The final week of the Conservative leadership contest begins on Monday. Wishing to boost his popularity Rishi Sunak disavowed lockdown, suggesting that it was disproportionate and excessive – an admission which vindicates the scepticism of figures like Lord Sumption. Yet critics have noted that Sunak could have influenced (and even opposed) lockdown policy when it was being formulated.
Socially distancing himself from lockdown
Liz Truss, meanwhile, found herself in hot water over comments about whether or not Emmanuel Macron was a friend or foe – for more on this story see Key Points below. Truss is also said to be considering triggering Article 16 if she becomes prime minister in the dispute over Northern Ireland, in the wake of revelations that UK steel producers under the Protocol will have to pay tariffs of up to 25% when sending some goods to the province.
Elsewhere on the tariffs front, the government has used post-Brexit powers to cut levies on a number of imports. Such measures should go some way to easing the cost of living crisis, and are another concrete benefit of Brexit. Yet many such benefits remain unrealised – particularly in the field of migration. The number of Channel migrants for this year has exceeded 25,000, with the highest single day coming in August, and many more expected in the coming months. VAT cuts, financial service reform and many other hoped-for improvements have also been unforthcoming.
In lighter news, former BBC journalist Emily Maitlis provoked a backlash when she accused the BBC of pro-Brexit bias, “both-sides-ism”, and being politically controlled by a Conservative appointee to its board. To anyone familiar with the BBC’s coverage of Brexit this accusation is bizarre. As pointed out on Guido Fawkes, Maitlis ignored the presence of former Labour politicians on the broadcaster’s board, to say nothing of the general haze of bien-pensant center-leftism that sets its atmosphere and determines its coverage.
In Europe, meanwhile, Germany prepares for a particularly painful winter, the result of decades of short sighted policy-making by its political elite. A faction among the coalition Social Democrats called for negotiations with Russia, quite probably seeking the resumption of Russian gas exports under the guise of humanitarianism.
Trouble in the pipeline?
Ukraine is preparing a new offensive in the Kherson, as Adrian Hill documents for Briefings below, even as the Zaphorizhzhian nuclear power plant narrowly avoided a serious crisis resulting from the fighting. In the USA, the investigation of Donald Trump for holding secret papers continues to generate controversy.
David Frost was engaged in an interesting Twitter debate with historian Robert Saunders over the nature of the United Kingdom and the best way to preserve its integrity – see the linked.
Russians bogged down in Ukraine, by Adrian Hill
The three day war passed six months old on the 24 August. Under normal circumstances Ukrainians would have the day off to celebrate independence. Instead they’re fighting to keep their freedom.
“Over the last six weeks Russia has gained territory roughly the size of Andorra while losing ground roughly the size of Denmark. Russia’s defence minister, Sergey Shoigu, in effect confirmed this failure in a statement on the 24 August, although I don’t think he meant it to come across that way.”
The Great European Energy Disaster, by John Constable
High costs for electricity and other energy, caused by green-energy policies, have substantially reduced the consumption of energy in the EU (and UK). With its Green Deal announced last year, the EU has now adopted the symptoms of disaster as the criterion of success and is actually planning to legislate for further dramatic reductions in energy consumption.
“Counter-intuitive thought it may seem, efficiency measures actually increase consumption, by reducing the costs of goods and services, or, when demand for those goods and services is inelastic, by transferring the surplus (or economised) energy to serve another as yet unsatisfied human need. Total consumption therefore increases. Falling energy demand must, therefore, be the result of an external inhibiting factor, which in the EU case is the high cost of energy resulting from environmental and climate policies.”
Liz Truss was criticised by pro-Remain figures like David Gauke and former ambassador Peter Ricketts this week. Asked at a leadership hustings whether Emmanuel Macron was a friend or foe, she responded that “the jury’s out”. Remain supporters praised, by contrast, the tact of Emmanuel Macron’s response, which seemingly smoothed over Truss’s gaffe.
Yet as revealingly, Macron’s response was to affirm France’s alliance with Britain “in spite of the leaders and the little mistakes they make in comments on the campaign trail.” Deliberately or not, Macron avoided saying that UK leaders were his friends – which was the question Truss actually asked, not whether France itself was a friend or ally.
Looking at his government’s rhetoric suggests that Macron may well consider Boris Johnson and his associates troublemakers (though perhaps not outright “foes”). Certainly its messaging has been intemperate. Macron himself called Johnson “not serious”, behaved hysterically over the AUKUS snub, and strongly implied that the UK was an enemy in the “battle” for vaccines last year.
Members of his government have been more forthright. Former foreign minister Yves Le Drian accused the UK of “blackmail” in said vaccine battle. Former Prime Minister Jean Castex suggested to the European Commission that Britain needed to be punished to show other EU countries the folly of leaving. Former ambassador Sylvie Berman published a book which blamed Brexit on ignorance and anti-European xenophobia. France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune described it as founded on “lies” (which, by extension, makes the pro-Brexit government liars).
That is to say nothing of the veiled threats that France made to Jersey to cut off its energy supplies by then-minister Anne Girardin, France’s maritime minister – along with threats to the UK’s commercial flows with the rest of the EU.
The odd hostile comments by individual ministers can be excused, but when they come systematically from an entire administration it’s clear the lead comes from the top. (Interestingly, many of those responsible are now no longer in office with the departure of Castex, perhaps heralding a change of attitude.) Truss was intemperate, exaggerated, and even undiplomatic – but faced with this record, can one honestly say that she was wrong?
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A Cambridge PhD Student
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge