Boris Johnson has faced criticism from one of his own ministers for labelling Jeremy Corbyn the Kremlin’s ‘useful idiot’.
The Foreign Secretary used a Sunday Times article to accuse the Labour leader of lending ‘false credibility’ to Moscow by not blaming the Russian state unequivocally over the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
Mr Johnson said the Kremlin had released a ‘torrent of absurdity’ following the incident which left Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia critically ill in hospital.
Accusing Mr Corbyn of playing ‘Putin’s game’, Mr Johnson said the Labour leader’s position on Russia’s culpability ‘shames himself by lending it succour’.
Foreign Office Minister Mark Field last night hit out at his boss, saying the ‘ordinary rules of political gravity’ do not apply to Mr Johnson.
Speaking to the BBC’s Westminster Hour, Mr Field said: ‘I would always try and play the ball and not the man when it comes to these things.
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‘I think to get personal about it is not helpful at all.’
A Labour spokesman said Mr Johnson had ‘made a fool of himself and undermined the Government’ by misrepresenting the findings of the Porton Down laboratory on the source of the Novichok chemical agent.
Mr Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter were left fighting for their lives in hospital after being found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury on March 4.
The former spy is said by medics to be improving rapidly and no longer in a critical condition, while his daughter has said she is growing stronger by the day.
Mr Johnson’s broadside in the Sunday Times came after Russia formally requested a meeting with him to discuss the Skripal case.
The Russian government said it hoped the UK would ‘engage constructively’ with the request for ambassador Alexander Yakovenko to have face-to-face talks with Mr Johnson.
But the move was branded a ‘diversionary tactic’ by the Foreign Office, while Whitehall sources dismissed the embassy’s move as the ‘latest in a series of Russian disinformation attempts’.
Moscow has denied being responsible for the poisoning of the Skripals and the incident.