Putin’s war on Ukraine continues. Russian forces have been advancing slower than Putin’s inner council had perhaps hoped, hobbled by low morale and logistical problems. Nonetheless it is only the war’s first week and Russia has already taken the strategic city of Kherson in the south. More worryingly, Russia has stepped up its use of missiles and artillery, which it had earlier avoided in favour of rapid assaults by lighter units and assassination squads. It has also attacked journalists. A dangerous escalation lies ahead.
The shape of things to come?
Russia’s economy has also suffered. The stock market was closed on Monday and remains shut, as the rouble sank to record lows and Russian stocks on foreign exchanges nosedived. Russian crude oil has also sunk in value. There is also notable domestic opposition to the war. Thousands have been arrested at anti-war protests, and figures from chess grandmasters to oligarchs have spoken out against the conflict. At present, however, opposition has seemingly done little to rattle the resolve of Putin and his inner circle.
Pro-EU voices in the UK are using the crisis as an excuse to urge closer defence ties with the EU: when the tardiness of countries like Germany would if anything have made it harder for the UK to give support to Ukraine. Some have even suggested that the EU has been more decisive than the UK – an impressive feat of mental gymnastics and selective memory.
More concerning, however, is the risk that some of these arguments may be having an effect at the highest levels of government. Westminster has apparently used the threat of war to put the renegotiation of the Northern Ireland Protocol on the back burner, for fear of jeopardising a unified response to the crisis. This is misguided. The EU will not show such generosity, and kicking the Northern Irish can down the road only worsens the situation in Ulster.
Not going away
Finally, one of the under-reported aspect of wokedom is the way the investment industry, of banks and pension funds across Europe and the UK, has promoted environmental investment and stigmatized defence companies, including our own Babcock and Rolls Royce. What the Sunday Times economics editor Oliver Shah, calls the ‘bloated industry of advisors, experts, lobbyists and PR firms’, has, in his words, ‘become a gormless snake eating its own tail’. This must, and now surely will, change.
Robert Tombs has written for the Spectator setting Russia’s current geopolitics and situation in their historical context. Briefings also notes that the arguments of our Putin’s War piece have been echoed by Andrew Neil in the Daily Mail.
Onwards to the Past, by Jack Foster
On his return to Vancouver where he taught English at the University of British Columbia for many years Professor Foster finds a different Canada undergoing what he calls its second social revolution. The multiculturalism project, he says, has entered a startling new phase called Decolonization & Indigenization.
‘Diversity in Canada and elsewhere in the expressly multicultural societies might indeed have intended the strength that comes from the muscular exercise of tolerance of difference, of free speech, open debate, but as we know it means in fact censoriousness and the imposition of an orthodoxy. This we could call the Diversity Paradox. Strength surely comes from unity earned over time and through custom and shared events, not through the multiplied experiences of subcultures?’
Britain isn’t failing Ukraine
Suggestions that the UK isn’t taking enough refugees or has lagged behind EU efforts are patently ridiculous.
A number of news outlets and politicians have called for the UK government to further relax entry requirements for Ukrainian refugees. Other critics suggest that the UK is lagging behind Europe, and that the EU has been taking a strong line throughout the crisis in standing up to Putin.
It’s worth outlining what the government actually has done. The UK has allowed Ukrainians with family members in the UK to relocate here, students and temporary workers to extend their visas, and moved extra teams to visa centres in countries neighbouring Ukraine. Is this enough? The Ukrainian ambassador seems to think so. Practically, as he points out, it makes more sense for nations bordering Ukraine to take refugees, and for more distant nations to fund their efforts.
While Britons may like to assume that Ukrainians would of course wish to come here, the vast majority will in fact prefer to flee to relatives with who they have links or return to countries where they’ve worked. At over 1,500 miles from Ukraine, the UK is not necessarily their first choice destination. The government’s policy is pragmatic, and attacks on it misplaced.
More broadly, one may observe that it is better to supply loans, weapons and training to the Ukrainian government that enable it to defend itself. Britain has been at the forefront of these efforts, contrary to the arguments pushed by some pro-European voices in this country.
Briefings is mindful of the need for unity in this moment, and European countries deserve credit for the steps that they have taken. In particular, asset freezes in the Eurosystem of Russia’s foreign currency reserves could seriously hobble its war chest. Now is not the time for point-scoring – particularly given the tendency of commentators of all stripes to seize on a crisis to argue their own point of view – but neither should the record go uncorrected.
A Twitter thread by David Foxx summarises the issues well – here are the key points:
– Britain was the first nation to start shipping weapons to the UK in 2022. Germany barred the use of its airspace for shipments and only sent helmets and prefab hospitals. Hungary still prevents weapons shipments from passing through.
– Britain was one of the first countries to call for Russia’s ejection from SWIFT. Germany, Hungary and Italy only belatedly followed suit.
– Britain has provided £100 million for economic reform and energy independence in Ukraine, and guaranteeing $500 million of Development Bank funding.
– Ex-President of the European Council Donald Tusk and Eastern European leaders (outside Hungary) have criticised the slowness of other European countries to act.
– Britain was key in advocating for institutional and personal sanctions on key regime figures.
– The UK has trained 22,000 Ukrainian troops since 2015.
– Other major European leaders have either undermined or fallen short of NATO efforts. Macron famously called NATO brain-dead and Germany’s supposedly conservative CDU failed to commit to 2% defence spending targets throughout its time in office, latterly altered by SPD Chancellor Olaf Scholz. A more united front could have deterred Putin from ever invading, although such speculation is in the realm of fiction.
We are also on Twitter, posting articles and retweeting the daily events that bring Brexit to the fore in the national news.
Discussion also continues over on Facebook.
How you can help
There is much about Britain’s relationship with Europe that remains to be decided. Our MPs listen to their constituents. Do continue to send them links to our articles, especially on matters relevant to your constituency – for example, in rural areas, articles on the threat to British agriculture. Alternatively, make an appointment to speak to them at their next surgery. Let them know what you want post-Brexit Britain to look like.
As Boris Johnson said in in his post-election address, it is also time for unity and reconciliation. Keep reading our posts and share links to our quality content to help others understand how leaving the EU benefits the UK economy and our own democratic governance. We aim to educate our critics to think differently and more positively about the long-term impact of Brexit.
A Cambridge PhD Student
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge