News story

Novichok nerve agent use in Salisbury: UK government response, March to April 2018

This page sets out the government's initial response to the Salisbury attack, where a military-grade nerve agent was deployed in the UK on 4 March 2018.

Prime Minister Theresa May visiting Salisbury, pictured with police officers and a crowd of people.
The Prime Minister visiting Salisbury on 15 March.

On Sunday 4 March Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned in Salisbury with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.

G7 foreign ministers’ statement

On 17 April the G7 foreign ministers issued a statement condemning the nerve agent attack and agreeing with the UK’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation was responsible.

Letter to NATO

On 13 April UK National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill sent a letter to Jens Stoltenberg NATO Secretary General setting out further information on how Russia has the technical means, operational experience and the motive for the Salisbury attack. The UK Ambassador to Russia gave a briefing to the international diplomatic community.

OPCW report

On 12 April the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) published their report. It confirmed the UK findings: the toxic chemical used in the attempted assassination of Sergei and Yulia Skripal was a military grade nerve agent – a Novichok.

The Foreign Secretary gave a statement on the OPCW report and the Head of UK Delegation updated the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

On 18 April Peter Wilson, UK Permanent Representative to the OPCW gave a statement to the Executive Council and on 19 April the UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations gave a statement to the UN Security Council.

UN Security Council and OPCW meetings

On 5 April the UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Karen Pierce, gave a statement at the UN Security Council emergency meeting called by Russia. Writing in the Sunday Times on 8 April, the Foreign Secretary said that only Russia could have committed this crime.

At the request of Russia, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Executive Council met on 4 April. The Acting UK Permanent Representative to the OPCW responded on the UK’s actions, in line with the Chemical Weapons Convention. Following the defeat of Russia’s proposals, the Foreign Secretary gave a statement.

Prime Minister’s 26 March statement on collective diplomatic expulsions

Speaking in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said that 18 countries have announced their intention to expel more than 100 Russian intelligence officers. This includes 15 EU member states as well as the US, Canada and the Ukraine, and is the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history. Find out more in the Prime Minister’s Commons statement on national security and Russia.

The Prime Minister also spoke about this in her Commons statement on the March European Council.

On 27 March the Foreign Secretary wrote in The Times that our allies will expel Russian officials because they share our view of the threat post by the Kremlin to their values and security.

In his 28 March Mansion House speech, the Foreign Secretary thanked the 27 countries and NATO for expelling Russian officials whose presence they deem to be no longer conducive to the public good.

Russian disinformation: 6 points

The Russian government’s response has demonstrated disdain for the gravity of the Salisbury attack.

Prime Minister’s 14 March statement: immediate actions including diplomatic expulsions

In her statement to Parliament on 14 March the Prime Minister said that Russia provided no explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the UK. There is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable for the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, which was an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the UK. The UK government would:

  • expel 23 Russian diplomats identified as undeclared intelligence officers
  • propose new legislative powers to harden defences against Hostile State Activity and ensure those seeking to carry out such activity cannot enter the UK
  • suspend all planned high-level contacts between the UK and Russia

On 17 March the Foreign & Commonwealth Office issued a statement in response to the Russian government’s decision to expel UK diplomats, following the British Ambassador’s meeting with the Russian government.

On 22 March British Ambassador to Russia, Laurie Bristow, gave a briefing to the international diplomatic community

Russian State disinformation

Writing for the Telegraph on 20 March, the Foreign Secretary looks at the Russian State’s disruptive behaviour in Russian elections and the Salisbury attack.

Russian disinformation

Russia’s impact on global security

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wrote an article in the Washington Post setting out Russia’s threat to global security.

The Kremlin has positioned Russia in direct opposition to the West

Prime Minister’s 12 March statement: seeking explanation from Russia

On 12 March Prime Minister Theresa May gave a statement in Parliament. Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country, or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others. The Foreign Secretary spoke to the BBC and reiterated the Prime Minister’s message.

Russian state aggression in the past few years

Pattern of Russian state aggression

Home Secretary’s initial statement

On 8 March the Home Secretary Amber Rudd gave an initial statement on the investigation into events in Salisbury. This followed Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s response to an Urgent Question in Parliament on 6 March.

International response

World leaders

On 22 March the Prime Minister met with President Macron and Chancellor Merkel where the 3 leaders agreed on the importance of sending a strong European message in response to Russia’s actions. The European Council also issued a press release on its conclusions about the Salisbury attack

On 15 March the leaders of France, Germany, the US and the UK have issued a joint statement on the Salisbury attack.

The Prime Minister has spoken with world leaders about the ongoing investigation. Each expressed their solidarity with the UK:

On 13 March the Foreign Secretary also called for a united response with our international counterparts. Find out more about the international response in our 14 March Twitter Moment.

European Foreign Ministers express their solidarity

The Foreign Secretary spoke to the media before the Foreign Affairs Council on 19 March and the Foreign Affairs Council issued a statement.

Foreign Ministers express solidarity

On 21 March UK National Security Advisor Sir Mark Sedwill gave a statement on his meeting with the EU High Representative, senior EU officials and representatives of member states.

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

Peter Wilson, UK Permanent Representative gave an update to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). This follows his statement to the OPCW on 13 March.

Independent technical experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrive in the UK on 19 March to begin their investigation into the nerve agent used in the attempted assassinations in Salisbury.

Independent OPCW investigation

NATO

The Foreign Secretary and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg held a joint press conference on 19 March.

On 15 March National Security Advisor Sir Mark Sedwill briefed the NATO North Atlantic Council

Other international organisations

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office also raised this issue in other international forums:

On 17 April the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs gave an update on decontamination work in Salisbury.

On 27 March the government announced £2.5 million to support businesses, boost tourism and meet unexpected costs in Salisbury due to the exceptional response and recovery effort.

On 15 March Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced a £48 million investment in a new Chemical Weapons Defence Centre to maintain our cutting-edge in chemical analysis and defence.

Advice and guidance

Published 14 March 2018
Last updated 18 April 2018 + show all updates
  1. Statement to the OPCW Executive Council added
  2. G7 foreign ministers' statement added
  3. Letter from the UK National Security Adviser to the NATO Secretary General added.
  4. Foreign Secretary's comments on the OPCW report added.
  5. UK Permanent Representative to the UN's statement at the UN Security Council added.
  6. Added statements on the 4 April OPCW meeting.
  7. Foreign Secretary's Mansion House speech added
  8. Foreign Secretary's Times article added
  9. Prime Minister's Commons statement on the European Council added
  10. Prime Minister's meeting with President Macron and Chancellor Merkel added
  11. British Ambassador to Russia's briefing to the diplomatic community added
  12. Sir Mark Sedwill's latest statement added
  13. Prime Minister's call with the Japanese Prime Minister added
  14. National Security Adviser's statement added
  15. Foreign Secretary's Telegraph article added
  16. Foreign Secretary's Foreign Affairs Council remarks and PM call with Polish Prime Minister added.
  17. Call with Italian Prime Minister added.
  18. Added the Prime Minister's latest call.
  19. Statement to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe added
  20. Foreign Secretary's Washington Post article added
  21. Joint statement from France, Germany, US and UK added
  22. Added UN Security Council statement and the Prime Minister's latest calls
  23. New statement to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons added
  24. First published.