Region’s MPs back tough sanctions on Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin - Credit: UPI/PA Images

Russian aggression has forced the UK and allies France, Germany and the United States to take a stand.

Sergei Skripal during a hearing at the Moscow District Court

Sergei Skripal during a hearing at the Moscow District Court - Credit: Tass/PA Images

It is more than 26 years since the Soviet Union abandoned Communism and the Cold War began to thaw. It now appears Russian president Vladimir Putin is determined to reignite hostilities.

The poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia Skripal, 33, in Salisbury almost two weeks ago has shocked the world. This is the first time nerve gas has been used in Europe since the end of the Second World War.

The Kremlin deny any involvement. But all the evidence points East.

Prime minister Theresa May has already expelled 23 Russians with diplomatic cover and further sanctions are expected. It is a move that won cross-party approval, although Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn drew criticism for asking for more evidence.

Prime Minister Theresa May, with Wiltshire Police Chief Constable Kier Pritchard, in Salisbury as sh

Prime Minister Theresa May, with Wiltshire Police Chief Constable Kier Pritchard, in Salisbury as she views the area of the suspected nerve agent attack on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

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Norfolk's MPs are almost wholly supportive of the move though – with only Labour's Clive Lewis holding some reservations. The Norwich South MP said: 'This attack on British soil was completely outrageous. When we know beyond reasonable doubt then I think the response needs to be proportionate and strong.

'But we need to make sure on issues like this that the information is right. It needs a level, calm head. Let's get this right and go about this in a level-headed way. Some people sometimes seem too eager to do things that are perhaps not the best for the country.'

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But the region's Conservative MPs all agreed the prime minister had made the right call.

George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk, said: 'The PM is right to get tough. Corbyn's refusal to condemn Putin is a disgrace which weakens our security. We need to hit Putin and his Kremlin Kleptocrats where it hurts and stop them using London as a playground to launder their money and send their kids to our top schools. We should use our powers to requisition their criminal assets as we would with other criminals.'

Tory Party chairman and Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis said: 'The prime minister has been clear that we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil, and she has set out the full and robust range of measures we will take in response.'

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP, added: 'Constituents have already told me they support the PM taking strong action. This is a question of the responsibility of another state for an attack on British soil, callously harming British people as well as the Skripals. The PM has a deserved international coalition for action as well as a consensus at home.'

North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham said: 'Given that there is now irrefutable evidence that the attack was either the direct action of the Russian state, or the work of operatives supplied by the state, the PM was 100pc justified in announcing her measured and tough response. Expelling the 23 Russian agents sends a very strong signal that such a brazen murder attempt on British soil can't be tolerated. I am particularly heartened by the solidarity being shown to the UK by Nato and the EU.'

And South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss added: 'I fully support the prime minister's strong stance in taking action on Russian state aggression. It is appalling that this took place in a British city using such highly dangerous material and it is vital we make sure British citizens are protected.'

The recent shocking events in Salisbury have thrown further scrutiny on the influence that Russia exerts on foreign shores.

This week, fresh evidence emerged that Twitter accounts operated by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency had targeted the UK between 2015 and 2017.

Giving evidence before the parliamentary inquiry into fake news, culture secretary Matt Hancock stressed the government would wait for the recommendations of the inquiry before considering any further action.

But on the question of Russian disinformation campaigns in the UK, Mr Hancock repeated the government's position that there has been no evidence such campaigns have affected recent elections or referendums.

'We've clearly seen activity from Russia directed at many Western democracies and that includes here in the UK,' the West Suffolk MP said.

The new research revealed this week, which combined data from UK researchers with a database released by NBC News, dwarfed evidence presented by Twitter to MPs in February. At least 154 accounts sent more than 2,400 tweets discussing Brexit, the 2017 general election and issues of immigration.

MP believes government will be in discussions over World Cup

Military historian and Norfolk MP Keith Simpson believes the government will be holding discussions with Fifa about the upcoming World Cup in Russia.

The Broadland MP said that in the wake of the spy poisoning scandal Britain and its allies should be vocal over their fears about whether the World Cup should be held in Russia in June.

'It would sent a dramatic message if they could move it. But it would have to be an international effort,' he said. 'I think that it would send a united, powerful message to Moscow.'

And Mr Simpson added that the best way to hurt the Russian government was to freeze assets: 'We have to think 'what will effect Putin's behaviour?'. He does not want to return to the old Soviet era – he wants to make Russia great again. We have to follow the money. They have put a lot of money overseas – freeze it or confiscate it. He has to think: 'They are coming after me on this'.'

Analysis: What is Putin's game?

This is a power play.

By ordering an attack on a former double agent, Vladimir Putin is sending a clear message to the world: 'I do what I want.'

The government's response has been tough though – Mr Putin probably did not expect that. He will have been shocked by how quickly Britain's allies rallied. British diplomats have worked hard behind the scenes to get Europe's two biggest powers and the US onside.

Those who have cast doubt on why Mr Putin might have targeted Sergei Skripal at this moment – just before an election and when Moscow had ample opportunity to act while he was in prison in Russia – are missing the point. This act sends a message to the Russian people as much as the West: 'We are a super power and the old powers are weakening.' It will also spark fear both in Russia and overseas.

Theresa May has held her nerve. Now London waits for Moscow's next move.

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