A few days ago we read of the strong relationship between Germany and the UK. Mrs Merkel was feted on her arrival here, and given the “royal” treatment to show her importance to us. I wrote then that Mrs Merkel was never going to offer the UK a good deal prior to an election and without any threat of withdrawal if we are not offered a sensible new set of arrangements. She was bound to wait to see what happens, and heard from Mr Miliband and Mr Clegg that they do not want either a referendum or a new relationship with the EU. The time to demand a new deal is after the election, if the Conservatives win, when we can explain to her the wish of the majority to simply leave the EU if a new relationship that works for us is not forthcoming.
Yesterday I found myself in agreement with Mrs Merkel when she argued against economic sanctions on Russia. On this occasion the UK seemed to have forgotten their aim of building a stronger friendly alliance with Germany, and instead disagreeed with her over this issue. Mrs Merkel clearly has no wish to run the risk of losing access to Russian gas, vital to German industry. Nor does she want to stop selling BMWs and Mercedes to the Russian state and its richer citizens.
If Germany does not think the Ukraine’s sovereignty is worth the loss of some luxury car sales, the UK should not think it worth the loss of financial and banking services for Russians in London. If western banking centres are regularly overriden by governments seeking to freeze or confiscate foreigner’s assets held here, the banking centres will soon be undermined. Of course in extreme cases where leaders of foreign countries commit crimes against humanity and are likely to have to stand trial in due course at the Hague we can take early action on their money. Individual rich people who have committed financial crimes also are a fair target for the authorities. It would not be wise to extend this to disagreements about courses of action which fall short of the criminal.
The best thing to do in the Ukraine is to await the outcome of new elections. Then a democratic Ukrainian government can negotiate with Russia over Russia’s military rights in the Crimea. It is probably going to take at least much strengthened devoltuion to the Crimea from here, or possibly the Ukrainian government accepting the outcome of a referendum of all the Crimean people on what they want for their future. The west should favour new elections and a referendum, to settle things democratically, and should tell Russia she too should pledge to respect the outcomes of these forthcoming votes.