Twenty three expelled Russian diplomats and their families left the embassy in London and headed back to Moscow on Tuesday in the deepest crisis in Russian-British relations since the Cold War sparked by a nerve agent attack in England.

Prime Minister Theresa May blamed Russia for the attack on a Russian double agent and his daughter – the first known offensive use of a nerve toxin in Europe since World War Two – and gave 23 Russians whom she said were spies working under diplomatic cover one week to leave London.

Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter and on Saturday gave 23 British diplomats a week to leave Moscow as well as closing the British Council in Russia.

Three buses with diplomatic number plates left the Russian embassy compound in London on Tuesday morning, a Reuters photographer at the scene said. Embassy workers waved to the leaving diplomats as the buses pulled away. One diplomat held a pet in a cage.

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