Sergei Skripal incident
Johnson sparks England World Cup boycott fear
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson seemed to suggest England could boycott the World Cup in Russia this summer
The Foreign Office was forced to move swiftly to dispel suggestions made by foreign secretary Boris Johnson that England could boycott this summer’s World Cup in Russia following the incident involving former spy Sergei Skripal in Wiltshire.
The 66-year-old retired Russian military intelligence officer is seriously ill in hospital along with his daughter Yulia after being found unconscious in Salisbury on Saturday.
Counter Terrorism Police have taken over the investigation from Wiltshire Police, though they have stressed it is not being treated as a terrorist incident.
Mr Johnson told MPs that the UK Government would react “robustly” should evidence arise of any Russian involvement in the matter which echoes that of Alexander Litvinenko, who died of polonium poisoning in 2006.
“If things turn out to be as many members suspect that they are, I think we will have to have a serious conversation about our engagement with Russia,” he said.
“For my own part I think it will be very difficult to see how — thinking ahead to the World Cup this July, this summer — it would be difficult to imagine that UK representation at that event could go ahead in the normal way. We will certainly have to consider that.”
That sparked fears of Gareth Southgate’s team withdrawing from the tournament, with aides to the foreign secretary forced to clarify that he meant only dignitaries and officials wouldn’t attend.
Russia has denied any involvement in the affair. In a statement quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency, the Russian embassy in London said: “Media reporting could give rise to the impression that this is a planned action by the Russian security services, which in no way corresponds to the truth.”
Skripal was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006 after being convicted of passing the identities of undercover Russian intelligence agents in Europe to the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6.
In July 2010, he was one of four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for 10 Russian spies arrested by the FBI as part of a swap. He was later flown to the UK.
England, who won a qualifying group including Scotland, will be based near St Petersburg during the World Cup where they have been drawn with Tunisia, Panama and Belgium.