By deploying Brexit freedoms to protect our Nordic friends, Boris has shown he’s a far better European than any of his snide Continental critics, writes DANIEL JOHNSON
There was no hiding in the petticoats of the EU, or waiting for the ponderous decision-making apparatus of Nato to creak into action. Simply a bold move by a prime minister who is at the top of his game once again.
Indeed, if anything illustrated the wisdom of our decision to vote for Brexit, it has been the re-emergence in recent months of the UK as a global leader.
One of only three nuclear powers in the Western alliance, we have for too long subjugated ourselves to the Franco-German axis.
But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought out Mr Johnson’s inner Churchill, and with Germany hopelessly compromised by its reliance on Russian gas, France being governed by a 21st-century version of Neville Chamberlain, and an elderly U.S. president incapable of leading from the front, it has fallen to Boris to step into the breach.
There was no hiding in the petticoats of the EU, or waiting for the ponderous decision-making apparatus of Nato to creak into action. Simply a bold move by a prime minister who is at the top of his game once again
And just as his trip to Scandinavia this week cemented Britain’s vital geo-political role, the coming days will prove equally momentous with negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol at a critical juncture.
Following a ‘tetchy’ phone conversation between the European Commission’s vice-president, Maros Sefcovic, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, a showdown over the Protocol looks imminent.
It will be a question of who blinks first if we are to avoid an all-out trade war — and worse. And the apparatchiks in Brussels are not the only ones turning the screw.
From the White House, Joe Biden has joined the chorus of Irish-American and European politicians who are seeking to bully the British into caving in over the Protocol issue.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the President’s mother — born of Irish Catholic parents — hated the English so much that when she spent the night at a hotel the Queen had once stayed at, she slept on the floor rather than risk getting into the same bed Her Majesty had once rested in.
While the Biden family’s Anglophobia may have been diluted over the years, the President remains viscerally opposed to the unionist cause, and so we can expect no favours from him.
But as Lord Frost, our pugnacious former Brexit minister, said on Thursday: ‘We don’t need lectures from others’.
More than a month after the Prime Minister visited Kyiv, Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (pictured) have yet to go
Not that Liz Truss is the sort to wilt under pressure. If I know our new Iron Lady, she is not for turning — and quite right, too.
What Biden and the EU fail — or refuse — to grasp is that keeping the Protocol as it is will be a recipe for inter-communal violence in the province.
Following Sinn Fein’s emergence as the party with the most seats in Northern Ireland after elections earlier this month, a status that gives it the right to nominate the First Minister, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has vowed to block the formation of a new power-sharing executive until they get their way on the Protocol.
As they see it, the price of keeping an open border with southern Ireland is the creation of an alternative border in the Irish Sea, with the result that all imports from Britain must undergo rigorous checks to ensure they conform to EU standards.
Given that the Republicans are immovable in their opposition to a hard border with the South and the unionists are equally resolute in their call for the Protocol to be suspended, the impasse will require the EU to compromise if it is to be resolved.
Liz Truss is warning that unless Brussels shows more flexibility by next week, she intends to scrap key parts of the Protocol, as border checks imposed by the EU are strangling trade with the mainland and forcing up food prices.
These tensions are undermining the Good Friday Agreement, which has kept peace in the Province for a quarter of a century, based on the principle of consent which decrees that there should be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority. That principle is now being ignored by the EU.
In Westminster, the Government is preparing to rush a Bill through Parliament to remove onerous checks on goods, and curtail the jurisdiction of EU officials and courts over the UK. But Tory rebels in both Houses threaten to torpedo the legislation, with former prime minister Theresa May warning the UK’s reputation would be undermined by unilateral action on the Protocol.
It is true that the Conservatives signed up to the Protocol as part of the Brexit deal — it was the only way to deliver on the Referendum result — knowing that it risked creating an artificial border in the Irish Sea. But those who accuse the UK of flouting the rule of law ignore the inflexible, arbitrary way in which the treaty is being applied by the EU.
Astonishingly, this week Macron declared that there must be no ‘humiliation’ of Russia — he means Putin. Yet it is only the humiliation of the man Boris Johnson calls a ‘21st-century tyrant’ that is likely to bring down his evil regime, or at least deter him from attacking any more of his neighbours
In her legal advice on the issue, Attorney General Suella Braverman calls the customs checks imposed on trade ‘disproportionate and unreasonable’, and blames them for causing ‘societal unrest’.
So if preventing a return to the violence of the Troubles requires getting rid of the Protocol, one would expect at least some hint of flexibility on Brussels’ part, some sign it might be ready to find a more workable solution. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
This absence of goodwill on the European side manifests itself in other areas of life, too. One thinks of the ugly clashes over vaccines at the height of the pandemic. Or recent Anglo-French spats over migrants, fuel and fish.
But as certain EU leaders do their best to try to whip up hostility towards Boris Johnson over the Northern Ireland Protocol, they may find that the member nations that live in perilous proximity to Vladimir Putin feel nothing but gratitude to Britain for the political and practical support it is showing to Ukraine.
The last thing EU members such as Poland and Romania, or the Baltic states want is a trade war with the economy where so many of their citizens have found work.
And having seen the decisive role played by the British Army in training and equipping the Ukrainians, these countries have boundless respect for our troops too.
It is the same story with Nato, which newly re-elected French president Emmanuel Macron described as ‘brain-dead’ just three years ago. It is why we are seeing European countries that are not already members scrambling to join.
They know that the British, along with the Americans, are an indispensable partner in the Atlantic alliance.
When the Prime Minister flew to Stockholm to see his Swedish counterpart, Magdalena Andersson, before going on to Helsinki to meet Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, he broke new ground in both capitals.
Throughout the Cold War the two countries were non-aligned, but have been so shaken by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine that large majorities now favour joining Nato.
Sweden has islands near Russia’s Baltic military base Kaliningrad. Finland has an 830-mile border with Russia that runs close to St Petersburg.
As a major nuclear and conventional power, Britain can offer these vulnerable states the security they need. Royal Navy warships have begun to patrol the Baltic, while the Army and the RAF are engaging in joint exercises.
London will also share intelligence with Stockholm and Helsinki as part of a new northern security network, which will include the British-led Nato force in nearby Estonia.
Bringing Sweden and Finland in from the cold is a genuine diplomatic breakthrough for our embattled Prime Minister. Finland hopes to join Nato and despite the Kremlin’s threat to turn off its gas supplies, Sweden is certain to follow suit.
This Nordic realignment is Putin’s worst nightmare: calling a halt to the expansion of Nato membership to include countries that border Russia was meant to be the point of invading Ukraine. Even worse, in Ukraine he is losing battle after battle in the Donbas, partly thanks to cutting-edge British weaponry.
This week’s events on the European stage, played out against the dramatic background of the Ukrainian conflict, have shown that the gulf between the UK and the EU has become wider than ever. The British economy, the fifth largest in the world, is sorely missed by our former partners. With the possible exception of the French, British armed forces are the best in Europe. And the EU is having to confront something it has refused to acknowledge since the 2016 Referendum: without the UK the Continent’s power and prestige is greatly diminished.
Freed from the stultifying groupthink of the EU, Mr Johnson is making an incomparably greater contribution to the most urgent imperative of the day — the defeat of Putin’s Russia — than he could have done inside the EU. No wonder that for many this was the week when the penny dropped that Britain was right to quit the EU.
And what a contrast between Boris and his arch-rival Emmanuel Macron, the wannabe leader of Europe now Angela Merkel has quit the stage. Where Boris nurtures practical, mutually beneficial relationships with vulnerable nations, the French president is addicted to grandstanding. Hence Macron’s preference for long, ‘peace-brokering’ telephone conversations with Putin, none of which have yielded any results.
No incident better illustrated his pettiness than his refusal to take a congratulatory phone call from our PM following his re-election last month — and yet he found time to call the Russian leader.
Macron has also rebuffed the Poles, possibly because they had reminded him, regarding Putin, that ‘nobody talked to Hitler’ during World War II.
More than a month after the Prime Minister visited Kyiv, Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have yet to go. And even as Boris was receiving a standing ovation when he became the first Western leader to address the Ukrainian Parliament, the French and Germans were still dragging their feet on sanctions and supplying heavy weapons.
Indeed, the Ukrainians could be forgiven for wondering whose side Paris and Berlin are really on.
Astonishingly, this week Macron declared that there must be no ‘humiliation’ of Russia — he means Putin. Yet it is only the humiliation of the man Boris Johnson calls a ‘21st-century tyrant’ that is likely to bring down his evil regime, or at least deter him from attacking any more of his neighbours.
The most astonishing proof of Macron’s arrogance, however, came last Monday when he revealed to the European Parliament his plans for what he calls ‘a new European political community’. Yes: yet another set of institutions and initials, another layer of bureaucracy, aimed at Ukraine and other states that don’t perhaps qualify for full membership of the European Union.
Oh yes, and ‘former’ member states — aka Britain — may apply. (No 10 has politely declined the offer.)
Macron’s club would expect its members to shut up and pay up, while following rules made by others: the very opposite of taking back control.
Maybe second-class citizenship of an EU-lite would appeal to Sir Keir Starmer, Sir Ed Davey and other knights of the Europhile realm. To me, it sounds like some Parisian art exhibition’s salon des refusés — the room for rejects.
In the same way, Franco-German attempts to create a European army look doomed to failure.
Ukrainian success in repelling the Russian invaders thus far has shown yet again how hard people will fight for their country.
How many would be prepared to die for ‘Europe’, a primarily geographical concept?
If the EU continues on its blinkered path of intransigence and Liz Truss scraps the Protocol next week, Brussels could retaliate with quotas, tariffs or other restrictions.
At a time of global uncertainty and coming amid rising inflation on both sides of the Channel, such a trade war would be an act of appalling self-harm.
For recent Conservative prime ministers, Europe has been a graveyard of reputations.
But from Pitt the Younger to Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, there are other British leaders who have saved Britain by their exertions and Europe by their example.
Boris Johnson made his name by delivering Brexit. Now he is determined to use our new-found freedom to ‘fortify Europe’s defences for generations to come’. In doing so, he will prove that he is a far better European than his snide Continental critics.