Boris Johnson criticised over World Cup warning amid Russian spy mystery

Investigations are continuing into the apparent poisoning of a former Russian double agent

Boris Johnson criticised over World Cup warning amid Russian spy mystery

Boris Johnson. Picture by: PA/PA Wire/PA Images

The British foreign secretary Boris Johnson has been criticised over his response to the apparent poisoning of a former Russian spy, after he appeared to suggest a potential English boycott of the upcoming World Cup.

Mr Johnson told MPs on Tuesday it is "very difficult to imagine how UK representation at that event could go ahead in the normal way", if there is shown to be Russian state responsibility in the case of two people who were found unconscious in a shopping centre in Salisbury on Monday.

The man and woman are being treated in intensive care after being discovered slumped on a bench following suspected exposure to an unknown substance.

British made has named former MI6 spy Sergei Skripal as the man being treated in hospital.

Counter-terrorism police have taken the lead in the investigation due to their 'specialist expertise', although the situation has not been declared a terrorist incident.

The Kremlin has denied suggestions Russia poisoned the 66-year-old, who was convicted in the country of spying for MI6 in 2006.

Answering an urgent question in the House of Commons, Mr Johnson revealed the UK government "will certainly have to consider" their approach to the World Cup, if "things turn out as many Members on both sides of this House suspect they will".

The comments prompted a belief he was suggesting the England football team may not travel to Russia in 100 days time.

However, it was later clarified Mr Johnson was referring to the possibility that officials, dignitaries and ministers may not attend the World Cup, not that England would boycott the tournament.

Former England defender and assistant manager Gary Neville described Mr Johnson as 'useless', taking to Twitter to ask: "Why bring football into it?"

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry suggested "it really would save a lot of time and hassle if Boris preceded every Commons appearance, media interview and memo by saying 'please take none of this seriously until my aides have confirmed if I meant to say it'."

Earlier, Mr Johnson had noted "echoes" of the death of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 in the Skripal case.

He told MPs: "Although it would be wrong to prejudge the investigation, I can reassure the House that, should evidence emerge that implies state responsibility, Her Majesty's Government will respond appropriately and robustly."