Much to report on this week. The war in Ukraine has seen a relative lull, as Russian forces withdraw from the north of the country, refuelling and re-supplying before beginning a suspected push in the east. Civilians have been asked to flee in anticipation. That has not prevented Russian troops from committing further war crimes. Most notable has been the callous massacre at Bucha north west of Kiev, but missile attacks on civilian targets have also killed scores of people.
More generally, the EU Commission has played little role in the European reaction to the conflict in Ukraine. Assistance to Ukraine has instead come from individual states, and except for Poland and most recently the Czech Republic, most notably from non-EU states including the UK. The EU is in a cleft-stick. Without its own military capacity its own common foreign-policy means little, but any sustained attempt to form an EU-army implies the end of national autonomy and will be resisted by many member states.
Union without Unity
The EU remains fractious. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have decided to cease importing Russian gas, shaming larger nations like Germany. By contrast, last weekend saw a substantial victory for Hungary President Victor Orban, who was re-elected despite the unification of opposition politicians around a single candidate. Orban is Putin’s last EU ally and with Poland has mounted a series of challenges to the supremacy of the European Court of Justice.
The latest element in that saga came on Wednesday, as Poland’s finance minister vetoed an otherwise-unanimous decision by other member states to impose a minimum corporate tax rate of 15% across the bloc. Commentators suspect this move is linked to the Commission’s decision to withhold funds from Poland.
The UK is hardly untroubled, however. Inflationary pressures on the cost of living have been exacerbated by the chancellor’s recent budget – and matters have not been helped by the revelations of his wife’s non-domiciled status. Extinction Rebellion protesters have created petrol shortages by blocking access to plants.
Elements of the economy have however defied naysayers – manufacturing indices put British manufacturers’ confidence consistently higher than their Eurozone counterparts. Britain has also, with Estonia, been nominated as a new hub for the development of military technologies by NATO.
Briefings editor Robert Tombs was on Radio 4 at 9:30 p.m on Sunday morning, discussing the day’s news. He has also recently written a piece in the Daily Telegraph discussing the French election, and the worrying implications it has for France’s political system. Frequent Briefings contributor Gwythian Prins was also on the BBC World Service on Saturday from 6:15-8:30.
Ukrainian Update no 1 (9 April 2022), by Briefings for Britain
We intend to publish updates from former soldier and diplomat Adrian Hill, one of our regular correspondents.
‘Sanctions are all well and good and should stay for the foreseeable future but this crisis will be resolved on the battlefield. There remains a danger that despite NATO leaning backwards to avoid a direct clash with Russian forces, some Russian foul up or foul deed will bring about a situation where NATO inevitably must respond.’
UKICE Divergence Tracker, by Briefings for Britain
This is the third edition of the UK in a Changing Europe’s UK-EU regulatory divergence tracker, covering 27 cases of divergence since December 2021. We thought it would be useful to record this on the BfB site to keep track of how Brexit is being implemented. This report contains links to the first and second reports.
‘In terms of passive divergence, EU has unveiled plans for four major reforms around the themes of ‘digital sovereignty’ and ‘strategic autonomy’… More fundamentally, the EU’s plans reflect a significant desire to impose its regulatory weight on big tech and emerging technologies – which raises an important strategic question for the UK in terms of whether to align or diverge via its own future regulation.’
EU Rhetoric Beggars Belief
Amidst a continuing crisis in the east Brussels continues its crusade against Brexit.
Boris Johnson was substantially criticised a few weeks ago for an arguably ill-judged comparison between Ukraine’s fight against Russian invasion and the UK’s popular vote for Brexit. It’s true that EU leaders and diehard Remainers hardly indulged in war crimes and massacres in their fight against that democratic result. Johnson was right, however, to compare the vindication of national autonomy – and thus democracy – that both struggles represent.
Johnson’s rhetoric responds to the EU’s own language, which has historically been (and remains) more consistently hostile. For some, any for Brexit Britain represents an embarrassment. Such sentiment was behind the belief expressed last year by Emmanuel Macron’s prime minister Jean Castex: Britain needed to be punished so that other EU nations would see that leaving was not an option.
More recently in this vein, EU finance commissioner Mairead McGuiness has compared dependence on extra-EU (ie. UK) financial services to dependence on Russian gas. This comparison is offensive, and smacks of desperation. The European Commission has largely failed to relocate Euro clearing services to the EU. Its most recent plans have provoked substantial industry pushback, with industry bodies warning that the EU will become a substantially less attractive business destination if it presses ahead.
Others within the Commission share these sentiments. BT has been granted a substantial contract by the European Commission to handle confidential information, which has been criticised (anonymously) by other Commission civil servants. Britain in particular is labelled as a country with ‘a history of abusing privacy’, and the deal criticised by vindicating those who voted Brexit.
Finally, German leaders are also guilty. President Frank-Walter Steinmeyer accused British voters with ‘a fascination for authoritarians’ while simultaneously pushing Nordstream 2 and closer co-operation with Putin. Germany’s policies here have directly caused the crisis. As Wolfgang Münchau of EuroIntelligence put it, Germany and Italy have together been ‘the financial sponsor of Russian war crimes’.
Overall, the language of EU leaders has consistently prioritised punishing Britain over stressing the possibility for profitable future relations. Only if this attitude fundamentally changes can its priorities be properly aligned with facing the true threats to Western values.
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