A police officer who fell seriously ill after being poisoned by a nerve agent used in an attack on a former Russian spy is awake and talking in hospital, says Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, remain in a serious condition today, she added.
Counter-terror police are working to unravel what is now feared to be a sophisticated chemical weapon plot targeting the former double agent and his daughter.
Police have said a nerve agent was used to critically injure Mr Skripal and Ms Skripal in Salisbury, Wiltshire, on Sunday afternoon.
One of the first police officers to arrive at the bench where the pair were slumped was also left seriously ill in hospital, and it was thought that all three were in a coma.
Mrs Rudd told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “The two targets are still in very serious condition. The policeman is talking and is engaging, so I’m more optimistic for him.
“But it’s too early to say. This is a nerve agent. We are still treating it as very serious.”
Video: Nerve agent used in attempted murder of ex-Russian spy (Reuters)
She added that it is “hopeful” that the officer will recover, “but it’s still very serious”.
Moscow has denied allegations that it may have been involved in the poisoning of the military former intelligence colonel, who is considered a traitor in Russia for betraying fellow agents.
Mrs Rudd gave the update on the trio’s conditions after speaking to the Met Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, head of Counter Terror Policing.
She said: “The key thing at the moment is to allow the police to do their investigation.
“Whatever attribution takes place in the future, we have to make sure that we have all the evidence, and the key thing is to have a cool head and allow them to continue that job, which they are doing with speed and with detail and with the sort of professionalism we can expect.”
The Home Secretary also said she could guarantee the public’s safety following the attempted murder of Mr Skirpal.
She said: “Of course I can guarantee the public their safety. We have been ready for a long time for the sort of incidents that we’ve been seeing.
“We had five terrorist attacks that got through last year. Our police behaved with unbelievable professionalism. The fact is we have the best police and emergency services in the world.”
She pointed out that the threat level in the UK remains severe.
Amid speculation of Moscow involvement, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson promised a “robust” response if it is found that the incident is linked to Russia.
Mrs Rudd said the government has a “range of options”, including sanctions, that it could use in response to the poisoning, if necessary. She added: “We’re not really speculating on what those are. We’re making sure we look after the incident.”
The Home Secretary also insisted the incident is separate to the UK’s foreign policy.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson also spoke to GMB, describing Russia as “an ever greater threat” while declining to comment on who may have been responsible for the attack he called “absolutely disgusting”.
He said the Russia has become increasingly aggressive across the Eastern Front and the number of submarines operating in the North Atlantic Ocean has increased tenfold in the last seven years.
He added: “Russia’s been more assertive. Russia’s been more aggressive. And we have to change the way we actually deal with it because we can’t be in a situation in these areas of conflict where we’re being pushed around by another nation.”
Sunday’s attack happened seven years after Mr Skripal was pardoned and released from Russia as part of a Cold War-style spy swap with the US. He had been convicted in his home country in 2006 for passing state secrets to MI6.