Sunday 27 February 2022

Dividing rather than uniting


At the time of the Brexit referendum, the Brexiteers tried to sell us two wholly contradictory messages about the EU. The first was that ‘Brussels’ was over-ruling national governments, and the second was that the EU was inherently slow and inefficient at taking decisions, because they needed to co-ordinate and balance the interests of 28 member states with differing needs. They could never have been right on both, and the situation in Ukraine has shown that it was the second of those which carried the greater truth.

The question of dependence on Russian gas and oil is a case in point. It is certainly frustrating that, despite what are supposed to be crippling sanctions, so many European countries are still taking – and paying for – Russian oil and gas, thereby helping to fund Putin’s war. It is easy, though, for the UK government to demand that others stop the flow immediately when the UK itself has almost no dependency on Russian hydrocarbons. Demanding that Germany, Italy etc. damage their economies whilst remaining aloof looks like the typical selfishness which we have come to expect post-Brexit. Where is the offer to share, short term at least, the UK’s supplies so that the pain is spread more evenly?

It's also notable that, whilst demanding that other countries impose self-damaging sanctions, the UK is continuing to protect, through its network of tax havens and the secretive companies based there, dodgy Russian money, because that suits the interests of the UK finance industries (to say nothing of Tory party funds). And in the light of what is going to become a major refugee crisis on the European mainland, our offshore state chooses to wash its hands of the problem and demand that other countries bear the burden, presumably judging (and, sadly, probably correctly) that the voters to whom they wish to appeal are more interested in keeping foreigners out than in providing refuge to people in their hour of need. That’s two more examples of the essential selfishness underpinning Brexit.

I have my doubts about the effectiveness of sanctions against Russia, but I recognise that they’re the only game in town without risking all out war across the continent. But, to stand any chance at all, they need to be comprehensive; governments, and especially the UK, seem to be spending more time trying to work out what exceptions should be allowed than in making them maximally effective. Boris Johnson is still blustering away about how the UK is ‘leading’ on sanctions, but the reality is that the UK is, as ever, largely pursuing its own interests. And it no longer even has a seat at the table where the most important decisions are being taken (even if the process of taking them is slow and tortuous). Less Global Britain, more the weakest link.

No comments: