Litvinenko Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:43 am on 21st January 2016.

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Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Home Secretary 11:43 am, 21st January 2016

As the Home Secretary said, this is one of the most shocking and disturbing reports ever presented to Parliament. It confirms that the Russian state, at its highest level, sanctioned the killing of a British citizen on the streets of our capital city and, in so doing, exposed thousands of Londoners to unacceptable levels of risk—an unparalleled act of state-sponsored terrorism that must meet with a commensurate response. So far-reaching are the implications of the report that it is important not to rush to judgment today. Time must be taken to digest its findings and consider our response. There are difficult questions that need to be asked in formulating that response, and I intend to focus on those.

First, however, I echo the Home Secretary’s words of praise for Sir Robert Owen and his inquiry team, without whose painstaking work this important truth would not be known. I also extend the gratitude of Labour Members to the Metropolitan Police Service for what the report calls an “exemplary investigation” and to the Litvinenko family’s legal team, particularly Ben Emmerson, who supported them on a pro bono basis, and probably without whom we would not be here today.

More importantly, I am sure the whole House will join me in sending a message of admiration, sympathy and solidarity to Marina and Anatoly Litvinenko, who have fought so courageously to make this day a reality. People will of course leap to the international and diplomatic issues that arise, but it must be remembered, first and foremost, that this was a family tragedy, and their wishes surely matter most. With that in mind, would the Home Secretary be prepared to meet Marina and Anatoly to discuss this report, its findings, and the British Government’s response? I have spoken to Marina, and I know that she would welcome that.

Let me now turn to that Government response. I welcome what the Home Secretary said about renewing efforts to bring the murderers to justice, and her new approach to NATO and EU allies. However, given that these two individuals are reported to be travelling, will she go further and directly approach all EU, NATO and Commonwealth allies individually to ask for their immediate co-operation on extradition?

There may be other individuals who are British citizens and who are facing similar dangers. Will the Home Secretary provide assurances that there will be a review of the security of those most at risk? Has she reviewed the level of security that was provided to Mr Litvinenko by the British security services, and can any lessons be drawn from this in better protecting others? That is important, because there is a real possibility that this was not an isolated incident. The House may be aware of an ongoing inquest into the death of Alexander Perepilichny, a prominent Russian lawyer who dropped dead in Surrey after going for run. While there is a limit on what we can say about an ongoing inquest, does the Home Secretary believe that there is a case for it to be upgraded and provided with extra support, possibly from Sir Robert himself?

I will now turn to potential action against the wider network of Russian interests linked to the perpetrators. Of course, no individuals commit these crimes alone, and today’s report confirms that there is a network of people who will have known about and facilitated this crime. I gather that Mrs Litvinenko has prepared a list of names, to be submitted today to the Government, of people who have aided and abetted the perpetrators, and against whom she believes sanctions should be taken. This could include the freezing of UK assets and property and travel restrictions. Will the Home Secretary give an in-principle commitment to look seriously at that list and those requests? Further, can she say whether, going forward, action of this kind would be facilitated by new legislation along the lines of the Magnitsky law in the US, and whether the Government are giving any consideration to that?

Finally, let me turn to our wider relationship with Russia. The Home Secretary indicated that there will be new diplomatic pressure, and I welcome that, but I have to say, having listened carefully to her, that I am not sure that it goes anywhere near far enough in answering the seriousness of the findings in this report. Indeed, it could send a dangerous signal to Russia that our response is too weak. What has been announced today cannot be the end of what the British Government are prepared to do.

Given what we know about the way the Russian state operates, is there not a case for a wide-ranging review of the nature and extent of this country’s relations with it—diplomatic, political, economic, and cultural? Given the proven FSB involvement, will the Government consider expelling all FSB officers from Britain immediately? More broadly, can the Home Secretary say whether the Prime Minister has ever raised this case directly with Vladimir Putin, and whether he is seeking an urgent conversation with him today to discuss the findings of this report?

On parliamentary matters, it beggars belief that one of the suspected murderers is today a leading Member of the Duma and even second in command of its Security Committee. Given that fact—this may be a question for you, Mr Speaker—what is the correct relationship for this Parliament to have with its Russian counterpart?

On cultural collaboration, given what the report reveals about the Russian Government and their links to organised crime, and given what we know about corruption in FIFA, is there not a growing case for this country to engage with others in a debate about whether the 2018 World cup should go ahead in Russia? On the economy, are the Government satisfied that the current EU sanctions against Russia are adequate, and is there a case to strengthen them?

I ask those questions not because I have come to a conclusion about them, but because I believe they are the difficult but right questions that fall out of the report and that this country now needs to debate them in the light of its findings, if we are to do justice to the Litvinenko family.

There is a question about how the Government go about formulating their response and the considerations that will guide them. Although the Home Secretary ordered this review, it is important to note that she originally refused to do so, citing international issues. She has mentioned them again today, but should not it be considerations of justice, not diplomacy, that lead the Government’s response? Will she give a categorical assurance to that effect? There can be no sense of the Government pulling their punches because of wider diplomatic considerations. If we were to do that, would it not send a terrible message to the world that Britain is prepared to tolerate outrageous acts of state violence on its soil and appease those who sanctioned them?

Once all those considerations are complete, will the Home Secretary commit to coming back to this House and updating it on the final package of steps that the Government will take? The Litvinenko family deserve nothing less after their courageous fight.

I wish to finish by recalling Alexander Litvinenko’s last words to his son, Anatoly, who was then 12 years old. He said:

“Defend Britain to your last drop, because it has saved your family.”

He believed in Britain and its tradition of justice and fairness, standing up to the mighty and for what is right. Should not we now find the courage to show his son and the world that his father’s faith in us was not misplaced?