UK Labour says Boris Johnson ‘incapable of leading’ in Ukraine crisis
Opposition party’s John Healey strikes hawkish tone on Russia as Labour seeks to move on from Jeremy Corbyn years.
By Esther Webber
January 21, 2022
LONDON — Boris Johnson is incapable of providing leadership during “the most serious security crisis since the Cold War” as Russian troops amass on the border with Ukraine, according to the U.K.’s opposition Labour Party.
In an interview with POLITICO following a visit to Kyiv, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey took aim at the embattled U.K. prime minister as Johnson fights anger in his own party over claims of lockdown-breaching parties in government.
Healey said it was an “embarrassment” that “with Europe facing the most serious security crisis since the Cold War, Britain has a non-functioning prime minister.”
And he accused Johnson of “ducking and diving to try to deal with the mess that he’s created around Downing Street parties” while being “incapable of playing the statesman role and offering the British leadership that’s required.”
Healey, whose party was accused of taking a softer line against the Kremlin under its previous leader Jeremy Corbyn, insisted Labour now wants to work with the government over Ukraine to maintain a “unity of Western purpose and commitment so that there will be massive consequences for Putin if he does invade Ukraine again.”
He said Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss — who have made punchy interventions this week on the threat to Ukraine — were both doing their jobs, but contrasted that with the prime minister.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The prime minister has been deeply engaged on this issue throughout, and was one of the first world leaders to raise concerns about Russian hostilities in a speech at Mansion House in November, along with Nord Stream 2.”
They described Johnson as having “a close personal relationship” with Ukrainian President Zelensky and noted he had spoken to U.S. President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and others about this issue “on numerous occasions.”
Johnson chaired a “lengthy discussion” on Ukraine at Cabinet this week, the spokesperson added.
Labour backed the military assistance announced this week by Wallace. The U.K. is supplying short-range anti-tank missiles for self-defence and a small team of British troops to provide training.
Fears are growing of a Russian invasion of Ukraine as troops gather in tens of thousands near the border and diplomatic efforts fail to shift the dial. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Germany Thursday in a show of solidarity with NATO allies following ultimately unproductive talks in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna earlier this month.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who insists he is not planning to invade, has made a series of demands of the West, insisting Ukraine should never be allowed to join NATO and that it abandons military activity in Eastern Europe.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Johnson spoke about the need to stand “squarely” behind the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine and warned if Russia were to make any incursion into Ukraine of any scale that would be “a disaster.”
Healey, whose trip to Kyiv last week saw him meet Ukrainian ministers and diplomats, said Britain has “a special responsibility” to stand up for Ukraine as one of the guarantors with Russia and the U.S. of the 1994 Budapest agreement, which gave Ukraine its sovereignty and territorial borders.
Taking aim at the Kremlin, he said Russia’s “continuous aggression has been counterproductive for Putin and driven Ukraine much more strongly in the direction of democracy, towards EU membership and towards NATO membership.”
The shadow defence secretary, who also served in Corbyn’s shadow Cabinet as housing spokesman, also sought to address the Labour Party’s shift on defense since Keir Starmer became leader.
He said Labour would not be able to win an election “if we can’t rebuild some of the trust and confidence that Labour in government would be strong enough to defend the country.”
Asked whether his party could turn the page on what some in Labour and government ranks saw as equivocation over Russia’s actions after the Salisbury attack, Healey responded: “If people saw that in Labour before 2019 they don’t see it now. They can’t see it now.”
While he stressed the importance of standing with the government over Ukraine, the shadow spokesperson also took issue with wider British defense priorities.
“We’ve become much more interested in using our military where the business opportunities may lie in the Indo-Pacific than where there are the greatest threats to us and our allies,” he claimed. “The government must rethink that priority that they set out in their integrated review. And I think Ukraine tells us that that was a misjudgment.”
Downing Street has been approached for comment.
Published at www.politico.eu
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