EU Referendum: Electoral Law: National Security and Russia

Three weeks ago, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were attacked in the heart of our country. All the evidence overwhelmingly points to the nerve agents coming from Russia, and most probably being administered on behalf of or on the orders of the Russian Government. Once again, despite the means, the motive and the express intention of the Russian President in the past, the only response to those attempted murders on the streets of England has essentially been a Russian, “It wasn’t me.”

That cannot come entirely as a surprise. We have seen it before. Twelve years ago, Alexander Litvinenko was killed with a chemical agent in one of our cities in Britain. Sir Robert Owen found in his inquiry:

“Taking full account of all the evidence and analysis available to me, I find that the FSB operation to kill Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev and also by President Putin.”

Yet the Russian Government still deny any knowledge or involvement, and they parade those accused of direct involvement in the murder, including in fact one of their parliamentarians, on television. President Putin seems to believe that he can act with impunity whether with direct killings and attacks in our country, or less prominently through cyber-warfare and covert operations. The only thing that is not clear is whether he believes that Russia will not be found responsible, or if he just does not care.

The truth is that it is not only in the United Kingdom that Russia is posing a direct and immediate threat to security. During my time as an alternate Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I have had the opportunity to speak to parliamentarians from countries around Europe who see the impact of Russian aggression and expansionism on their own nations. In 2008, there was the invasion of Georgia and the annexation of South Ossetia. In 2014, there was the invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. During the past couple of decades, there has been the constant destabilising effect of the Russian state in Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite posing as an intermediary or arbiter, Russia’s impact has consistently been to try to keep the region as unstable as possible, because it has very much been in the interests of the Russian state to keep Armenia and Azerbaijan in a state of conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Today’s co-ordinated action is extremely welcome. As has been said, it is likely that it was not expected by the Russian Government—I am not sure it was entirely expected by all Members of this House—and that probably multiplies its effectiveness. It is precisely because we want to minimise the risk of armed military conflict that we must maximise the effectiveness of our diplomatic and security response.

It has been heartening to see such broad support from Members of all parties across the House, which is why what we heard from one Opposition Member about the attempted murders here in Britain is so disheartening. That Member, who is no longer in the Chamber, has described as enemies those who have chosen to speak in support of effective action—not those who have carried out the attempted murders, but Opposition Members who have dared to support a Conservative Prime Minister in standing up for British security, and for effective action to safeguard people in this country.

The many Opposition Members who have backed an effective response will sooner or later have to decide whether they trust their own leader—on the basis of the decisions he has taken and the instincts he has shown over the past few weeks—to manage Britain’s security by ever putting him into No. 10 Downing Street. If the first duty of the Government is to protect the security of this country, I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has demonstrated over and over again the fundamental strength of character that makes her so suitable for the role. I am not sure that the same can be said for the leader—