New EU sanctions system vital for tackling chemical weapons: Hunt

The new sanctions system is being adopted in the wake of the Salisbury Novichok attack blamed on Alexander Petrov, left, and Ruslan Boshirov (Met Police/PA) Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

New sanctions on countries which use chemical weapons will help “redraw the red line” on the use of the “horrific” substances, Jeremy Hunt said.

The Foreign Secretary’s comments came as the European Union prepared to formally adopt a new regime which will allow for asset freezes and travel bans to be imposed on individuals linked to chemical weapons use.

The new sanctions system is expected to be approved at a meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday and follows the Novichok nerve agent attack in Salisbury which has been blamed on agents from Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.

It also comes in the wake of chemical weapons attacks in Syria which have been blamed on Russia’s allies in Bashar Assad’s regime.

Mr Hunt said: “For years there has been an international taboo on the use of chemical weapons, but that is at risk now after Syria and Salisbury.

“We now need to redraw the red line that says that for anyone using these horrific weapons, the price will always be too high.

“These new sanctions are vital, but they are not the end of the story.”

The new regime tabled by France and the UK will make it more straightforward for EU sanctions to be applied in respect of the use or proliferation of chemical weapons anywhere in the world.

Mr Hunt will also use the meeting to push for discussions on a new cyber-related sanctions regime.

The GRU’s activities in cyberspace have been highlighted by the UK and its allies in recent weeks, with Russian hackers blamed for attacks including an attempt to infiltrate the systems of the chemical weapons watchdog in The Hague.

Ahead of the Foreign Affairs Council meeting, Mr Hunt is hosting counterparts from eight countries – Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania – at his Chevening country retreat.

The timing of the gathering comes at a critical point in the Brexit process, with EU leaders set to meet on Wednesday to consider progress in the talks.