Britain’s response in helping to lead the West in arming Ukraine and slapping sanctions on Russians close to Vladimir Putin has led to “dramatically” improved relations with European countries.
The UK has been the second largest donor of military assistance to Ukraine, pledging £2.3bn-worth, leading the way in Europe and trailing only the US.
A senior Government source told i that the UK had shown that while Brexit meant it left the EU, it did not mean the country was cutting itself off from the continent. The source said this had led to “massively strengthened” bilateral relations with key players in Europe, helping to pave the way for better cooperation like the agreement on small boats with France.
Meanwhile, relations with EU institutions in Brussels have also thawed, evidenced by the “dramatically improved” atmosphere in negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol which are now days away from reaching a deal.
The strengthened relations, from what Chatham House expert David Lawrence describes as a “bad place” following years of Brexit wars with the EU, is backed by internal Foreign Office polling showing the UK’s standing has grown in Europe and the United States since Russia’s invasion.
“They have seen the UK didn’t want to leave Europe and cut itself off when it left the EU,” the senior Government source said.
The source however expressed scepticism on how far the UK’s reputation had fallen, noting that Western allies respected and followed London’s lead on Ukraine.
“One of the biggest miscalculations for Putin was that he assumed that he could do it in 48 hours to a week, that Nato will fragment, the EU will dither, other countries will be ambivalent,” the source said.
“On all of those assumptions he was wrong, and one part was Britain didn’t step away, and no one is going to follow that lead if they consider you to be a joke.”
It is an assessment backed by Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chair Alicia Kearns, who said questions about the UK’s role in the world post-Brexit had now been “put to bed”.
She told i: “The UK has proven itself to be the foremost guarantor of European security after the United States.
“There is no question that the UK’s commitment to our shared security is not in doubt, and any post-Brexit questioning of our security role and commitment in Europe, put to bed.
“Walking around Kyiv this week, the strength of the bonds between Ukraine and the UK are absolute.
“As the Foreign Affairs Committee heard in evidence this week, the UK offers outstanding intelligence capabilities and a deeply respected diplomatic service.”
Chatham House’s Mr Lawrence said: “It (the Ukraine response) probably has slightly improved the UK’s standing but from quite a low base because of Brexit and various fallouts resulting from that both with allies from Europe and beyond.
“Britain was probably in quite a bad place diplomatically compared to where it’s been over the last few decades and I think it offered a certain level of vindication for the UK.”
Meanwhile, there is a belief in Whitehall that the response, with the UK at the vanguard, is sending a message to China as it eyes up an invasion of Taiwan, over which Beijing claims sovereignty.
“Defending the principle that larger countries can’t just eye a weaker neighbour and invade is a really important principle that resonates far from Ukraine,” the Government source said.
“The world is watching what we do with Ukraine because there are messages there: that the international community, far from shrugging its shoulders or dithering or not being sure what to do, acted very cohesively to say no.”
Mr Lawrence said the way the West has acted against Russia, with highly targeted sanctions and arms for Ukraine, could also provide a blueprint for the response to Chinese aggression in Asia.
“The way the Russian invasion of Ukraine makes a difference is it’s harder to ignore the parallels between Ukraine’s situation and Taiwan’s future potential status as being just on the edge of a much bigger power that claims sovereignty,” he said.
“You could argue Ukraine is almost a dry run for a Taiwanese invasion in terms of how you could use sanctions and you can support somewhere militarily without entering into direct conflict.”