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Hey Boris, is it easier to stand up to Putin outside EU?

by Hugo Dixon | 06.03.2018

Boris Johnson has promised a robust response if evidence links Russia to the collapse of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury on Sunday. Doesn’t the foreign secretary see that Brexit will make us weaker and less able to stand up for our interests around the world?

“I say to governments around the world that no attempt to take innocent life on UK soil will go unsanctioned or unpunished,” Johnson told MPs. He added that the Russian state is “in many respects a malign and disruptive force”. He even suggested that UK government representatives might boycott the World Cup in Russia this summer.

All this is fine fighting talk. But how willing will post-Brexit Britain really be to pick a fight with Vladimir Putin? Doesn’t Johnson realise that we have much more impact against Russia when we act collectively with the other 27 EU nations and, of course, the US – as we did when we imposed sanctions after Putin annexed Crimea?

The foreign secretary might say that we can still act together with the EU post-Brexit. Indeed, we can. But it will be much harder to coordinate a response if we are not in the room when the other European leaders and foreign ministers make their policies.

Brexiters might also say that, when it comes to standing up to the Russians, what really matters is the trans-Atlantic alliance with America. In the past, that would unquestionably have been the case. But Donald Trump used to talk about Nato being “obsolete”, and there are huge questions about the connections between the Kremlin and Trump’s own entourage. Can we still rely on him to save our bacon?

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe