Global bad guy Vladimir Putin rows in behind PM's Brexit plan
Perhaps not the endorsement Theresa May was hoping for
Well, Theresa May is probably glad of almost any support she can get for her much maligned Brexit deal. But the endorsement of global bad guy Vladimir Putin was perhaps not what she was hoping for.
The Russian president faced the world's media today for his annual end of year press conference, a staple of the Christmas calendar famed for how long Putin will hold forth on all sorts of subjects.
Asked about Brexit it's hardly surprising that the man charged with trampling on international rules ignored the convention that leaders don't comment on other countries' internal politics. He said he understood Theresa May's position before asking a series of rhetorical question about the nature of democracy. Which some might think a bit rich from the man routinely accused of closing down opposition in a variety of brutal ways and rigging elections. "Was it not a referendum," he said. "Someone disliked the result so repeat it over and over? Is this democracy? What then would be the point of the referendum in the first place?"
Critics suggested Putin's comments confirmed he wants to weaken the EU and would welcome Britain crashing out of Europe without a Brexit deal since it would cause further instability.
Campaigners for a second referendum or People's Vote reacted with glee to Putin's contempt for their cause fielding international heavyweights former Foreign Secretary turned Labour leadership loser David Miliband and, er, Edinburgh south MP Ian Murray to comment.
Miliband said, "The overwhelming evidence of malign and multiple Russian interventions in western democratic processes, including the Brexit referendum, have been designed to destabilise democratic rule. It is an insult to the United Kingdom that he should be lecturing us on our democratic process."
While Murray, speaking for the Best for Britain campaign, punchily commented. "Finally Theresa May has found a backer for her deal. But when Vladimir Putin is trying to give her lessons on democracy you know that the Prime Minister has made a catastrophic error of judgment."
Today's row follows a huge diplomatic fall-out earlier in the year after Theresa May accused Russia of sending spies to try assassinate defector Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury. Local woman Dawn Sturgess died after accidentally coming into contact with the Novichok nerve agent used in the attack. Dozens of Russian diplomats were expelled from capitals around the world in the aftermath as part of an international response co-ordinated by the Foreign Office. The Russian secret services put the two men accused of carrying out the mission on TV where they claimed they had made the flying visit to Salisbury because they liked looking at cathedrals, leading to international incredulity and mockery.