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The war Boris Johnson is worried about is a Tory one

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

The UK's decision to sanction Russians linked to Vladimir Putin's regime is just another instalment of the Conservative Party's infighting, being played out through another medium.

In Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ramped up pressure on those with links to the Russian government. He named multiple banks and three (yes just three) individuals being targeted for propping up Moscow, as Putin goes on the warpath in eastern Ukraine.

They are all of course legitimate ways to punish Russia - they are all directly linked to it, and Putin.

On Wednesday, he announced more measures to support Ukraine, and said at PMQs, no government had done more to counter dirty money, than his own.

Yet, when Johnson said he wanted to “clamp down on Russian money in the UK” on Tuesday, he made an exception.

And used a very cynical excuse to justify that exception.

He was asked about Russian funding for the Conservative Party, and the answer the Prime Minister gave, was to accuse the questioner of 'Russophobia".

That's right.

He wants to clamp down on Russian money in Britain, except for the Russian money that funds his party - and if you say anything, you're being anti-Russian.

This ignores the fact that Russian donations to the Tory Party are a significant thing.

A recent report in the The Times claimed Russian donors were among those given access to policy, for £250,000 donations, while The Pandora Papers revealed that the wife of a former Russian minister reportedly gave £2m to the party, and sourced her wealth from... her husband.

It's worth noting also, that his claim of 'Russophobia', is from a man who has a history of hateful remarks. Nobody should be taking lectures on discrimination from him. This is especially the case, because there will inevitably be a backlash against Russians in the UK. An actual manifestation of anti-Russian sentiment, because we're all glued to the media's reporting of the crisis in Ukraine, and it would be fair to say Russians are not being painted in a very positive light.

The reality is, his sanctions against Russia are another instalment of the Conservative Party's internal politics playing out in the public gaze.

This phenomenon precludes not just the pandemic, but was most clearly seen in David Cameron's decision to call a vote for Brexit in the first place, to placate Eurosceptic Tories.

That decision placed Tory politics above national interest, and this has infected our politics multiple times since.

Firstly with Brexit, as the Tory party tore itself apart before the vote, and then held Prime Minister Theresa May hostage after the vote. Brexit policy has been driven by the hard-right of the party ever since, and there doesn't appear to be any moderating influences in government right now.

The squabbling inside the party was also highlighted with the row lockdown breaches in the first wave, including Dominic Cummings' trip to Barnard Castle, and the subsequent series of revelations he launched - to get rid of Boris.

Then there was the row over second jobs, in which right-wing Tory MPs were angry with Johnson for stopping them earning a pretty penny, on the side, leading ultimately to the Owen Paterson affair.

And then there was the furore over party-gate, and the Sue Gray report, with MPs siding with or against Johnson over how he acted. He may of course still be the sacrificial lamb in this whole saga, having been questioned under caution by the Police, after filling out the questionnaire.

The tussle over all of these issues is not about what's right.

And on Russia, it's not a debate over whether donations should be accepted, or not.

It's about what Johnson can feasibly get away with, without losing necessary funding.

If it was about what's right, Johnson would listen to MPs like Dame Margaret Hodge, who said there were “serious flaws” in the new sanctions regime, and that the moves would not affect “oligarchs close to Putin who do not hold an official position in a company”.

If it was about what was right, Boris Johnson would have sanctioned more than three individuals - who have already been sanctioned by the United States since 2018. He would have included, perhaps, some of the 35 individuals named by Layla Moran in Parliament, in the so-called 'Navalny’s list,.

Indeed the PM is so flustered by this affair - perhaps because he doesn't want to have to sanction any donors - that he had to actually apologise for 'inadvertently' naming Roman Abramovich as having already being on a list of sanctioned individuals (he isn't).


It is a reflection of the lengths Boris Johnson will go to try and save his own skin - that even something as serious as this war being launched by Russia against Ukraine, can be used as a tool in the Tory party civil war.

The inevitable mudslinging will now ensue, with Johnson bringing up Chinese donations to Labour at PMQs.

All this whataboutery, including the claim that criticism of Russian donations to the Tory Party are 'Russophobia', crystallise what a mess the Conservative Party under Johnson is.

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