Vladimir Putin recently decreed that any Ukrainian who wants a Russian passport can get one. More than 800,000 Donbas residents have already taken the plunge, the Kremlin says, and it’s an offer that may be hard to refuse. Russian citizenship is now required in many parts of occupied Ukraine to hold down a job and access services. Declining it can get you noticed, in a bad way.
The colleagues who have spent years enabling Johnson’s mismanagement and duplicity deserve to share his discredit. But the distance that has belatedly separated him from his party arises from egotism, not principle, and it reflects the opportunism that has characterised his career. While he enjoys wielding power, he despises institutions designed to channel and control its exercise. That dangerous dichotomy has informed Johnson’s policy choices from Brexit onwards. It’s the reason he was prepared to prorogue Parliament, for example, and it explains his contempt for legal limitations and ‘leftie lawyers’. The ludicrous suggestion that he continue as a ‘caretaker’ prime minister now threatens to do yet more damage.
Dominic Raab’s campaign to replace the Human Rights Act began even before he entered Parliament in 2010. But he’s never explained how getting rid of it would enhance personal freedoms. He’s praised supposedly unique British liberties – above all, free speech and jury trials – but otherwise he’s mostly stressed the need to deport foreign criminals. His Bill of Rights Bill is correspondingly sneaky.
As a child of the Cold War – and a Finnish mother – I’m not surprised that anger towards Moscow is rising. Geopolitics weren’t high on my agenda during summer holidays in Helsinki in the 1980s, but even then, I sensed that Finland’s dutiful relationship with the bear next door was fraught. The only adult who convincingly described the tension was a lonely drunk I once met at a party. Gazing eastwards across Helsinki’s archipelago, he told me about his gun collection before demonstrating how he’d fire at the Soviets if they invaded. With one last imaginary bullet, he shot himself in the head. That, he said, was what Finlandisation meant.
On Sunday afternoon, Vladimir Putin warned that aggressive statements by ‘top officials in Nato’s leading countries’ had obliged him to put Russia’s ‘deterrence forces’ on high alert. The Kremlin press secretary blamed ‘various representatives at various levels’ and didn’t want to name names, ‘although it was the British foreign minister’. Liz Truss has denied responsibility.
My friend Nastassia recently returned to London from visiting her parents in Moscow. At a dumpling party, as guests kneaded dough at the table, a recently qualified ornithologist had told a weird story. Her new job involved feeding birds of prey, with mice she’d kill by swinging them against a wall – and that wasn’t the weird bit. Moscow Zoo wouldn’t take her on until she passed a lie detector test to show she wasn’t a thief or drug addict. ‘Unbelievable!’ Nastassia said.
Loyalty may yet save Boris Johnson. Plenty of Tory backbenchers hope he’s still the charismatic winner of yesteryear; others fear their re-election prospects are doomed without him. Even the optimists and lickspittles might pause before claiming he’s earned their trust, however. In search of personal advantage, the prime minister has normalised duplicity, weakened checks and balances, and left a trail of personal and professional relationships dead in his wake. Has he no shame?
Though I was born in Parsons Green, my father grew up in Pakistan, which acknowledges citizenship by descent. That means the home secretary could annul my Britishness, without even telling me, on the strength of a foreign entitlement I wouldn’t know what to do with. Apologists for executive discretion often argue that the innocent needn’t worry, but that complacent assumption misses the point. It isn’t only the notional risk of a despotic home secretary that’s disturbing. It’s the injustice of knowing that most citizens face no risk at all.
Priti Patel isn’t the first politician to overstate her experiences of adversity, and her opinions, at least, are consistent. She’s been an ardent nationalist since working as a press officer for James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party in the mid 1990s, and politicised patriotism runs in the family: her father contested a council seat for Ukip in 2013. The dodgy backstory matters, however, because it illustrates how hard it is to differentiate between worthy and unworthy refugees. Just as Patel’s parents escaped Uganda to improve their lives, most migrants are compelled to leave their homelands for mixed reasons: hopes as well as fears, ambition as well as anxiety.
Just over a year ago I was in eastern Poland. The edge of the European Union – a strip of sand between two rickety gates – was quiet.