Critics of the Government are attempting to popularise the idea that Britain has been slow in its response to the Ukraine crisis, and that the EU has somehow outstripped the UK in its support for Kyiv. This is a laughable rewriting of history. Britain was sending defensive weapons when Germany was still blocking the export of military aid; the UK has helped to train thousands of Ukrainian fighters; we have rolled out hard-hitting sanctions; and we have made the moral case globally against Vladimir Putin’s despicable acts of aggression. Volodymyr Zelensky and Boris Johnson are in regular, direct contact, no doubt because the Ukrainian leader values the UK’s contribution.
If Germany appears on paper to have made a greater economic sacrifice, by postponing Nord Stream 2, that is only because its policy hitherto had made it considerably more dependent upon the Kremlin, and in any case it continues to buy vast amounts of energy from the Russians. And yet some British commentators still see this horrific invasion as an opportunity to revisit old arguments against Brexit, like strange historical obsessives calling for the return of the Corn Laws – embodying that type of British intellectual who, as George Orwell put it, would “feel more ashamed” of standing for the national anthem “than of stealing from a poor box”.
Mr Johnson, Liz Truss and Ben Wallace deserve credit for recognising the threat early on and for a resolute response to Putin’s criminality. Yet the Government still needs to grip the second part of this crisis, which necessitates an epochal shift in policy as we enter a new Cold War.
Energy policy has to be radically revised. In their obsession with net zero, successive governments decided to wind down domestic extraction of oil and gas and embrace renewables without building enough nuclear power plants to fill in the gap – leaving the country dangerously reliant on imports. It is time to wake up to the new reality, and ensure that Britain’s energy security is never again sacrificed to appease green extremists. We must spend much more on defence, undoubtedly more than the two per cent Nato target that many European countries do not even bother to hit. As globalisation goes into reverse, ministers will also have to end their stunning complacency about economic growth. The planned rise in National Insurance contributions, as well as corporation tax, looks absurd – especially as Putin threatens to strike back at the UK with retaliatory sanctions.
Putin’s invasion has created a stark new philosophical contest between authoritarianism and freedom. Britain has helped lead the world in confronting his revanchism. Now the Government must show that it has the ideas and the conviction to see Britain through this dangerous new era.