Boris Johnson calls for extra powers for chemical weapons watchdog


Boris Johnson has called for a chemical weapons watchdog to be given extra powers in the wake of the Salisbury spy poisoning.

Speaking at a special meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) convened by the UK in The Hague, the Foreign Secretary said it was time to act to ensure that future children do not grow up in a world where the use of chemical weapons is "normalised".

Backed by allies including the US, France and Germany, Britain has tabled a motion for vote on Wednesday which would give OPCW experts the power to attribute blame for attacks using banned chemical munitions in Syria.

Officers outside Sergei Skripal's house in Salisbury
Officers outside Sergei Skripal's house in Salisbury

He urged members of the 193-nation body not to support a rival Russian motion which he said would render the OPCW "toothless" and undermine efforts to establish the truth about attacks in Syria.

"At present, the OPCW's experts will say where and when an attack happened, but not who was responsible," Mr Johnson told the special meeting.

"If we are serious about upholding the ban on chemical weapons, that gap must be filled.

"Attributing responsibility for an act is clearly part of the OPCW's technical remit, requiring no change in the Chemical Weapons Convention. The director-general has confirmed that the OPCW is able and willing to perform this essential task."

Mr Johnson said that at the time of the establishment of the OPCW in 1997, the world believed that the 1925 Geneva Convention had been successful in seeing off the threat of chemical weapons, following their use in the First World War.

But he added: "The tragic reality is that chemical weapons have been used and are being used all over again."

Citing the Salisbury attack on March 4 as well as outrages in Syria and Iraq and the murder of a North Korean dissident in Malaysia in 2017, Mr Johnson said: "We as the international community cannot ignore these breaches of the Chemical Weapons Convention. This is an opportunity to restore the global ban on the use of chemical weapons and to strengthen the OPCW's ability to respond to any violations."

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

He added: "We cannot allow the global ban on chemical weapons to be eroded away. What kind of a failure would it be if we were to cast aside in our generation the work of previous generations of diplomats and scientists?

"What would it say about us if we allowed the emergence of a new taboo - a taboo not on using chemical weapons but on identifying those responsible?

"None of us wants our children to grow up in a world where the use of chemical weapons becomes normalised and I think today we all have the responsibility to act."

OPCW director general Ahmet Uzumcu said in May that unless the organisation was able to name attackers, the use of chemical weapons would not be deterred.

The organisation's scientists backed British Government analysis that a Novichok nerve agent was used to poison former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in March.

However, they had no mandate to say who they believed carried out the attack, which Britain has blamed firmly on the Kremlin.

Moscow continues to deny being the source of the poison used in the March 4 attack.