Global Pairings

Why Brexit Has Been Good for Ukraine

Russia’s war against Ukraine provided Boris Johnson with a unique opportunity to highlight Britain’s international leadership credentials.

Takeaways


  • No Western country has thrown its support so much behind Ukraine and as wholeheartedly as Great Britain.
  • Boris Johnson seized the opportunity to emerge as Ukraine’s most important backer among Great Powers by supplying it with weapons quickly and efficiently.
  • Brexit may still be a net loss for the UK because it diminishes the country's international status over time. But at least for now, it has been a net gain for Ukraine and its people in their heroic fight against Russian aggression.
  • The UK’s resoluteness to stand with Ukraine truly shames the German leadership. Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his SPD are more interested in their own feelings than in coming to Ukraine’s rescue.
  • The German left seriously believes “never again” means that Germany should pretty much stand on the sidelines in a fascist war of aggression hitting Europe.
  • Saying "never again" – then as now – means stand up to dictators and fascists in Europe. The Germans of all people should know that and act accordingly.
  • Sadly, it is the UK government and establishment -- and not the German one -- that have proven to have a firm grasp of what it means to say “never again”.

[Note to journalists: You may quote from this text, provided you mention the name of the author and reference it as a new Strategic Assessment Memo (SAM) published by the Global Ideas Center in Berlin on The Globalist.]

When campaigning to leave the EU, the Brexiteers in the United Kingdom made huge claims about the benefits of getting out from under the bureaucratic yoke of Brussels.

The Tories’ empty promises

Britain would have a lot more money for its own purposes, such as the National Health Service, Tory politicians claimed. Businesses wouldn’t have to abide any longer by stupid rules and regulations invented by the Eurocrats.

And while British fishing fleets wouldn’t have to share their waters with other EU nations any longer, pesky Poles and other indigent Europeans would be kept out.

So went the self-ingratiating and largely illusionary storyline peddled by Boris Johnson and the Tories.

A rare winner

Few if any of those benefits have come to pass. On the contrary, it seems that by striking out on their own the Brits shot themselves in the foot and that negative repercussions of Brexit will haunt the UK for decades to come.

But one unexpected winner from Brexit has emerged since Putin decided to start a new war in Europe. It is, of course, Ukraine.

How so? It’s simple — no Western state has thrown its support behind Ukraine and its President Volodymyr Zelensky as wholeheartedly as Great Britain.

Not just Johnson feeling his inner Churchill

Prime Minister Boris Johnson may not have been the first Western political leader to visit Kyiv, but he was the first one of such caliber and visibility to do so, braving the Russian bombardment.

Mr. Johnson, of course, is the author of a biography (or rather a distorting hagiography) of Winston Churchill, Britain’s war-time prime minister.

Britain’s other great “trademark”

At a time when Queen Elizabeth is much enfeebled and her heir, Prince Charles, is not much of an inspiration to anyone, all of the UK is quite naturally looking for angles to be proud of itself.

This is also necessary because of the endless series of foibles, complications and hyper-inefficiencies related to Britain’s ill-guided heroism act of leaving the EU.

Johnson’s PR instinct

One thing one can never really quibble with is Boris Johnson’s ability to put himself into the headlines, although far from all the stuff one would to be associated with.

Still, the example of his visit to Ukraine on April 9,2022 inspired other major leaders to follow suit. Even the elderly US President Joe Biden announced that he, too, wanted to come to the Ukrainian capital — although his office promptly denied that any such imminent plans existed.

A war power

The UK has also been the fastest to supply Ukraine with military equipment and body armor — and to offer the deadliest weapons. Such as the NLAW and Javelin antitank missiles and Starstreak antiaircraft missiles, as well as batteries to defend against the Russian navy boats.

Since London announced its decision, other NATO allies also agreed to provide more powerful armaments.

And the main reason why the UK, after apparently opting for isolationism by voting to leave the EU, has become so involved with Ukraine is, in fact, Brexit.

Standing against Nazi aggression

In the run-up to Brexit, its proponents repeatedly talked about World War II, Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain, when their country stood up alone against Nazi aggression. The message was something like this: “We overcame adversity then, and we’ll do it again.”

Of course, Putin’s aggression against Ukraine carries remarkable similarities to Hitler’s attack on Poland in 1939.

Moreover, Putin’s dismissive rhetoric about Ukraine, a new nation that came into being after the collapse of the Soviet Union, seems like a carbon copy of Hitler’s rhetoric about Poland, a new nation that came into being after World War I on territories that used to be part of the German, Austrian and Russian Empires.

Back then, Britain and France declared war on Germany in an effort to defend Poland — and so now Britain is coming to the aid of Ukraine.

Johnson’s seriousness

Thankfully, unlike so many other things Mr. Johnson proclaims, his support for Ukraine is not just sentimental or ideological or rooted in historical memories.

It is also about the future and it has a strong geopolitical component. After Brexit, critics warned that Britain was going to lose much of its international clout. True, it still boasts of a special relationship with Washington, but its value for its American big brother was much greater when it was a member of the EU, a huge economic and political bloc.

On its own, the UK is a relatively small economy squeezed between massive economic powerhouses such as the EU, the United States, China and India.

Without the EU, Britain’s special relationship becomes dependence – or as George Orwell called it in “1984,” Airstrip One.

Russia to the rescue: Runway to UK greatness

Russia’s war against Ukraine provided Johnson with a unique opportunity. Emerging as Ukraine’s most important backer among Great Powers and supplying it with weapons quickly and efficiently affirms Britain’s international credentials.

In fact, its ability to do so could be presented as another advantage of being free of the EU red tape.

A very painful contrast for Germany

The UK’s resoluteness and determination to stand with Ukraine truly shames the German leadership. Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his SPD have waffled endlessly. His side was more interested in its own feelings than in the very real-life need to come to Ukraine’s rescue.

Worse for the German government, it is Boris Johnson and the UK government and establishment who have proven to have a much better and firmer grasp of what it means to say “never again”.

While the UK side understands, it means – then as now – to stand up to dictators and fascists in Europe, the German side completely misreads its responsibility.

Shortsightedly “peacenik”, the German left seriously believes “never again” means that Germany should pretty much stand on the sidelines in a fascist war of aggression hitting Europe.

That, in essence, is why the SPD, including Mr. Scholz’s disgracefully incompetent defense minister, Christine Lambrecht, slow walk everything even after making solemn promises to Ukraine in public.

German public broadcasters’ failure

In a bizarre way, Germany’s public broadcasters in particular, are failing their test. They seem to have fallen for the Fox News principle of allowing leftist extremists air their craven views on the world and Russia.

The most recent highlight are two women parliamentarians from the Left Party, a remnant of the East German Communist Party, who claimed without any evidence, but evidently following Moscow’s propaganda script, that it was Mr. Johnson who killed an initiative to move toward an armistice.

Such bizarre claims from obvious members of the Putin lying machine simply deserve no public airing.

Conclusion

Brexit may still be a net loss for the UK which will diminish its international status over time. But at least for now, it has been a net gain for Ukraine and its people in their heroic fight against Russian aggression.

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About Stephan Richter

Director of the Global Ideas Center, a global network of authors and analysts, and Editor-in-Chief of The Globalist.

About Alexei Bayer

Alexei Bayer is a Senior Editor at The Globalist, based in New York. [United States]

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