Thursday 24 June 2021

She needs to defend UK sovereignty too


Yesterday there was a minor incident in the Black Sea when a Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender sailed close to the Crimean shoreline and was warned by the Russian coastguard to keep away. Some shots were fired, but no one was hurt and it is likely that no one was in danger of being hurt.

The waters around Crimea and Crimea itself are considered by Britain and its NATO allies to be legally part of Ukraine. The Russians claim Crimea and its territorial waters to be part of the Russian Federation. Very few countries agree with Russia. Only a few Russian allies recognise Russia’s annexation and the referendum in Crimea that declared independence from Ukraine.

Crimea left Ukraine illegally because Ukraine did not allow the referendum which gave rise to its secession. It does not matter one little bit that Crimea only ended up in an independent Ukraine because of its transfer in 1954 from the Russian SSSR. It also does not matter that the majority of Crimeans are Russian speaking.

The referendum that was held in 2014 was far from ideal because Russian troops had already invaded Crimea, but there is little doubt that a free and fair referendum held in Crimea with the permission of Ukraine would also give rise to a majority of Crimeans wishing to join Russia. But none of this matters Crimea is still legally part of Ukraine. You cannot annex the sovereign territory of another nation state either by means of a referendum or by means of soldiers. That is, you cannot do it anywhere other than in the UK.

HMS Defender as is typical with the British armed forces is happy to risk the lives of British people defending someone else’s sovereignty, but we are for rather odd reasons unwilling to defend British territorial integrity and sovereignty in the same way.

Michael Gove has suggested in a rather vague way that the British Government will not allow Scotland to hold a second independence referendum before the next General Election. That election is scheduled for 2024, but may well happen in 2023. So, we have perhaps a two year pause in the Neverendum, that is unless the SNP try to organise an unofficial referendum, which may or may not be illegal, or else declare independence unilaterally just like Crimea.

We are still not back to being able to do many of the things we could do routinely in March 2020. Many of us are still working from home. The full economic cost of Covid is not clear yet and we are probably in the middle of a new “industrial revolution” which will change how we all work forever. Scotland is very unlikely to be ready for an independence referendum in the next two years when we have no idea how long the pandemic will continue nor how it will impact our lives. So, Mr Gove is really pre-emptively denying something that Sturgeon will not seriously be asking for. It all rather similar to Russian bombers approaching the Scottish shoreline only for our jets to scramble and intercept them.

But even stating the obvious gets Mr Gove the usual sort of rebuke from Sturgeon. By denying her a referendum she almost certainly doesn’t want at the moment, he will she says increase support for independence. If that were true, why isn’t she grateful? She needs the help after all. Even with the 2014 question Yes is polling at less than 50%. How much further would support for separation fall if it involved a question such as Do you want Scotland to leave the UK or Remain in the UK?

Mr Gove obviously does not want to give the SNP too much of a grievance. It therefore makes a certain sense to deny them their referendum for the next couple of years when they probably will not want it. But the threat to the territorial integrity of the UK will not go away by this tactic.

While HMS Defender plays with the Russian bear, it should realise that there are only two serious threats to UK sovereignty and neither of them come from Russia. Mr Putin may be a threat to his near abroad, but he is not a serious threat to British sovereignty. He does not under any circumstance plan to annex Shetland or invade Cornwall. The threats to British territory are solely in Scotland and in Northern Ireland.

Britain spends more than £40 Billion on defence but not one penny of it is spent where the threat to British sovereignty is greatest. We spend it on sailing around the Black Sea and on defending Poland and on various foreign expeditions around the globe, but we spend nothing on defending our sovereignty against the only two threats that could seriously damage our territorial integrity, the SNP and the Irish Government.

While it is illegal for Crimea to hold a referendum on independence, for which reason Crimea must remain part of Ukraine for as long as the Government of Ukraine wants to retain it, this rule does not apply to any part of the UK. While it does not matter if 97% of Crimeans want to join Russia, because it is legally part of Ukraine a mere 50.1% is enough for Scotland and Northern Ireland to leave the UK.

While Britain spends 2% and more of GDP to be part of NATO, the USA does not allow us to defend our own territorial integrity, but insists that British sovereignty over Northern Ireland must be according to rules that the USA itself would not accept for any part of its own territory. No other NATO member would allow trade to be disrupted between parts of its own territory, nor would it allow an “ally” the ability to annex a part of its territory by means of a referendum.

While defending the territorial integrity of Ukraine HMS Defender does nothing to defend the territorial integrity of the UK. While being willing to stand up to the Russian bear, we are unwilling to stand up to either Irish or Scottish nationalism. But what is the point of our spending so much on defence when we are only willing to defend others and never ourselves?

It is time that the British Government addressed this anomaly because it is the only way that long term, we can protect our territory and our sovereignty. If you give either Scotland or Northern Ireland the right that Crimea does not have, to leave with a referendum, you must accept eventual defeat. We might delay two years or five years or ten years. There might be two referendums, or twenty, but eventually if you accept the rules of the game as they are at present, the UK will lose and Scottish and Irish nationalism will win. They only have to be lucky once and in time they will be.

We have at least the same right to territorial integrity that Ukraine has. After all Ukraine only became a sovereign nation state in 1991. The UK needs to assert the principle of its territorial integrity and indivisibility and we should make clear that we will fight to maintain both against all enemies both foreign and domestic. If that means renouncing treaties incompatible with our sovereignty and unity, we should be brave enough to do just that, accept the consequences and use our armed forces to deter those who would disagree whether they try to counter with terrorism, or economically. Above all we need to make clear that HMS Defender will not defend anyone else whether European or American unless and until our NATO allies recognise Britain’s right to defend our territory in the same way that they defend theirs.

Saying No to Sturgeon for a couple of years buys us time, but it is no use unless gradually we work towards a position where we can say No forever. It is this principle of territorial integrity and sovereignty that we are defending in the Black Sea.  We must defend it here too.