24 February 2022
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown speaks in debate on the UK’s relationship with Russia and China

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown urges the west to stand together, impose a full set of economic sanctions and resupply Ukraine in any military way possible without leading to full-scale troop insertions and, above all, we must continue to give Ukraine hope.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)

I am grateful to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker, in this important debate. I will concentrate my remarks solely on the west and Russia today, although I have a great deal of experience in China.

By invading Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin is imposing misery on the Ukrainian people and his own people, and economic hardship on the rest of the world. Using military aggression to annex sovereign countries is a 19th-century grand power concept in the 21st-century world, where we should be able to settle our differences in a more sophisticated way. Putin wants to go down in history as the leader who restored the Soviet Union. He is tough, he appears not to respect the west or its leaders, and he will not back down easily now that he has invaded Ukraine. We all know what is going on even at this very minute, and how the whole of Ukraine is coming under pressure, and I think it will probably not be long before Kyiv falls.

It is completely false for Putin to claim that Ukraine, or at least parts of Ukraine, belong to Russia due to historical ties. Following such tenuous logic, other well-established European sovereign states that were former members of the Soviet Union would also “belong” to Russia, including the Baltics, or even those countries that have historically fallen under the Russian sphere of influence, such as Finland and Romania. I imagine many of the countries that have borders with Russia feel very nervous at this moment.

The fact is that Ukraine has gained independence and has had democratic elections for 30 years this month. Indeed, as several Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin), have said, Ukraine gave up its atomic weapons following an agreement in 1994, which was backed by a peace agreement by Russia, America, ourselves and other nations. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) said, it would be interesting to postulate what would have happened if Ukraine still had nuclear weapons.

While the west has responded with solidarity so far, it is very much a first step. The annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 was a first test by Putin of how the west would respond to his design on rebuilding Russia’s soviet legacy, and we know that responding weakly and ending sanctions as soon as we could has led to the situation we find ourselves in today. The decisive western leadership at the end of the cold war could not have been more different. The strong alliance between Thatcher and Reagan was crucial in the diplomacy that took place with Gorbachev, and their combined policy led to the end of the cold war and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

What should our response now be? The two main elements are military and economic. Regarding military support, I am pleased that for a number of years the UK has been supporting the defence and security of Ukraine, helping to train more than 22,000 members of the Ukrainian army, as well as helping to expand the Ukraine’s naval facilities and capability. There is plenty more military support that we can provide without sending British troops. I welcome the Defence Secretary’s recent announcements about the defensive weapons we have been supplying, including light anti-tank armour and defensive weapons systems, but there is plenty more we could be doing, and I look forward to the announcement that the Prime Minister will make at 5 o’clock this evening. We could, for example, supply anti-aircraft missiles and satellite communication intelligence on Russian troop movements, which would help Ukraine plan its defence. We must continue to re-supply the Ukraine military with anything it needs. We must commit to do that until Russia leaves the sovereign country of Ukraine, so that Russia knows it will not have an easy task in attacking Ukraine.

What concerns me and many of my constituents in the Cotswolds is the somewhat limited economic action we have taken so far. As I have said, it is very much a first step, and we must look to further economic sanctions. We should, for example, examine the fact that Putin is one of the world’s richest men, with his wealth estimated at £200 billion, largely distributed about the world in dollars. We should go after that money and freeze it, and we should go after the people who have helped him make that money.

Furthermore, we should go after the oligarchs who surround Putin. If we start to make them really uncomfortable in their pocket, perhaps sooner or later they will start to influence Putin. We need to do that rapidly, because people have the ability to move money around the world very quickly these days. We should have already passed an Act in this Parliament about how we can freeze the sovereign debt of the Soviet Union, how we can get into the SWIFT—Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication—system and stop money getting in and out of the Soviet Union and how we can stop them dealing in dollars. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) said that Putin has an arsenal of £650 billion, but that will soon run down if we take effective economic measures.

The west must stand together, impose a full set of economic sanctions and resupply Ukraine in any military way possible without leading to full-scale troop insertions from the west. Above all, we must continue to give Ukraine hope. We must keep morale up. The Prime Minister was dead right to ring the President of Ukraine this morning at 4 o’clock to keep that morale up, and we must keep doing that.


Later intervention in the same debate

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown 

Through his chairmanship of the all-party China group, my hon. Friend and neighbour has probably done more than anybody in this House to engage with China. One thing he has always done when engaging with China is to be absolutely frank with the Chinese where they have got it wrong, as well as where they have it right. Is that how we should go forward?

Richard Graham 

My hon. Friend and neighbour is very kind. I have always felt it incredibly important that we stand up for our values, and for the past 11 years, as chair of the all-party China group, I have never accepted mainland Chinese sponsorship of the group. That is precisely because I knew that somewhere along the line, that would be perceived as the group being obliged to a nation overseas, with whose values we do not always align. I have always felt it incredibly important to speak truth to power, whether that is our own Ministers, who may not always relish that, or foreign countries. It is all about the tone and how we engage, understanding where foreign countries, in particular autocracies, are coming from. There is no need for us to compromise on our values, but there is every need to find a way of co-existing peacefully with countries that will be here for a very long time to come. Our greatest challenge will be how we balance those two things.