Boris Johnson under pressure as Porton Down fails to back ‘Russian novichok’ claim

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is facing claims that he lied after claiming Porton Down told him the facility had traced the source of the Salisbury nerve agent to Russia.

Speaking on German TV two weeks ago the outspoken Conservative MP told an interviewer that officials at the chemical facility had confirmed to him that they had traced the source of the novichok nerve agent, used to attack Sergei and Yulia Skripal, to Russia.

When asked in the interview: “you argue that the source of this nerve agent, Novichok, is Russia. How did you manage to find it out so quickly? Does Britain possess samples of it?

Johnson replied: “Let me be clear with you … When I look at the evidence, I mean the people from Porton Down, the laboratory,” he replies, before the presenter interjects “So they have the samples?”

Johnson adds: “They do. And they were absolutely categorical and I asked the guy myself, I said, “Are you sure?” And he said there’s no doubt,”

However in a statement on Tuesday, the Chief Executive of Porton Down contradicted Johnson’s claim.  Gary Aitkenhead told Sky News: “We were able to identify it as novichok, to identify it was a military-grade nerve agent. We have not verified the precise source, but we have provided the scientific information to the government, who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions that they have come to.”

The comments from the Porton Down official, although not exonerating Russia, are nevertheless uncomfortable for Foreign Secretary Johnson.  Some media commentators have suggested there may be a political price to pay.

BBC Newsnight Diplomatic Editor, Mark Urban tweeted: “Important this – even though much of HMG maintained the ‘highly likely’ line + did not suggest that origin of Salisbury Novichok had been traced to Russia, some overstated their case so there could now be a political price to pay.”

Labour MP Chris Williamson wrote on Twitter: “Dear Britain, Boris Johnson is your Foreign Secretary and he just lied to justify our country’s foreign policy. How does that make you feel?”

Playing down the signficance of Aitkenhead’s remarks, a UK government spokesman said: “We have been clear from the very beginning that our world-leading experts at Porton Down identified the substance used in Salisbury as a novichok.

“This is only one part of the intelligence picture. As the prime minister has set out in a number of statements to the Commons since 12 March, this includes our knowledge that within the last decade Russia has investigated ways of delivering nerve agents probably for assassination – and as part of this programme has produced and stockpiled small quantities of novichoks; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views former intelligence officers as targets.

“It is our assessment that Russia was responsible for this brazen and reckless act and, as the international community agrees, there is no other plausible explanation.”


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12 thoughts on “Boris Johnson under pressure as Porton Down fails to back ‘Russian novichok’ claim

  1. Alasdair Macdonald

    The problem is that Mr Johnson has been shown to be mendacious on many occasions, but he is cynically unembarrassed and the media just move on to something else. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is STILL in an Iranian prison because of/despite Mr Johnson’s intervention. Where is the £350million per week for the NHS? What about the hiring of a hitman for his school chum Darius Guppy? The list can go on for several pages, but, it seems Mr Johnson is such a ‘card’ that he is seen as a court jester-type ‘national treasure’ to too many people. I remember spending several pleasant hours on a Sunday cycling around London with a Tollcross born NHS dentist who seemed, in every way sensible and intelligent except for the fact that she thought Boris Johnson was the best Mayor London ever had!

  2. bringiton

    So….seems the evidence that it was Russia wot done it is coming from similar sources to that which brought us Iraqi WMD.
    Dodgy dossiers from dodgy politicians.

  3. Robert Graham

    This should be when Corbyn confronts all the Labour MPs who sided with the braying Tory mob and were shouting him down when he was calling for some sensible calm thinking rather than jump to conclusions .

    I think Nicola was badly advised appearing to side with Mrs Mayhem and her bunch of Psychopaths a different approach might have been better .

    We have had weeks of anti Russian rhetoric all of a sudden silence ,oh thats all right then , well if these Liars are not confronted what will they try next a government that cant be trusted should not be in office , and this lot prove time and again they are total liars .

    1. Alasdair Macdonald

      Robert Graham,

      There is now wall-to-wall Corbyn-Labour-antisemitism coverage.

      Again, we have a genuine concern – antisemitism – being used opportunistically for other political purposes.

  4. Lochside

    Johnson is a braying callous sociopath. So what’s new?….aren’t the whole tory front bench likewise? The real question is why do any ordinary Scottish voters support this lying upper class collective of personality disorders?… narrow self interest worth protecting at the cost of personal liberty and future generations’ welfare?

        1. Susan Smith

          Can’t recommend it highly enough. Craig’s blog is the only place to find all the many loopholes and backtracking in the government’s case. Craig was ambassador to Uzbekhistan , where Novichok was allegedly made, when the Soviet Union’s stock of it was destroyed under the supervision of the US – .

          1. gregor

            Love him or loathe him, George Galloway is another worthwhile source who has been tearing the manufactured Fakestream narrative to pieces (like he did with Iraq WMD’s). Galloway and Murray have even teamed up over the issue.

            Special mention for ex mi5 agent Annie Machon as well:



            Those who value due process, ethics, transparency, international standards/protocol, global harmony and peace, need to stick together over this potentially extremely dangerous issue.

    1. gregor

      In terms of the ‘Bigger Picture’, some may find this short video featuring Kim Dotcom discussing the motivations and implications of the military-industrial-complex/deep-state of interest:

  5. stewartb

    The above article includes this: ‘… in a statement on Tuesday, the Chief Executive of Porton Down contradicted Johnson’s claim.  Gary Aitkenhead told Sky News: “We were able to identify it as novichok, to identify it was a military-grade nerve agent.”

    But the evidence gven by Porton Down to the COURT OF PROTECTION: Case No: 13228376 & 13228382 before : MR JUSTICE WILLIAMS, 22/3/18 para 17) was, as pointed out by Craig Murray, different in detail. Why?

    Mr Justice Williams stated this:

    “I consider the following to be the relevant parts of the evidence. I shall identify the witnesses only by their role and shall summarise the essential elements of their evidence.

    i) CC: Porton Down Chemical and Biological Analyst 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.


    The above extract from the Court’s statement begs at least three, candidly obvious, questions – (i) Why a nerve agent OR related compound? (ii) Why a Novichok OR closely related? (iii) Why this wriggle room in the evidence to the Court but the source, the guilty party, by stark contrast regarded by the UK Government as so certain?

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