Boris Johnson Under Pressure Over Porton Down Claims
Boris Johnson is coming under increasing pressure after comments from the head of the Porton Down facility flatly contradicted the Foreign Secretary’s assertion that Porton Down had been “absolutely categorical” about Russia being the source of the Novichok nerve agent.
In an interview for German television after the nerve agent was used in an apparent assassination attempt on the defected Russian spy, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, Boris had claimed that:
“When I look at the evidence, the people from Porton Down, the laboratory, they were absolutely categorical. I asked the guy myself, I said: ‘Are you sure?’ And he said: ‘There’s no doubt.’ So we have very little alternative but to take the action that we have taken.”
However in an interview with Sky News, Gary Aitkenhead, the chief executive of the Porton Down facility, commented that that it was not the role of Porton Down to find out where the chemical had originated, or who had used the weapon, saying that ”It is our job to provide the scientific evidence of what this particular nerve agent is, we identified that it is from this particular family and that it is a military grade, but it is not our job to say where it was manufactured.”
He also denied claims by the Russian government that the Novichok could have come from his facility, and argued that only a state actor could have the capacity to manufacture the military grade nerve agent.
The Foreign Office has responded by stating that they believe that Russia was behind the attack based upon information from the wider “intelligence picture”.
The Shadow Home Secretary, Dianne Abbot has said that although the Prime Minister “was quite careful in her initial statement”, Boris Johnson was “apparently going on international media and saying he was 101% certain it was Putin - I don’t understand where he got that information from.”
“It doesn’t surprise me Porton Down is saying this because the security services were always very cautious in what they said. What surprised me was that so many were willing to rush into the media and say it was unequivocally Putin. That’s not necessarily what we were told.”
This is the latest in a series of blunders from the nation's chief diplomat. It certainly gives credence to Jeremy Corbyn's cautious approach to the matter. In a further embarrassment for the Government, the Foreign Office has also just been forced to delete a tweet that made it appear as if the British Ambassador in Russia backed Johnson's claims.