Boris Johnson is attempting to carve out a role for himself as the figure who can lead the West in its response to the invasion of Ukraine. Over the weekend, the Prime Minister penned an article for the New York Times – in which he set out his ‘six-point plan’ to defeat Putin. The points are closer to general principles than firm action. They include forming an ‘international humanitarian coalition’ for Ukraineand resisting Russia’s ‘creeping normalisation’ of its actions.
Today Johnson will attempt to show he can be the mobiliser when he hosts Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Dutch PM Mark Rutte. Meanwhile the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will be trying to speed up the slow pace of UK sanctions on oligarchs with amendments to the Economic Crime Bill. It’s clear from the various government briefings that those around Johnson view this crisis as a chance for the Prime Minister to turn the page after a damaging few months and show he can be a statesman when required.
Russia’s decision to launch a full scale invasion of Ukraine has certainly stopped all talk of an imminent confidence vote in the Prime Minister over partygate. Even Keir Starmer and his shadow defence secretary John Healey both suggested on Sunday that despite calling on Johnson to resign previously, now would not be the right time. The Labour party has moved from heavily criticising the Prime Minister to finding cautious praise for Johnson over his handling of the situation in Ukraine. Meanwhile, even the Tory MPs who were pushing the hardest to oust Johnson have come to the conclusion that now is not the time: ‘Nothing will and nothing should happen while the situation in Ukraine is as it is,’ says one senior Tory who has walked back from the brink.
However, while Johnson has the breathing space to focus on the current situation, it’s not clear that the conversation has gone away for good. What’s more, those MPs briefing out over the weekend that this could be Johnson’s own ‘Falklands moment’ are likely to be left disappointed. Not only do such briefings risk looking ill-judged at a time when Ukrainians face devastation in their home country, this is a conflict where the UK is openly limited in how far it will go – focussing on financial sanctions and ruling out a no-fly zone completely. It follows that the West could look rather impotent in the coming weeks as the situation in Ukraine gets worse – and Johnson’s promise that ‘Putin must fail’ could take a long time to come to fruition.
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