AS Britain embarks on the First World Paperwork War, and Boris Johnson returns from Munich waving a package of sanctions, the House of Commons faced its usual struggle to maintain a facade of unity.
The Prime Minister has described his sanctions as “a barrage”, to be followed presumably by a fusillade of angry letters and a bombardment of frowning. For all of which we must be grateful. The world might not be such a bad place if that was how all wars were fought.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson was able to clarify other matters: for example, the impression given that, out of a Russian population of 144.1 million people, Britain had decided to target three of them.
This turned out to be 275 individuals, who’d already been sanctioned, as had banks worth £37 billion. Well, it was a start. Indeed, Boris began PMQs by announcing that Britain would shortly be providing further support to Ukraine, including “lethal aid, in the form of defensive weapons”.
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As members took in this grave announcement, the PM added portentously: “I’m sure the whole House will want to join in congratulating Team GB’s curling teams for winning gold and silver medals at the Olympics.”
Er, yes, get on with it. Don’t you know there’s a war on?
There followed a question from a Tory backbencher about the population explosion in Didcot, before the arguably important issue of Ukraine was raised by Labour opposition leader Keir Starmer, who averred that Putin was “not a peacekeeper” – well spotted, mate – and who requested a “full package of sanctions”, rather than the current dribble.
The PM declared himself grateful for the opposition’s support, a trope he repeated frequently, presumably as a ploy to make the opposition feel obliged to offer support. This wasn’t always forthcoming, as Mr J found out when he went on to speak of “the need to keep ammunition in reserve for what could be a protracted struggle”, and somebody shouted: “Weak!”
Sir Keir felt strongly that, to “defeat Putin’s campaign of lies and disinformation”, Russia Today (RT) should be prevented from broadcasting in Britain.
But Mr Johnson said Ofcom was already reviewing this, and added: “We live in a democracy and we live in a country that believes in free speech” – ah, shurrup – “and I think it’s important what we should leave it up to Ofcom rather than to politicians to decide which media organisations to ban. That’s what Russia does.”
Wonder if Julian Assange was listening to this.
At the weekend, Mr Starmer had listened to the PM say that, if Russia invaded Ukraine, he’d open up the matryoshka dolls of Russian owned companies to identify the “ultimate beneficiaries” within.
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“Well”, said Sir K, “Russia has invaded and it’s time to act.”
Boris agreed the situation had gone on for “far too long”, and promised that it would be remedied in, er, “the next session”. Bleedin’ ages away.
To a chorus of abuse, Sir Keir said he “would not be deflected from the unity that this House needs”, and accordingly raised the thorny issues of foreign donations to certain UK political parties. Nudge, nudge.
Thus nudged, the PM claimed the Conservatives didn’t accept foreign donations – how we laughed! – and fired back in a spirit of unity: “The largest donation to the Labour Party came from a member of the Chinese Communist Party.”
After a Tory backbencher’s complaint about speeding in Shepley, it was time for the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford to slam the brakes on further unity. Such a shame. I was wanting a Tory backbencher to shout, “Speak for England, Ian!”, as Leo Amery had shouted at Labour’s Arthur Greenwood in 1939.
Instead, Ian spoke of a “sewer of dirty Russian money” that the Tories had allowed to run through London for years, and of oligarchs’ golden handshakes that “just so happened to find their way into the coffers of the Conservative Party”.
Alas, Boris found Mr Blackford’s Achilles’ buttock when he averred: “His indignation is, I’m afraid, a bit much, coming from somebody whose very own Alex Salmond is a leading presenter on … Russia Today.”
Ouchy, even if fellow nationalist Mr Salmond now fronts a different party altogether.
Amidst all this talk of war and corruption came contributions about a new electric bus fleet in Warrington and noise from pedi-cabs in London.
I’m sure if Mr Putin was watching, while awaiting the squadrons of paper aeroplanes from Britain overhead, he must have thought: ‘What the hell are they doing?’ But to us, in truth, such parochial concerns are oddly reassuring.
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