Last week, politicians of all parties came together in Parliament to condemn the unprecedented and despicable use of a nerve agent in Salisbury at the beginning of March.

Such unity reflects the widespread sense of shock across our country, that a lethal chemical weapon was used on British soil with no regard to the consequences.

The critical condition that Sergei and Yulia Skripal have been left in shows how much worse this incident could have been – and that those responsible were clearly willing to endanger the public.

There was also significant risk for the police and paramedics who intervened, including Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who remains in a serious condition. As ever, we should be extremely grateful for the efforts of the emergency services, who time and time again, rush towards danger in order to ensure our safety.

As the Prime Minister set out in Parliament, the target and nature of this attack has led the government to conclude that Russia is responsible.

The gravity of the situation, with the first offensive use of chemical weapons in Europe since the end of the Second World War, demands a robust response. Anything less would give the impression that their use can be tolerated or normalised, which would have potentially devastating effects.

That’s why it was right for MPs of all stripes to back the Prime Minister’s decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats, along with other measures to deter any further hostile activity.

While political parties obviously have their differences, one thing we can all agree on is that defending the security of our country and its citizens comes above all else.

The challenge for the government in the weeks and months ahead is to be firm but level-headed in holding those responsible to account.

We should be under no illusion that in recent years, Russia has engaged in a pattern of behaviour that is deeply disturbing -; particularly in Ukraine, its support for the brutal Assad regime in the Syrian conflict, and repression at home.

The use of a chemical weapon on the streets of Britain raises the stakes even higher, and cannot go unanswered.

It’s important to recognise that we cannot take international stability, or our own rights and freedoms, for granted -; and when these are under threat, we should all come together in their defence.

To read this article in the Sunderland Echo, click here

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