Jeremy Corbyn was yesterday accused of being an "apologist for Russia" after suggesting Moscow may not be responsible for a nerve agent attack, as furious Labour MPs turned on him in the House of Commons.
The Labour leader and his spokesman Seumas Milne repeatedly failed to accept that Russia is responsible for the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter and later called British intelligence "problematic", warning another state could be to blame.
Labour MPs called for Mr Milne's resignation last night with one branding his behaviour "deplorable", while a shadow minister warned his comments showed a "complete lack of understanding of the mood of Parliament and the British people".
The remarks prompted John Woodcock, the Labour chair of the backbench defence committee, and a group of his parliamentary colleagues, to table a formal motion throwing his support behind the Prime Minister in defiance of their leader.
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Mr Milne, who once traveled to Russia on a trip paid for by the Kremlin, was criticised by the Prime Minister after he said the record of British intelligence services was "problematic" following the Iraq war.
A furious Theresa May told MPs it was "shocking" and "outrageous" of Mr Corbyn's most senior aide to claim Russia may have been framed after the nerve agent fell into "random hands", while the defence secretary Gavin Williamson told this newspaper the remarks were "utterly deluded".
Security sources also reacted with anger, claiming Mr Milne would rather trust the Russian FSB than British MI6.
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It came after Mrs May expelled 23 Russian diplomats and left MPs in no doubt of Russia's responsibility for the attack, which left Mr Skripal and his daughter in a critical state in hospital.
But speaking in the House of Commons Mr Corbyn, who was heavily criticised for failing to condemn Russia in his address on Monday, appeared to repeat demands made by the Russian Embassy on Twitter.
He asked Mrs May how she had responded to the Russian state's request for samples of the nerve agent used in the attack, just 24 hours after Moscow said it would not respond until it had been sent evidence of the toxin used.
And he drew cries of "disgrace" and "shame" as spoke of cuts to Britain's diplomatic service around the world.
The Labour leader was forced to watch as his own MPs rounded on him publicly, offering their support for the Prime Minister and denouncing his failure to take a tough stand on Russian aggression.
He is understood to have been given a full security briefing under Privy Council terms before making the statement, suggesting he would have been shown the evidence presented by British security experts.
Conservative MP Mark Francois branded him "a CND badge-wearing apologist for the Russian state".
In a briefing after the statement Mr Milne, who speaks for Mr Corbyn, told reporters that Labour does not believe there is enough evidence yet to blame the Russian state for the attack.
Despite being given security briefings on the incident, the spokesman said: "The Government has access to information and intelligence on this matter which others don't.
"However, also there is a history in relation to weapons of mass destruction and intelligence which is problematic, to put it mildly."
Pressed on whether Moscow was being framed, he said the "overwhelming" evidence pointed to either the Russian state being responsible of losing control of the agent.
Today @jeremycorbyn faced a simple test: would he condemn the Russian government for launching a chemical weapons attack on the UK, and back the actions of the British government? His failure to do so reveals where his loyalties lie.— Nick Boles MP (@NickBoles) March 14, 2018
But indicating another state could be involved he added: "If the material is from the Soviet period, the break up of the Soviet state led to all sorts of military material ending up in random hands."
Labour MP Anna Turley later tweeted: "I'm afraid Seumas [Milne] doesn't speak for my Labour or British values."
His words appear to echo the statement made by Russian MP Vitaly Milonov earlier this week when he said: "This poison is 50 years old. It’s not modern stuff. You can create this poison from any laboratory in Ukraine or other fake countries that are happy to help you.
"I think this is something to deal with in theatre or a James Bond movie.”