No time for tea as British ambassador collects marching orders from Moscow in 11 minutes

And so the phone call finally came requesting the presence of the British Ambassador Laurie Bristow at the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Those who have been through these experiences before describe them as pretty perfunctory. That's probably why the British Embassy’s driver didn’t waste time switching the engine off.

Gone is the usual offer of tea or coffee and there none of pleasantries which normally go with diplomatic visits. When expulsions are on the agenda it all comes down to a few words and a piece of paper.

Laurie Bristow emerged 11 minutes later. Credit: AP

One side will say that in view of what is deemed an unfriendly act here is a list of the people we demand leave, the other side will protest the unjustifiable nature of the request and then both will head off to report back to those above them.

Today it took just 11 minutes for the marching orders to be delivered but their impact will be felt for many years to come.

Sources I’ve spoken with over the past few days certainly expected Russia to expel the same number of diplomats as the UK did. In the past such responses have tended to be reciprocal.

The chief diplomat confirmed the measures he had received. Credit: AP

However Russia stepped it up a gear today because as well as the expulsions the British Consulate in St Petersburg was closed as was the British Council - an organisation created to build relations between nations using the arts and culture as a bond. It doesn’t just benefit Brits it offers a lot to Russians as well.

There is form for such a response, after the death of Alexander Litvinenko the British Council in St Petersburg was closed but banishing the whole organisation from Russia will certainly be seen as an escalation.

The official departed in a matter of minutes. Credit: AP

The British position so far has been defensive rather than punitive but there are many other options should further action be needed.

The decision for the Government is whether they respond directly and risk escalating this crisis yet further.