Foreign secretary Boris Johnson claimed that Russia had created and stockpiled nerve agents “within the last decade”.
In remarks on Sunday morning that significantly escalated the row over the use of a lethal nerve agent in Salisbury two weeks ago, the foreign secretary said: “We actually have evidence within the last 10 years that Russia has not only been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purpose of assassination, but has also been creating and stockpiling novichok.”
Mr Johnson confirmed the UK would back a law similar to America’s Magnitsky Act, enabling the government to seize the assets of powerful Russians accused of human rights abuses and to ban them from entering the country.
In a sign of escalating tension following the Salisbury nerve agent attack on a former spy and his daughter, Mr Johnson said that existing “unexplained wealth orders” could also be used to target corruptly obtained wealth.
His comments came against the backdrop of Russia’s decision to expel 23 British diplomats in a tit-for-tat retaliation to Theresa May’s announcement that the same number of Russian officials would be expelled from London.
On Monday officials from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will travel to Britain to examine samples of the agent used for the attack in Salisbury earlier this month.