Nicola Sturgeon says Scotland ready for chemical weapons attack

Nicola Sturgeon has declared Scotland ready to deal with a future chemical weapons incident in the aftermath of the Salisbury attack.

The SNP leader branded the nerve attack on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal a “gravely serious issue” at First Ministers Questions today, but said emergency services were prepared for a similar incident on the streets of Scotland.

The First Minister said: “Scotland’s preparedness to successfully respond to attacks of this nature - chemical biological, radiological attacks - have been developed over a number of years.

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“In relation to the type of incident encountered in Salisbury, our excellent emergency services would be in a position to respond to the initial incident.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Daniel LealScotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Daniel Leal
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Daniel Leal

“But again as this investigation progesses and as more information comes to light, we will continue to discuss these matters with our emergency services, involving of course our resilience arrangements more generally, to make sure that they have the capability and the resources that is required.”

Ms Sturgeon discussed the issue with Prime Minister Theresa May during talks in London yesterday, along with the national Security Advisor.

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Ms Sturgeon also indicated that the Scottish authorities could play a role in stripping UK-based Russian oligarch of their assets and called for ongoing “dialogue and discussion.”

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Daniel LealScotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Daniel Leal
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Daniel Leal

There have been claims that shell organisations registered north of the border as Scottish Limited Partnerships (SLP) have been linked to money laundering and corrupt wealth.

She added: “If it is the case that further action is proposed in future, for example action that may include asset recovery of sanctions, then whereas that is the responsibility of the National Crime Agency in other parts of the UK, in Scotland, of course, it is the responsibility of Police Scotland and the Crown Office and the civil recovery unit in particular.

“So it is important that there is ongoing discussion and dialogue on these matters as well.

“Perhaps if there is any criticism to be made of the behaviour in the past of the UK, it’s perhaps that there has not been a stronger response in the past in terms of the influence of Russian money.

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“These matters all require to be looked at very very carefully.”

Ms Sturgeon’s assertions came as Britain’s defence secretary said Russia should “go away and should shut up” as Britain prepares for retaliation from Moscow over its response to the Salisbury attack.

Gavin Williamson said relations with Russia were in an “exceptionally chilly” period and called for the whole country to unite behind Mrs May.

It comes as the Prime Minister visited Salisbury to speak to emergency services, members of the public and local businesses.

She will also receive a briefing from Public Health England.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd was chairing a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergencies committee in London to discuss the latest situation.

And Environment Secretary Michael Gove led a cross-governmental ministerial recovery group looking at support to go to the people and city of Salisbury in the aftermath of the incident.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned Moscow would expel British diplomats “soon” after Mrs May announced the biggest expulsion of Russian embassy staff since the Cold War.

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During a visit to Bristol, Mr Williamson said: “It is absolutely atrocious and outrageous what Russia did in Salisbury. We have responded to that.

“Frankly, Russia should go away and should shut up.”

Mr Williamson described Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s response as “disappointing”.

France publicly backed the Prime Minister’s assessment that Russia was culpable for the attack and said it stands in solidarity with the UK.

Mrs May and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by telephone at 7:30am to discuss the latest developments in the case.

The talks came after reports of a lukewarm response from the French government, but Paris later issued a statement saying there was “no other plausible explanation” for the poisoning.

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson confirmed the UK would submit a sample of the nerve agent to the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for it to carry out its own tests.

The US threw its diplomatic weight behind the UK, saying it “stands in solidarity with its closest ally”.

Mr Johnson said the UK’s response means Russia’s intelligence capabilities in the country had been “basically eviscerated” for decades.

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He claimed Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to send a message to any defecting Russians that “you’re going to die”.

Announcing sanctions in the House of Commons, the PM said the attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia amounted to “an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom”.

Mrs May announced the suspension of high-level contacts with Russia, including a boycott of this summer’s World Cup by Government ministers and members of the royal family.

She said Russian state assets will be frozen “wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents”.

Twenty-three Russian diplomats identified as undeclared intelligence officers have been given a week to leave the UK, in the largest mass expulsion since 31 were ordered out in 1985 following the defection of double agent Oleg Gordievsky.

Mr Corbyn drew criticism for his stance on the Salisbury incident after his spokesman said the history of the use of information from UK intelligence agencies is “problematic” and refused to say that the Labour leader accepted the Russian state was at fault.

The spokesman’s comments prompted Labour backbencher John Woodcock to table 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.