Brexit allowed UK to ‘do things differently’ in supporting Ukraine, says Johnson
Brexit allowed the UK to “do things differently” when it came to providing weapons to Ukraine in its battle against invading Russian forces, former prime minister Boris Johnson has said.
Without Britain’s exit from the European Union, he argued that providing Ukrainian armed forces with anti-tank missiles would not have happened.
Mr Johnson made the comments following a speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington, US, on Wednesday.
He used the speech to press for the West to supply Kyiv with the weapons it needs for an offensive, including long-range missiles and fighter jets.
Taking questions after his speech, Mr Johnson was asked for his thoughts on Europe’s response to the conflict.
In comments coming a day after the three-year anniversary of Brexit, Mr Johnson — who sealed the UK’s withdrawal, along with a trade deal with Brussels, while prime minister — said Britain’s EU split allowed his government to send next generation light anti-tank weapons (NLaws) to Ukraine.
He said: “I seriously think that it was in part because of Brexit that we were able to take a decision and to have an approach that was very distinct from the old EU approach, which was by the way all governed by the fabled Normandy Format which was agreed in Normandy in 2014.
“For reasons that are now obscure to me, the British government decided they did not want to be involved in this. France and Germany led it, that was the EU framework.
“If we’d stuck with that, I don’t believe we would have delivered the NLaws and I think we would have taken a very different approach, to be perfectly frank.
“I think because of Brexit we’ve been able to do things differently and I hope in a way that has been useful to Ukraine.”
Mr Johnson said supplying Kyiv with weapons to break through Russian lines in the east and south of the country would mean it was “game over” for Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Kyiv has a plan for how its troops could pierce through the “land bridge” occupied by the Kremlin’s forces, he said.
“This is the area, as it was, between Mariupol, between Donbas and the Crimea that Putin has taken, that long strip of land that basically prevents the Ukrainians from reaching the Azov Sea. That’s the area,” he said during the question and answer session.
“If they take that back — which they can and they have a plan — if they can take back Melitopol and Berdyansk and Mariupol, get back those areas, it is game over for Putin. That’s what needs to happen.”
Mr Johnson said there were “no conceivable grounds for delay” in giving Ukrainians the military support they need to end the conflict.
The UK and the US have so far been reluctant to offer sophisticated war planes, such as Typhoons and F-35s used by the RAF or the F-16 fighters deployed by the US Air Force.
But during his speech, the former No 10 incumbent said the West needed to expand on the aid already provided and “give the Ukrainians the tools to finish the job”.
“I am told they need planes,” says @BorisJohnson about Ukraine. 🇺🇦✈️
“I don't think it would take the Ukrainians very long to work out how to use F-16s or Typhoons or whatever we have to give them,” he adds.
Watch more: ➡️ https://t.co/LlIyUEOF1H pic.twitter.com/FJlTTDXa3p
— Atlantic Council (@AtlanticCouncil) February 1, 2023
“Give them the deep-fire artillery systems, give them the tanks, give them the planes, because they have a plan, they know what they need to do and, my God, they have shown they have the skill and the bravery to do it,” he added.
Oliver Dowden, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said providing fighter planes was “not an immediate solution” for Ukraine in the struggle against Russia because of the time involved with training Kyiv pilots.
“I think it is a bit premature to start talking about jets and everything else,” the Cabinet minister told ITV’s Peston programme.
Former Conservative Party leader Mr Johnson, who developed a close rapport with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his time in office, repeated an argument he has previously made, that Ukraine should be permitted to join Nato and the EU.
He admitted to having changed his mind on the matter since being in Downing Street, when he previously said there was “no way” Nato membership for Ukraine would happen “any time soon”.
“I’ve now come to the conclusion that Putin has demolished any objections to Ukrainian membership,” he told the Washington audience.
“I believe that, once this war is done, once the Ukrainians have won, then yes they should begin the process of induction both to Nato and to the EU.”