The Foreign Office has deleted a post on its Twitter feed stating that British scientists had established the Novichok nerve agent used in the Salisbury poisoning came from Russia.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has come under fire after an announcement on Tuesday that Porton Down scientists had not verified the source of the chemical believed to have been used in the March 4 attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
The tweet, issued on 22 March, said: “Analysis by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down made clear that this was a military-grade Novichok nerve agent produced in Russia.”
Explaining the deletion of the tweet, a Foreign Office spokesman said it had been an inaccurate summary of comments made by the UK’s ambassador to Russia, Laurie Bristow, at a briefing in Moscow.
Referring to Dr Bristow as “HMA” - Her Majesty’s Ambassador - the spokesman said: “A full transcript and video of the briefing have been available on GOV.UK since 22 March.
“An HMA Moscow briefing on 22 March was tweeted in real time by @UKinRussia and amplified by @foreignoffice, to explain what happened in Salisbury to as wide an audience as possible. One of the tweets was truncated and did not accurately report our ambassador’s words. We have removed this tweet.”
In an interview on German TV on 20 March when he was asked why the UK believed that Russia was the source of the nerve agent, Mr Johnson said: “The people from Porton Down, the laboratory, they were absolutely categorical. I asked them that myself. I said ‘Are you sure?’. He said ‘There’s no doubt’.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mr Johnson either had information that he had not shared with the laboratory or it was a “bit of exaggeration” and called for a “responsible” approach to the situation.
Mr Corbyn said: “He claimed categorically - and I think he used the words 101% - that it had come from Russia. Porton Down have not said that, they said that they’ve identified it as Novichok, they cannot identify the source of it.
“Either the Foreign Secretary has information that he’s not sharing with Porton Down or it was a bit of exaggeration. I don’t know which it is, but I think we need a responsible, cool approach to this.”
Russia’s proposal for a new, joint investigation into the poisoning was voted down at the international chemical weapons watchdog at The Hague last night. Russia has accused Britain of blocking access to an investigation being carried out by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Britain earlier said Russia’s call for an inquiry with the UK was “perverse”.
Russia lost the vote by 15 votes to six, while 17 member states abstained. China, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Algeria and Iran were among the countries that backed Russia’s motion.