UK considering Russian consular access to Yulia Skripal as Russia expels more UK diplomats

30 March 2018, 20:55

The UK government is considering allowing Russian officials to visit Yulia Skripal, who is recovering in hospital along with her father Sergei after a nerve agent attack.

Ms Skripal is understood to be conscious and talking after she was poisoned with novichok while visiting her father in Salisbury.

It comes as Russia accuses Britain of "blatant provocation" after an Aeroflot plane was searched when it landed at Heathrow.

And Moscow has told the UK to take home more than 50 of its diplomats in the ongoing row over the nerve agent attack.

Police are treating the poisoning of Yulia and Sergei Skripal as attempted murder. The attack has provoked a worldwide diplomatic spat and Western nations have joined the UK in expelling Russian officials in response.

Mr Skripal, a former Russian spy, has been in a critical condition since 4 March.

The Russian Embassy in London tweeted that it insists "on the right to see" Ms Skripal, who is a Russian citizen.

A UK Foreign Office spokeswoman has since said: "We are considering requests for consular access in line with our obligations under international and domestic law, including the rights and wishes of Yulia Skripal."

Meanwhile, Russia has told the UK it must send home "just over 50" more of its diplomats in the ongoing tit-for-tat row.

Russia has already retaliated against Britain for the UK's expulsion of Russian "intelligence agents" by ejecting 23 British diplomats over the attack on the Skripals.

On Friday, the UK's ambassador to Moscow was told London had one month to cut its diplomatic contingent in Russia to the same size as the Russian mission in Britain.

Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that meant Britain would have to cut "a little over 50" additional diplomats in Russia.

"We asked for parity. The Brits have 50 diplomats more than the Russians," she said.

And in a statement about the Aeroflot plane search, the Russian Embassy in the UK said: "Today, we have witnessed another blatant provocation by the British authorities.

"Border Force and Customs officers have searched the aircraft that was conducting the Aeroflot flights 2582 / 2583, Moscow - London - Moscow.

"This kind of event is extraordinary."

The Kremlin has also alleged British officials had tried to search the plane in the absence of the crew and have threatened to board British planes in retaliation.

The Russian embassy added: "Of course, we will carefully analyse what has happened. At this moment, we have no other explanation but that the incident at Heathrow is in one way or another connected with the hostile policy that the UK government is conducting with regard to Russia."

The Russian ministry of transport later said: "If there is no explanation, the Russian side will deem the actions towards our plane as illegal and also reserve the right to take similar action against British airlines."

British security minister Ben Wallace said: "It is routine for Border Force to search aircraft to protect the UK from organised crime and from those who attempt to bring in harmful substances like drugs or firearms into the country.

"Once those checks were carried out the plane was allowed to carry on with its onward journey."

Tonight marks the deadline for 60 US embassy staff to leave Russia as part of Moscow's policy of expelling foreign diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to countries across the world sending home Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain.

In total, 171 people are expected to leave the country, with two Russian planes laid on, one of which will make a brief stopover in New York to collect 14 families.

More than 150 Russian diplomats are being kicked out 25 countries and the NATO mission.

Sir Tony Brenton, Britain's ambassador to Russia at the time of the Litvinenko murder, told Sky News the UK government had done well to convince so many other nations to join it in expelling Russian diplomats, but it must have had evidence that Russia was responsible.

"I suspect, and there's some evidence for this, the British government had quite compelling evidence of Russian assassination intentions which they shared with our partners and our partners felt this affected them as much as it affected us," he said.

Ambassadors from a number of other nations, including Germany, Italy, Poland and France, have also been summoned by Moscow's foreign ministry.