Blog: Britain’s Ukraine strategy could reap dividends for Brexit – The Spectator

Ever since at least the French revolution it has been in Britain’s strategic interest to ensure no single power or group of powers dominates the continent of Europe. Britain’s motives were always military and, as an international trading nation, commercial. Today the Russian invasion of Ukraine presents the UK with a strategic opportunity to stymie Moscow’s aggression and to mollify the EU’s cussedness over the Brexit settlement.

Britain’s stock has risen amongst EU members, just as France and Germany’s has declined

Britain’s forward military stance on defending Ukraine against Russia is in the same vein as her defence of Belgium in 1914 or Poland in 1939. Britain was a pioneer, with the US, in training Ukrainian troops before 24 February 2022; in insisting that Moscow would invade, despite European scepticism; and in galvanising European support ever since. London’s fear that a successful invasion by Moscow would be the thin end of the wedge, with the Baltic states and perhaps the Balkans next, is now widely shared across Europe. Today the UK continues to make good on its pledge to block Russian aggression, remaining Ukraine’s second largest military contributor, well ahead of Paris and Berlin.

Getting the call right on Russian aggression presents London with the opportunity to reap a commercial benefit from the EU. Britain’s stock has risen amongst EU members, just as France and Germany’s has declined. Today one senses Britain’s Ukraine strategy and its post Brexit strategy aligning.

Britain’s lead role on Ukraine has won strongest plaudits from the likes of Poland and the Scandinavian and Baltic states, who are on the frontline of Russian aggression. Their own high per capita military aid to Kyiv reflects their deep anxiety. It has reiterated Britain’s military value to Europeans in a post-Brexit world. In turn London is sensing that internal EU solidarity – stalwart during the Brexit negotiations – and the EU Commission are now more amenable to practical solutions. In renegotiation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, London could expect Poland, the Baltics and Scandinavians to pressure Paris, Berlin and Brussels into greater concessions, as reward for the recent past and as insurance for the future. It is to be hoped that the Foreign Office, and Whitehall generally, are not only thinking in such terms but ready to follow through. Obstacles to a settlement of the Northern Ireland Protocol remain considerable, such as the role of the European Court of Justice. There is also the fact that since 2021, when Brexit came into force, according to Conservative party’s European Research Group, Northern Ireland has ‘absorbed more than 400 pieces of EU legislation’ which do not apply to the rest of the United Kingdom.

Similarly, the Franco-German axis that President Macron was so enthusiastic in instrumentalising over Brexit is under pressure. France and Germany have fallen out over EU energy policy and pricing, with Paris particularly upset at Germany’s previous anti-nuclear stance contributing to the running down of France’s civil nuclear assets.

The two have applied a sticking plaster to serious differences over the joint future combat aircraft (SCAF) and Paris remains livid at Germany’s intention to continue to buy American F-35s rather than French Rafale fighters. Meanwhile of late, the Elysée has been playing up France’s ties to the UK, and is congratulating itself on being the first overseas country to which King Charles III will make a state visit. Rishi Sunak will also visit Paris on 10 March for a Franco-British summit that will reiterate the importance of Franco-British defence and security cooperation, whose tenth anniversary in 2020 was postponed against a background of Brexit tension.

Although France’s military aid to Ukraine is not even one third of Britain’s, President Macron has seen which way the wind is blowing, has forsaken his ambivalent stance towards Putin, and stiffened his resolve with respect to Ukraine, stating publicly that France wished to see Kyiv’s ‘victory’ and publicly committing to sending French armoured vehicles to Ukraine.

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The planets are aligned for London to reap the rewards of its Ukraine strategy. If executed astutely, Britain could emerge having finally tidied up the Brexit loose ends and with her international reputation firmly enhanced, and with even France as a suitor.

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