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PM to hold talks with Danish and Swedish counterparts, with the ongoing threat posed by Russia top of the agenda
Pippa Crerar Deputy political editor
Theresa May will hold talks with her Danish and Swedish counterparts on Monday regarding the ongoing threat Russia poses to international security in the wake of the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
The prime minister will make a one-day visit to the Scandinavian countries, which are among the 28 nations that have expelled Russian diplomats with intelligence agency backgrounds in response to the Salisbury incident.
May will discuss bilateral cooperation on issues such as security and defence with the Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, and the Swedish prime minister, Stefan Löfven, as well as Brexit and trade.
Ministers hope the case against Russia will receive a boost, perhaps as early as this week, from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, which is expected to confirm that the nerve agent was a novichok.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that the attack’s victims – the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia – could be offered a new identity with one of the Five Eyes countries, the intelligence-sharing partnership that also includes the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Reports suggested that the security services had already had discussions with officials at the CIA about offering the Skripals a new life in the US.
The hospital where the Skripals are being treated said on Friday that they were both recovering. Their testimony could be crucial in establishing the credibility of the government’s claim that it was “highly likely” Russia was responsible for the attack against them.
Yulia, expected to be discharged from hospital soon, has not responded to requests from Russia to send consular staff to visit her. There have been high-level discussions about her future amid fears for her safety should she return to Russia.
“The obvious place to resettle them is in America, because they’re less likely to be killed there and it’s easier to protect them there under a new identity,” an intelligence source told the Sunday Times.
However, Yulia’s cousin Viktoria Skripal, who some officials feared was being manipulated by the Kremlin, said that the 33-year-old Russian was desperate to return to Moscow to see her family. Viktoria, who the Home Office confirmed had been refused a visa to visit the UK, said: “She has a dog here, she has a life here, she has work here, and a loved one here.”
John Glen, the Salisbury MP and treasury minister, said: “Given her appalling treatment at the hands of the Russian state, I would warmly welcome the offer of asylum to Yulia Skripal.”
The Russian and British governments continued to exchange blows over who was blame for the Skripal’s poisoning last month. On Sunday, Boris Johnson accused the Kremlin and Russia’s state-owned media of inventing 29 different theories about the Salisbury attack. “No other government devotes as much time and effort to the business of trying to sabotage or discredit international inquiries,” the foreign secretary said.
Officials rejected a request from the Russian embassy for a meeting with Johnson to discuss the poisonings. In a statement on its website, the embassy said that its dealings with Britain over the issue had been “utterly unsatisfactory”.
The Foreign Office confirmed that a request had been received, but a spokeswoman countered that it was Russia’s response to the incident that had been unsatisfactory. She accused its diplomats of a new “diversionary tactic”.
The Kremlin’s strategy has been to exploit inconsistencies in the UK’s case. Last week, it seized on a blunder by Johnson, who wrongly claimed that the government science facility at Porton Down had definitively attributed the nerve agent to Russia.
The foreign secretary prompted a bitter row with Labour on Sunday after attacking Jeremy Corbyn as “the Kremlin’s useful idiot”.
“There is only one thing that gives the Kremlin succour and lends false credibility to its propaganda onslaught. That is when politicians from the targeted countries join in,” Johnson wrote in the Sunday Times.
“Sadly, I am driven to the conclusion that Jeremy Corbyn has joined this effort … Truly he is the Kremlin’s useful idiot.”
Labour responded furiously, claiming that “ridiculous insults” would not distract from accusations that the foreign secretary had misled the public over national security issues.
Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, said: “Boris Johnson is the government’s useful idiot because what he’s done is create a situation where he has contradicted the evidence and overstepped the mark. Porton Down have been absolutely clear that they didn’t say what Boris Johnson said.”
She added that Johnson had “driven a wedge” that enabled the Russians to say there were doubts regarding the evidence: “I think that is really dangerous, that we have got a foreign secretary that undermines his own government’s position.”