Labour frontbenchers have defied Jeremy Corbyn to back Theresa May’s tough line against Russia over the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
The party leader is facing a mounting revolt from his own side over his failure to condemn Moscow following the attempted murder of a former spy on UK soil.
Mr Corbyn was accused of parroting the Kremlin line in the Commons by making clear he did not accept that only Russia could have been the source of the military-grade Novichok agent.
The veteran left-winger’s chief spin doctor openly questioned the reliability of the UK security services, which have briefed Mr Corbyn on the nerve agent outrage.
Two frontbenchers are said to have suggested they could quit over the stance.
And shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith today broke ranks to say she did not agree with Mr Corbyn and it was ‘quite clear’ the incident was an ‘act of aggression’.
‘We fully support the government’s action because we hold Russia responsible,’ she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘We very much accept what the Prime Minister said, this is a very sophisticated nerve agent, and that Russia is responsible for this attack.
Ms Griffith said she was more ‘plain speaking’ than Jeremy Corbyn, arguing that he had clarified his position in a statement after his heavily-criticised Commons performance.
‘I think the important thing is that is our position now,’ she added.
Ms Griffith distanced herself from Mr Milne, saying Britain had ‘very, very fine intelligence services’ and ‘great expertise on some of these matters’.
‘I can’t speak for Seumas Milne, the spokesperson, he has to speak for himself,’ she said.
In an interview with the Daily Mirror, Ms Griffith said senior Labour figures had been briefed by security services over the attack on Sunday March 4 that left Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia fighting for their lives.
Asked if Mr Corbyn had undermined UK security assessments that it was ‘highly likely’ Russia was behind their poisoning, Ms Griffith said: ‘Looking back, perhaps it would have been easier for us if he had made it clear at the beginning of what he said, just how much we support the expulsion of the diplomats.
‘It would have been easier and perhaps we would not have had the conversations we are seeing.’
Mr Corbyn today defended his words in the Commons yesterday – insisting that his questions were proper.
Jeremy Corbyn was branded a ‘disgrace’ after he failed to condemn the Kremlin over the Salisbury spy poisoning yesterday and parroted the Kremlin line by demanding that they are given a sample of the poison to test themselves
He said: ‘I was extremely definite yesterday that I totally condemn this attack, the perpetrators must be brought to justice, the International Chemical Weapons Convention must be evoked, and the source of this weapon, which appears to be Russia – either from the state or a rogue element from the state – must be brought to justice as a result of it.
‘This is a serious, very serious, issue and has to be dealt with. I made that very clear yesterday.
‘The evidence points towards Russia on this. Therefore, the responsibility must be borne by those who made the weapon and those who bought the weapon into the country and those who used the weapon.
‘What I was asking was questions, questions about the identity of the weapon, questions about the reference to the weapons convention, and also the support of our other allies in this.
Jeremy Corbyn pictured with his communications chief Seumus Milne, who has downplayed the number of people imprisoned under Stalin’s murderous rule
Anna Turley was among a string of Labour MPs who angrily distanced themselves from the comments made by Jeremy Corbyn spokesman – who said that Russia might not be behind the attack and MI5 cannot be trusted because they were wrong about there being WMDs in Iraq
‘Those were the questions I was asking – that is what Oppositions are there for.’
But in a sign of the fury among Labour backbenchers over Mr Corbyn’s tone yesterday, Ms Griffith’s comments were quickly supported by several Labour MPs.
Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw said she was ‘spot on’, while Kingston Upon Hull North MP Diana Johnson said she ‘fully’ supported the shadow defence secretary.
Meanwhile, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry is said to have told a London seminar: ‘We utterly condemn this despicable act and support all the measures taken by the Government today.’
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith retweeted a Guardian op ed backing Mrs May’s strong response and commenting that it was ‘absolutely right’ about the ‘resolute, united strength we need to demonstrate in our response’.
Who is Seumas Milne and why are his views controversial?
Seamus Milne is Jeremy Corbyn’s official spokesman -but his comments defending Russia have sparked huge controversy (file pic)
Seamus Milne is Jeremy Corbyn’s official spokesman – meaning he is entrusted to speak on the Labour leader’s behalf.
But he is hugely controversial among Labour backbenchers and has been accused of being an apologist for Josef Stalin – the murderous Communist dictator.
Here are some of the controversial comments Corbyn’s spin chief has made:
Blames Nato rather than Russia for military tensions:
‘This anti-Russian incitement is dangerous folly. There certainly has been military expansionism. But it has overwhelmingly come from Nato, not Moscow. (March 4, 2015)
The Labour spin chief defends Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea as ‘clearly defensive’:
‘No Russian government could have acquiesced in such a threat from territory that was at the heart of both Russia and the Soviet Union. Putin’s absorption of Crimea and support for the rebellion in eastern Ukraine is clearly defensive.’ (April 30, 2014)
Mr Milne says the Soviet Union ‘helped to drive up welfare standards’:
‘For all its brutalities and failures, communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality.
‘It encompassed genuine idealism… Its existence helped to drive up welfare standards in the west.’ (February 16, 2006)
Labour backbencher John Woodcock has tabled an Early Day Motion ‘unequivocally’ accepting the ‘Russian state’s culpability’ for the attack, and supporting ‘fully’ the statement made by Mrs May in the Commons.
A number of MPs have signed the motion, with some going public with their criticism of Mr Milne – who previously blamed Nato for Russian aggression in Ukraine and criticised sanctions as ‘disproportionate’.
Labour MP Anna Turley tweeted: ‘I’m afraid Seumas doesn’t speak for my Labour or British values’.
Chuka Umunna said: ‘Mr Milne’s comments do not represent the views of the majority of our voters, members or MPs.’
In a briefing for journalists yesterday, Mr Milne said: ‘The Government has access to information and intelligence on this matter which others don’t.
‘However, also there is a history in relation to weapons of mass destruction and intelligence which is problematic, to put it mildly.
‘So, I think the right approach is to seek the evidence to follow international treaties, particularly in relation to prohibitive chemical weapons.’
Asked if he could rule out the possibility of Russia being framed, the spokesman said the evidence pointed ‘overwhelmingly’ to the two options set out by the PM.
‘In the meantime I think it is essential we follow the evidence and what the evidence produces,’ he added.
Labour moderates queued up to back the PM’s tough words and actions in the Commons – and take a swipe at Mr Corbyn’s stance.
Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said Russia’s actions must be met with ‘unequivocal condemnation’.
Mr Woodcock said: ‘This is day for the House to speak as one for the nation.
‘And the Prime Minister will be reassured to hear that a clear majority of Labour MPs, alongside the leaders of every other party, support the firm stance she is taking.’
He was cheered by fellow Labour backbenchers as he made the comments.
Labour MP Chris Leslie said Russia is ‘thumbing its nose’ at the West and must be brought to heel.
While fellow Labour MP Chris Bryant said: ‘I completely support everything the Prime Minister has aid here today.’
Mr McFadden, a minister under Gordon Brown said: ‘Responding with strength and resolve when you’re country is under threat is an essential component of political leadership.
‘There is a Labour tradition which understands that, and it has been understood by Prime Ministers of all parties who have stood at that despatch box.
‘That means when chemical weapons are used we need more than words but deeds.’
The Russian embassy Twitter feed continued to mock Britain over the nerve gas attack today
Labour moderates queued up to back the PM’s tough words and actions in the Commons yesterday – and take a swipe at Mr Corbyn’s stance