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LONDON – Whisper it, but Britain and the EU understand each other.
While the years following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union were marked by hubris, lack of communication and outright disagreements, in the days since Russia invaded Ukraine, politicians and officials on both sides of the English Channel have come together to discuss their Efforts to coordinate response.
Disputes over Northern Ireland’s trade rules and fishing quotas may remain unresolved, but as Vladimir Putin’s troops batter Ukraine, everyone has more important things to worry about.
And despite dire predictions by many on the pro-EU side of the Brexit debate that the UK would now be marginalized on the world stage, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken his place alongside his Washington and Brussels counterparts during the West wrestles with how to respond. Britain, with its military and intelligence prowess and as one of the economies where Russian oligarchs have been trying to launder their dirty money for decades, is well placed to play a key role.
On Friday, the EU invited British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to attend its Foreign Affairs Council meeting – a first since Brexit. Arriving at the meeting, Truss said it was “vital” that the UK and its allies “show complete unity” in their response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
Although others, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have attended FAC meetings on an ad hoc basis, this meeting was a long time coming.
For more than a year, EU countries including Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden had invited the UK foreign secretary if there was anything relevant to discuss, officials said. They saw the UK minister’s attendance as a way to fill the void left by Britain after refusing to join formal security and foreign policy structures with the EU post-Brexit, opting instead to step up the engagement Restrict non-EU forums such as NATO, the G7, and the E3 group consisting of France, Germany and the UK
Three diplomats from different EU countries said France had opposed the idea, arguing that ongoing differences over post-Brexit trade rules in the Irish Sea would need to be resolved before EU-UK relations could warm up. In fact, a few weeks ago, Truss was in Brussels for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers while EU colleagues were discussing Russia’s military build-up on the border with Ukraine, but was not invited to the discussions.
Just last week, an ambassador from an EU country said the bloc would not invite Truss until France handed over the rotating EU presidency to Sweden.
In fact, the foundations for such a rapprochement began much earlier in this crisis. According to diplomats, contacts between senior British ministers and the European Commission are now frequent. A delegation led by Stefano Sannino, Secretary-General of the European External Action Service, visited London last month and met ministers including Europe Secretary James Cleverly and the head of intelligence agency MI6. The meeting, which dealt with the Ukraine crisis, was cordial and Cleverly was considered “close” and “committed” by the Europeans.
There were also more direct contacts with the EU institutions: Johnson spoke to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and Truss spoke to the top EU envoy, Josep Borrell.
“We all agree that Ukraine’s absolute top priority is to have a united front against Russia and to do everything to help on that front,” a British official said. “It was very encouraging how united we were with the EU and all our allies around the world in this. Brexit does not change the fact that we are liberal democracies living in peace, liberty and security and of course when that threatens, Brexit does not in any way affect our desire to work together.”
However, regardless of the thawing of relationships, the comparisons between the two never stop.
The length of their respective sanctions lists against Russian oligarchs and companies is the latest example, with UK ministers stressing their push for tough action on Russian banks and hydrocarbons, and Frans Timmermans, one of the commission’s vice-presidents, saying on Thursday Britain is now leading the way Follow EU on sanctions.
Britain’s answer? A call for unity – a far cry from previous inflammatory statements.
“We do not try to distinguish between our actions and those of our allies,” said the Prime Minister’s official spokesman.
The first British official quoted above said sanctions imposed on Russia by Western allies were “all fairly aligned” despite some minor differences between the packages and it “makes no sense to say that one side is moving faster than the other”.
“There’s always going to be some rivalry, but it’s a friendly rivalry,” they said. “We’ve seen that especially between Britain and France over the years, it was a bit like sibling rivalry between them. Our belief has always been that we can have a win-win relationship – just because one side is doing well doesn’t mean the other side is doing badly.”
Observers are divided on whether the current crisis will mend ties in the long term, and many believe Brexit disputes will resurface with the same strength of sentiment once the heat of this crisis passes.
“The question is whether the [Ukraine war] helped solve problems, or it just parked and stopped them,” said Anand Menon, Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King’s College London. “I would be surprised if we had come very far because one thing is clear: the UK is not talking about working with the EU.”
https://www.politico.eu/article/ukraine-war-sends-brexit-to-the-backseat/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Putin blows up Brexit - POLITICO