MPs moved seamlessly today from debating the breeding season of the hare to the situation in Crimea. It’s been quiet recently, but this afternoon the House of Commons chamber hosted one of its better speeches from Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who was bristling with a cold, disapproving fury. This crisis, he told MPs, wasn’t just a crisis for Ukraine, it was a crisis for every European country. And Europe was failing to recognise this, and failing to respond adequately, he argued.
‘For the first time since 1945, a European state has invaded the territory of another European state and has annexed part of its territory. The Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister, President Obama, other European leaders have stressed, as has the Shadow Foreign Secretary, that this is a crucial moment in the history of Europe.
‘That’s fine rhetoric, but the rhetoric is only going to be justified if it is matched by our response to what is happening and what could still happen. And I have to say that on the basis of the measures announced so far by both the United States and the European Union, on visa controls and asset freezes for individuals, I say with great sadness that is a pathetic and feeble response that does not match the seriousness with which those implementing these responses have themselves acknowledged we face at the present time.’
He warned that Crimea showed that the Russian objective was to ‘effectively control all the areas of the former Soviet state’ and warned that European leaders needed to do everything they could to be able to look themselves in the eye ‘in order to ensure that that the horrors of the 1930s are not repeated – not in exactly the same form, but in a form that will damage European security and stability for a generation to come’. He argued that Putin needed to feel real financial pain on the Russian economy in order to stop.
Hague in his statement had made clear that the UK will be pushing for further sanctions with European leaders. He also announced that Britain is suspending all arms exports to Russia and stopping military co-operation with the country. He wasn’t bristling in quite the same way as Rifkind, but his language was strong. He warned that ‘the credibility of the international order will be at stake’ if leaders did not send up to ‘such a profound breach of international agreement’. He also warned chillingly that ‘there is a grave risk that we have not seen the worst of this crisis’.
P.S. It was clear that Labour wanted to be supportive, with Douglas Alexander rebuking one of his own MPs – Paul Flynn – for speaking out of turn. The House should speak with one voice on this, he argued. Which sounds very noble, but Alexander’s constant desire for restraint does frustrate some in Labour who are keen to hear some kind of discernible policy from their party.