Is President Putin part of the solution to unlocking Brexit in the UK’s favour? Given his perfidious policies in foreign affairs, including his country’s alleged murder and attempt to murder on British soil, this is, I realise, a highly contentious question. It is one that few, if any, amongst our political class dare to ask.
Sometimes, though, for reasons of realpolitik we need to wake up to reality and sup with the devil to safeguard the nation. Churchill hated communism with a passion but, in the UK’s hour of need, he was more than happy to ally us with the Soviet Union. Stalin’s extermination of millions of his own people was not allowed to be an impediment.
In a radio address of 1941 Churchill told the British people:
No one has been a more consistent opponent of Communism than I have for the last twenty-five years. I will unsay no words that I’ve spoken about it. But all this fades away before the spectacle which is now unfolding. The past, with its crimes, its follies and its tragedies, flashes away.
Currently, and understandably, our relations with Russia are contaminated in the extreme. It so happens that this very much suits Brussels. Small wonder that it has paid lip service, at least, to supporting Theresa May’s ‘cold war’ with Vladimir Putin. It is hugely in the EU’s interests to widen the rift between Downing Street and the Kremlin.
Imagine an alternative scenario. The UK and Russia have a mutually supportive ‘entente’. We accept that the EU’s expansionist foreign policy was responsible for the Ukraine crisis and the Russians cease murdering those on British soil whom they regard as traitors.
Suddenly, the determination of Brussels to punish the British for choosing to leave the EU becomes less appealing. Punishing the UK would only strengthen this hypothetical ‘entente’ with Russia. Alarms bell, if not sirens, would ring across Europe and not least amongst those states that border Russia. The bear at the door would be less restrained.
In other words, it is time to get serious with the EU. Amongst the 27, only France is capable of defending its borders. An invasion of the Baltic states would pose the Russians fewer difficulties than crossing Oxford Street on a busy Saturday afternoon. Germany, the EU’s superpower, is ‘done for’ militarily. Even the Left-wing and anti-Brexit Economist has admitted that ‘Germany’s armed forces are barely fit for purpose’. An uncomfortable truth for the EU is that it needs Britain’s defence forces, depleted as they are, to defend it.
It is time for Theresa May to wake up to this UK strength in the Brexit negotiations. Casting the Russian president into outer darkness may have moral force but it is diplomatic naivety when dealing with the EU. Its chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, is both tough and determined. Unconstrained, he will certainly exact revenge on the British. Martin Selmayr, the head of the EU civil service known as ‘the monster’, is even tougher.
Our fighting both Brussels and Russia at the same time is utter folly. The prime minister has played straight into the EU’s hands. President Trump has indicated that, in May’s position, he would have taken a far more robust approach toward Brussels. Love him or loathe him, he has offered us an alternative pathway and it should have been the subject of serious consideration, not ridicule.
Battling the EU alongside Russia and an alienated US president amounts to May putting us in a position in which our diplomatic contests are being fought on three fronts. History teaches that this has the potential to be disastrous. Who, now, remembers that in the 16th century Poland-Lithuania was Europe’s largest state? Its partition and disappearance during the 18th century was consequent on a similar predicament of fighting on three fronts – albeit more militarily than diplomatically.
It is time to show Brussels that there are alternatives to being accommodating to its unelected, unpopular and bullying bureaucrats. It is time to sup with the devil, Prime Minister! It is time to rebuild our relations with President Putin. Forget the blather and the window dressing. The real world of Brexit is all about power and punishment. With our backs to the wall it is time to take off the gloves, and, if there is still time, play the Russian card.