Richard North, 04/04/2018  

Having posted earlier on the Skripal poisoning, I suppose we can hardly ignore the latest dramatic development.

Setting the scene, we have foreign secretary Johnson's recent assertion that, having spoken personally the people from Porton Down, the laboratory, who were "categorical" about the nerve agent having come from Russia.

Now we have Gary Aitkenhead, chief executive of the defence laboratory, has announced that his laboratory has "not verified the precise source" of the agent.

"We were able to identify it as novichok, to identify that it was military-grade nerve agent", he said, adding that: "We have not identified the precise source, but we have provided the scientific information to government who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions that they have come to". 

Establishing its origin, it appears, required "other inputs", some of them intelligence-based, to which the government has access. But before this, former diplomat Craig Murray had already been convinced that Johnson was "point blank lying" about the degree of certainty Porton Down scientists had about the Skripals being poisoned with a Russian Novichok agent.

This was on 22 March when he cited the High Court judgement, permitting blood samples to be taken from the Skripals. This recorded a finding from Porton Down, to the effect that:
Blood samples from Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal were analysed and the findings indicated exposure to a nerve agent or related compound. The samples tested positive for the presence of a Novichok class nerve agent or closely related agent.
Although Murray has been comprehensively attacked and denigrated by diverse persons, bluntly, on this matter I would prefer his analyses to those of Alexander "Boris" Johnson, a serial plagiarist and liar. And in this instance, he drew attention to the statement, as indicating that Porton Down have not even positively identified this as a Novichok, as opposed to "a closely related agent".

Even if it were a "Novichok" that would not prove manufacture in Russia, and a "closely related agent" could be manufactured by literally scores of state and non-state actors.

In his latest statement, Aitkenhead uses similar phrasing, adding that his laboratory had "been able to establish that it's novichok or from that family" – a similar vagueness as to the precise nature of the agent.

Murray has yet to catch up with Aitkenhead's statement, but he does remark on the anomaly of this extreme military grade nerve agent (according to Johnson Novichoks are "ten times more powerful") being (thankfully) comparatively ineffective, with Yulia Skripal conscious and "improving rapidly".

Before this apparently miraculous recovery, Johnson had been doing his best to inflame an already tense situation, which had the UK expelling diplomats from the Russian embassy, triggering a tit-for-tat response.

This time, by any measure, he went too far claiming that it was "overwhelmingly likely" that Mr Putin had personally ordered the assassination attempt on Sergei Skripal and (presumably) his daughter. There was no possible way that the UK government could have information from any reliable source that would support such a statement.

Backing from first the EU and selected Member States and then Trump's USA, was seen at the time as expressing solidarity for an embattled United Kingdom. But now, unless Johnson can come up with something more convincing, the case against Russia looks even more fragile than it has to date.

With that, various different issues begin to merge, with a particular link being made with Brexit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

In between mocking the UK's claim that there was no plausible alternative explanation for the poisonings of the Skripals, Lavrov offered his own. It could be to the advantage to the British government, he averred, distracting attention from the difficulties over Brexit, and the failure to come up with a credible solution for the Irish question at the March European Council.

Lavrov also claimed the attack on the Skripals was not sophisticated, echoing Murray's point that if it had been, the victims would have died immediately. "If I understand correctly, sophisticated attacks usually lead to instant death", he said.

Even then, he was able to claim that "serious experts" and "leaders of a number of countries" were questioning Britain's account of the crime. "Britain, I think, will not manage to evade answering these questions… It's only too obvious that our British colleagues have lost their sense of reality", he added.

One would have to go the extremes of conspiracy theorising even to consider that Mrs May could herself have organised the poisoning of Sergei Skripals – even for the Tories, that's going a bit far. But there can hardly be any dispute that the events in Salisbury did serve to distract the media from Brexit, as well as changing the tone of the European Council.

What has played to the advantage of the UK, though, could now rebound. For sure, the diplomatic actions by the Western powers represented a response to continued Russian provocation. In that context, the Salisbury was the last straw. But it seems that all the governments which have supported the UK seems to have accepted uncritically the "evidence" of Mrs May's government.

To my mind, the initial claim of "no other plausible explanation" never was a tenable argument and, with yesterday's events, what's left of the UK's evidential edifice could be starting to crumble on its bed of Johnsonian lies.

Already, The Times is reporting that Mrs May is having to battle to preserve the alliance against Russia.

Cracks are appearing in Germany in the form of Armin Laschet, one of five deputy chairmen of the German chancellor's Christian Democratic Union. Although he is one of Merkel's political allies, he is also a critic of what he calls "Russia-bashing". And now,. he has, so The Times says, raised questions over Britain’s drive to persuade allies to expel Russian diplomats.

"If one forces nearly all Nato countries into solidarity, shouldn't one have certain evidence?" he says. "Regardless of what one thinks about Russia, my study of international law taught me a different way to deal with other states".

The implications of a break-up of the united front are almost unimaginable. A UK government, having led the troops to the top of the hill and back down again, is risking a loss of credibility on a scale that would dwarf the 1956 Suez debacle. At the end point, one could see a rapprochement between Russia and the United States, with the EU and its Member States following. This would leave the UK totally isolated and dangerously vulnerable.

And before pondering the implausibility of this, consider how many times in history a British foreign minister has accused the head of state of a foreign power of deliberately ordering an assignation on UK sovereign territory – without even beginning to have a supportable case. Nations have gone to war over less.

Possibly, such a disastrous scenario was the inevitable consequence of Mrs May appointing as her foreign secretary a sociopath who is quite evidently incapable of telling truth from lies and will employ the latter to suit his own of his government's convenience.

And with this creature also representing the UK in one of the highest political offices in the land, who can possibly be at all surprised if he causes irreparable damage. If May had any sense at all, she would fire Johnson immediately, and then start again with an independent inquiry on the Salisbury incident.

The same should happen with Brexit. Everything done since Mrs May came into office has been tainted by the activities of her "house" sociopath. She will not regain even a semblance of credibility until she is rid of him.

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