Security minister Ben Wallace has admitted that airport baggage checks “weren’t probably as good as they might be” and contributed to two Russian nationals being able to bring Novichok into the UK.
Mr Wallace’s comment follows after police identified two men, using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, as suspects in the Salisbury attack.
The two men entered the UK from Russia through Gatwick Airport in March, allegedly carrying the nerve agent in a perfume bottle.
Mr Wallace, who was leading a Commons debate on the Salisbury poisonings, said: “When a hostile state is determined to try and use its full resources to penetrate another state, the challenge is much greater.
"The logistical support of that state in assisting its agents is significant and that means for example that these two individuals travelled on a genuine Russian passport, making it harder to spot, that there was clearly some form of attempt to create a legend to make sure that they circumvented obviously our checks and, only in a speculative way, but no doubt at the other end of that aeroplane journey there was some, I should think the baggage checks weren't probably as good as they might be."
The allegations are denied by the Kremlin, and on Wednesday Mr Putin said Russia had identified the men but that there was “nothing criminal” about them.
‘All options on the table’
Mr Wallace was asked in the Commons whether the Government would consider further expulsions, to which he said: "We will keep all options on the table.
"For now we are working on a number of measures to push back Russia's activities and do our best to degrade their intelligence services."
Mr Wallace called on Mr Putin to hand over the suspects for a trial, saying: "I believe in the British justice system and if they are innocent they will be acquitted, so yes I have every faith and so I would urge him to hand those individuals over for a trial.
"They are suspects and they are innocent until proven guilty."