Brexit will make UK more vulnerable to Salisbury-style attacks, warns former head of MI6

David Harding
John Sawers (PA)

Brexit will make Britain more vulnerable to attacks like the Russian novichok poisoning in Salisbury, a former boss of MI6 has claimed.

Sir John Sawers said the Russian chose to attack in Britain because the country looks weak.

He added they would never have tried doing the same thing in the USA or Germany.

They thought they could pick on Britain and bully us because we were looking weak,’ he told BBC Radio Four’s World at One programme.

And he said such attacks could become more regular after Britain leaves the European Union next March. 

‘I think what it is is it’s do with Britain looking weak, looking isolated,’ he said.

Soldiers in protective gear carry out investigations following the Salisbury poisonings (PA)

‘The Americans to some extent are walking away from their relationship with Europe, and we are walking away from the relationship with the European Union. The west is fragmented.’

Sawers, a critic of Brexit, said Britain would be losing influence by leaving the EU.

We will no longer be shaping the rules for data sharing and data privacy in Europe, which is increasingly vital to our security.

‘We will not be automatic members of the information systems that European countries use for advanced notification of the movement of dangerous people.

‘And we won’t be members of things like Europol and the intelligence centre.’ he added.

However critics quickly pointed that the Russians attacked Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, long before the Brexit vote.

Sergei Skripal was poisoned in March this year, along with his daughter Yulia, by Russian agents with the nerve agent novichok in the historic town of Salisbury.

The British authorities said two Russians, using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, were the men who carried out the Skripals’ poisoning.

They subsequently appeared on Russian TV to say they had visited Salisbury to look at the town’s cathedral.

A subsequent novichok incident in the town led to the death of a local woman Dawn Sturgess.