By Andy Tong andy@timesoftonbridge.co.uk

DEFENCE OF THE REALM Tom Tugendhat (left) debates with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at Tonbridge School

 

TONBRIDGE & Malling MP Tom Tugendhat, a leading figure in Britain’s response to the chemical attack on a Russian spy in Salisbury, has said the same could happen on the streets of Tonbridge and the police must be in a position to deal with it.

And he added that while he does not think England should boycott the football World Cup in Russia this summer, their fans should be wary of reprisals from the police in that country.

Former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia were found unconscious on a park bench in the city centre on March 4 after being poisoned by a nerve agent.

The Conservative MP is Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament and is convinced it is the work of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin cronies.

Mr Tugendhat has been widely praised for his condemnation of the Russian state and led calls for retaliation against what he describes as a ‘warlike act’.

He has recommended targeting the Russian oligarchs who have moved their wealth to London, while Prime Minister Theresa May ordered the expulsion of 23 Russian intelligence officers from the UK.

But the focus of public fears rests not in the capital’s mansions or corridors of power but in people’s everyday lives.

Tonbridge and Salisbury both have populations of 40,000 and the incident has shown how vulnerable British citizens are to such an attack, with 36 people requiring treatment in the Wiltshire city as well as the two Russians.

‘This could have happened here, locally, and Kent Police need to have the tools and resources to deal with such an incident’

Mr Tugendhat told the Times: “The incident in Salisbury demonstrates the importance of having a co-ordinated, strategic response to major incidents which threaten our whole country.

“This could have happened here, locally, and Kent Police need to have the tools and resources to deal with such an incident.”

He recognised that local resources will have to be bolstered by support from central government, adding: “I’m confident that our excellent Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Scott, will be able to draw on the Home Office to help ensure we are always prepared.”

When asked if the expulsion of Russian diplomats would keep British people safe he replied: “This measure will help secure the British people from the threat of Russia.

“It will also, as part of a wider strategy, make clear to the Kremlin that the UK will not simply accept chemical attacks on our streets.”

Mr Tugendhat is a former army officer who has a specialist knowledge of Islam and the Middle East – and he has been concerned by cuts made to the defence budget.

He told the Times: “It’s important that our military is properly funded and able to provide appropriate levels of security to the people.

“I’ve been vocal about areas where I feel extra funding would help make us safer. As it stands, the military is able to protect us.

“But if we are in a position to increase spending to strengthen our military, this is a measure that I am sure many people would support.”

Mrs May was accused by Moscow of employing the ‘language of ultimatums’. Mr Tugendhat, who has been tipped for the top office, has experience of negotiating with foreign powers and criticised the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, for his handling of cultural differences.

When asked if diplomacy was now a lost cause, he said: “This was an attack on British soil by Russia. If not an act of war, it was a warlike act. Nerve agents are incredibly difficult to produce and cannot be done without state involvement.

“The reaction of our international allies demonstrates the seriousness of this situation [Britain has been backed by the United States and the European Union].

“We should not seek to negotiate with Russia to find common ground when they conduct such outrageous acts in our country. There is no acceptable use of chemical weapons.

“We must use diplomacy now to ensure the Kremlin realises there are consequences for the Putin regime of such aggression.”

‘I’ve been vocal about areas where I feel extra funding would help make us safer. As it stands, the military is able to protect us’

One proposed method of making the Russian state take notice of foreign concerns is to boycott the World Cup in June, but Mr Tugendhat does not believe that is workable solution.

“We should try and keep sport separate from politics, and the World Cup should not be used as a political tool,” he insisted.

But he sounded a note of caution to those supporters intending to attend the global showpiece. “However, if fans are going to Russia then I think it is wise to take extra precautions considering the view of Britain and nature of the police in that country.”