UK will need allies to be robust if it is to be able to stand up to dictatorships such as Belarus

News Letter editorial of Wednesday May 26 2021:

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 8:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 10:04 am
News Letter editorial

On Sunday evening, the EU transport commissioner Adina Valean tweeted the following message from her account @AdinaValean:

The @Ryanair flight took off just now from Minsk bound for Vilnius. Great news for everyone especially the families and friends of people onboard

It was an extraordinary message.

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Ms Valean was celebrating the obviously welcome fact that a Ryanair plane, which had in effect been hijacked and forced by a Belarussian fighter jet to land in the country, had now been allowed to travel on to its destination with its passengers. All passengers except one, that is.

Roman Protasevich, a journalist and opposition activist in that totalitarian society, had been arrested and detained.

The diversion of a passenger jet was a vivid illustration that there are still a few rogue nations in Europe. Little has changed in some formerly Soviet areas since Wikileaks cables from more than a decade ago revealed the assessment of a Spanish prosecutor that in Russia, Belarus and Chechnya “one cannot differentiate between the activities of the Government and OC (organised crime) groups”.

Or since a UK Foreign Office Russia director said that Russia is a “corrupt autocracy”.

The EU commissioner’s response was beneath contempt, and met with immediate anger on both sides of the Atlantic. Within an hour she was expressing her concern for Mr Protasevich, but the damage done by the first tweet’s failure to mention this core aspect of the hijacking was done.

The EU has shown a similarly lamentable response to China’s repression both domestically and in Hong Kong, striking an investment agreement with Beijing (although, happily, that is now on hold).

The UK can strike its own course on matters such as international relations, trade or vaccines now it is an independent nation, But it will need allies in democracies to stand with it against dictatorships if there is any hope of global change.

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Alistair Bushe