dossier’, over services like the gritting of roads.

And it clearly has money to squander. I live on a cul-de-sac where the design of the road is such that the maximum speed is, thankfully five miles per hour – you can’t drive any faster. So what has the council done? Installed – at great expense – 20mph speed limit signs which are totally unnecessary. In an accident-free area, you couldn’t make it up.

i SPOKE to a very helpful assistant at Virgin Trains East Coast this week with a ticket query – they couldn’t have been more polite or professional. Yet they said they’re fearful for their jobs after the collapse of the rail franchise – and appalled at the lack of communication from the company and Department for Transport.

Given train staff are ambassadors for areas like Yorkshire, it’s one for the line’s Supervisory Board that was set up amid much fanfare last August under tourism supremo Sir Gary Verity. They certainly deserve reassurances about their futures.

THANK you to those council chiefs and councillors who’ve spoken supportively about my recent comments calling for clear language over devolution – and that public support is crucial to the One Yorkshire plan coming to fruition.

Let’s hope they, too, are now listened to by those who think they know best when they don’t.

JUST before junction 33 – the Sheffield turn-off – on the M1 is a brown tourist sign advertising the ‘South Yorkshire Forest’. ‘Welcome to Sheffield, the tree-felling capital of the world’ would be more appropriate.