Boris Johnson under pressure to explain whether position has changed after tweet blaming Moscow is deleted
Boris Johnson is facing embarrassing questions over his claims that Russia had produced the Salisbury nerve agent after it emerged that the Foreign Office had deleted a tweet blaming Moscow for the attack.
With the foreign secretary already under pressure over his remarks two weeks ago that a Porton Down scientist had been absolutely categorical that the novichok had originated in the country, Jeremy Corbyn accused Johnson of completely exceeding the information he had been given after the emergence of the deleted tweet.
Play Video 0:32 poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal had been made in Russia.
After 'Absolutely categorical': Boris Johnson insists novichok was made in Russia video The announcement prompted claims from the Kremlin that Britain was lying about the origins of the novichok and demanded an apology from Theresa May.
However, it emerged on Wednesday that the Foreign Office had earlier deleted a tweet claiming the British scientists had concluded that the nerve agent was produced in Russia.
In an awkward development for the Foreign Office, the Russian embassys Twitter feed pointed out that the 20 March tweet on a presentation by Britains ambassador to Moscow on the Salisbury attack had disappeared.
@foreignoffice delete this tweet from 22 March? April 4, 2018 The deleted tweet read: Analysis by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology laboratory at Porton Down made clear that this was a military grade nerve agent produced in Russia.
Johnson is now under growing pressure to explain whether the government has shifted its position.
Timeline Boris Johnson's diplomatic gaffes as foreign secretary
Show Hide Johnson has caused a string of diplomatic incidents with his words and actions
September 2017 Footage emerges of Johnson reciting inappropriate poem in Myanmar Visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar's former capital Yangon, Johnson starts reciting Rudyard Kipling's colonial-era poem The Road to Mandalay. @UKinRussia and amplified by transcript of the speech, Bristows original words were: The analysts at Porton Down, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in the UK, established and made clear that this was a military-grade chemical weapon. One of the novichok series; a nerve agent as I said produced in Russia.
Corbyn, who faced criticism for his initial, cautious response to the novichok allegations, accused Johnson of exaggerating the evidence that Russia was to blame for the Salisbury poisoning.
Quick guide What is novichok?
Show Hide Novichok refers to a group of nerve agents that were developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s to elude international restrictions on chemical weapons. Like other nerve agents, they are organophosphate compounds, but the chemicals used to make them, and their final structures are considered classified in the UK, the US and other countries. By making the agents in secret, from unfamiliar chemicals, the Soviet Union aimed to manufacture the substances without being impeded.
Much less is known about the novichoks than the other nerve agents, said Alastair Hay, an environmental toxicologist at the University of Leeds who investigated the use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds in Halabja in 1988. They are not widely used at all.
The most potent of the novichok substances are considered to be more lethal than VX, the most deadly of the familiar nerve agents, which include sarin, tabun and soman.
And while the novichok agents work in a similar way, by massively over-stimulating muscles and glands, one chemical weapons expert told the Guardian that the agents do not degrade fast in the environment and have an additional toxicity. That extra toxicity is not well understood, so I understand why people were asked to wash their clothes, even if it was present only in traces, he said. Treatment for novichok exposure would be the same as for other nerve agents, namely with atropine, diazepam and potentially drugs called oximes.
The chemical structures of novichok agents were made public in 2008 by Vil Mirzayanov, a former Russian scientist living in the US, but the structures have never been publicly confirmed. It is thought that they can be made in different forms, including a dust aerosol that would be easy to disperse.
The novichoks are known as binary agents because theybecome lethal only after mixing two otherwise harmless components. According toMirzayanov, they are10 to 100 times more toxic than the conventional nerve agents.
The fact that so little is known about them may explain why Porton Down scientists took several days to identify the compound used in the attack against Sergei and Yulia Skripal. While laboratories around the world that are used to police chemical weapons incidents have databases of nerve agents, few outside Russia are believed to have full details of the novichok compounds and the chemicals needed to make them.
Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/04/skripal-poisoning-deleted-foreign-office-tweet-leads-to-awkward-questions