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Newsnight: Boris ducks question over whether Putin's invasion saved PM from 'partygate'

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BBC Newsnight’s political editor Nicholas Watt followed the Prime Minister as he arrived in Brussels on a day which would see three summits be held in one city on just one day. Mr Watt spoke to Mr Johnson throughout his trip, including when the Prime Minister was roaming around NATO’s headquarters.

The pair soon sat down for an interview in which the Prime Minister was asked about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

During their interview, which was broadcast on the BBC last night, Mr Watt pushed Mr Johnson on whether Vladimir Putin’s onslaught had helped keep him in Number 10.

The Prime Minister had faced growing criticism from the public following revelations about allegedly lockdown-breaching parties being held in Downing Street.

But ‘partygate’, which is now subject to an investigation by the Metropolitan Police, has in many ways been replaced as the country’s most significant political issue by events in Ukraine.

Calling the Prime Minister a “very lucky general”, Mr Watt asked: “What does it say about your premiership that it takes the most serious war in Europe since the Second World War to escape?”

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Mr Johnson replied: “I think what it says is that we’re very lucky to live in a country where journalists can, quite properly, go hard on this sort of question, this sort of issue because I can tell you, Nick, that is not what happens in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.”

Mr Watt then asked if this meant the Prime Minister was open to taking tough questions on ‘partygate’, in which Johnson said: “Yes, of course. That is what it’s all about.”

He added: “I think what people understand is that if Vladimir Putin lived in a democracy and if Vladimir Putin had Newsnight on his case and people asking him really penetrating questions about what he really thought he was doing in Ukraine… I don’t think he would have made the catastrophic mistake he has made.”

Mr Johnson has certainly experienced something of a revival following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

There had been concerns ‘partygate’ could prompt a vote of no confidence in his leadership of the Tory Party with reports speculating enough letters might be submitted to the 1922 Committee to necessitate a vote.

However, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, who has been critical of Mr Johnson since resigning from Government over Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle, confirmed he had withdrawn his letter from the office of committee chairman Sir Graham Brady.

Mr Johnson has also seen his ratings in the approval polls bounce back slightly since hitting lows in January.

Labour’s lead over the Tories hit double-figures in January, including one survey which suggested the Conservatives had fallen 14 points behind Sir Keir Starmer’s party.

However, the most recent opinion poll by Kantar Public puts the Tories and Labour neck-and-neck on 36 percent.

Speaking to Express.co.uk earlier this month, one ally of the Prime Minister also suggested Mr Johnson’s response to events in Ukraine had helped bolster his position in Downing Street.

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Ex-UKIP and Conservative MEP David Campbell-Bannerman, who supported Mr Johnson in the 2016 and 2019 Tory leadership contests, said: “The momentous nature of the first big war in Europe since 1945, bigger than the Hungarian uprising or Czechoslovakian crushing, is sobering for all.”

“I think Boris deserves enormous credit for his leadership as the first to get weapons into Ukrainian hands.”

He added: “I do think we can regain a positive in the polls, I think the Prime Minister has done a superb job and is a great war leader, just like his hero Churchill.

“There’s a Churchillian feel to how Boris has led the free world and been very robust and supportive of Ukraine, I think he’s made a real difference.”



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'Have to kick the pedal to the metal' Ex-Ukrainian leader slams Macron tank aide hesitancy

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Ex-Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk sat down on LBC Radio to discuss NATO leaders. NATO has been allying themselves with Ukraine, sending help and weaponry and taking fleeing Ukrainian refugees. NATO members held a conference on the Russian invasion earlier this week to discuss more ways to help Ukraine.

Mr Yatsenyuk pushed for Macron to send over military tanks as promised, slamming him for dragging his feet, and claiming that the war in Ukraine affects the security of every European country.

Mr Yatsenyuk said: “That’s what Putin is closely watching, as for now, Putin didn’t expect this kind of unity and consolidated and concerted actions against the Russian federation.

“But you know, the time is running and we don’t have enough time to wait until some EU member states decide to supply more weapons to Ukraine.

“Or to impose tougher and stronger sanctions on the Russian Federation, so the EU has to be decisive and they have to speed up the process of new sanctions.

“And the shipment and delivery of weapons to Ukraine, because it’s not just about Ukraina and they realise it clearly, this is about the free world.

“And this is about the security of every single nation in the European Union, so the French have to kick the pedal to the metal.”

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky explained this week that he expected “serious steps” from Western-allied countries.

Mr Zelensky repeated the calls for a no-fly zone over Ukraine to be imposed by NATO forces and complained that the Western allies had not yet provided Ukraine with sufficient planes, up to date modern anti-missile systems, tanks or anti-ship weapons.

Mr Zelensky added: “At these three summits we will see who is our friend, who is our partner and who sold us out and betrayed us.”

President Zelensky also expressed that he was grateful for the support Ukraine was continuing to receive from individual NATO member countries from around the world.

Mr Zelensky added: “But NATO has yet to show what the alliance can do to save people,” he said. “It feels like we’re in the grey zone between the West and Russia, but we’re protecting all our and your shared values.

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Mr Johnson added: “We’ve got to tighten the economic vice around Putin, sanctioning more people today, as we are, sanctioning the Wagner Group, looking at what we can do to stop Putin using his gold reserves, and also doing more to help the Ukrainians defend themselves.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has been playing an active role in trying to de-escalate the war with Russia by imposing tight sanctions on Russia to try and stop Putin’s warpath of destruction.

Ms Truss has warned that infighting between NATO countries at the moment could be highly detrimental for progress in ending the war.

Mr Truss said: “Russia’s targeting of critical national infrastructure is calculated and dangerous.

“It shows Putin is prepared to risk lives to sow division and confusion among allies.”



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Brexit news: What happens when Article 16 is triggered?

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After Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) was confirmed, the two parties have been attempting to renegotiate terms for a special Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland. Coined the Northern Ireland protocol it’s been a point of contention that’s led to threats from each side of triggering a mechanism called Article 16. But what is it?

What is Article 16?

The UK and EU agreed to the creation of the Northern Ireland protocol, in October 2019.

By allowing goods to flow freely between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland the deal removed the threat of a hard border.

But the arrangement has also resulted in what’s been labelled as an ‘Irish Sea border’.

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Goods that now arrive into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK are subjected to more stringent checks and controls.

In the scenario that either the UK or EU feel that the protocol is leading to significant issues or hampering their capacity to trade, then they have the option of activating Article 16.

The component sets out the process for taking unilateral “safeguard” measures, which in reality would amount to suspending parts of the deal.

Specifically, Article 16 says safeguard measures can be taken if the protocol is leading to serious “economic, societal or environmental difficulties” that are liable to persist.

He said: “Triggering Article 16 now would severely disrupt the unity of the UK and EU response to the war in Ukraine.

“It is thus perhaps not surprising that key US figures chose this week to restate that any uncertainty around the stability of the Good Friday Agreement would hinder a future UK-US trade deal.”

In recent months talks between Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and her EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic have stalled, leading to calls from Brexiteers for the UK to act.

However, Professor Menon cautioned that triggering Article 16 won’t “rid” Britain of the protocol.

He added: “I think the British Government if it triggers Article 16 will do something relatively small and contained.

“And then there’s not a massive bust-up. You don’t end up getting rid of the protocol. You end up with months if not years of negotiations, mediation and arbitration.

“So, it’s a way of doing something but it’s not a way of solving anything. In a sense you’re still stuck with the protocol and you’re still negotiating about the future of the protocol.”

In essence, were Article 16 to be triggered it wouldn’t have a huge impact on the ground.

Many of the checks on goods flowing from Britain to Northern Ireland have already been unilaterally suspended.

Triggering the mechanism itself would only start a formal dispute process that requires both sides to go into talks to resolve.



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NATO slammed as former US Army chief exposes ‘two big issues’ in united Russia response

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US Army vice chief of staff general Jack Keane, sat down on LBC radio to talk about the NATO conference which took place earlier this week. Mr Keane discussed the possibility that Putin could deploy chemical biological weapons on the battlefield. Russian President Vladimir Putin has already used the highly condemned thermobaric weapons since the war started just over a month ago.

The US Army chief acknowledged there had been no public policy declaration on the consequences Putin would face if he was to take such a barbaric action.

Mr Keane said: “Listen I was very disappointed by the NATO summit.

“I totally applaud the fact that they’re going to increase by 40k troops in Eastern Europe.

“And they’re increasing sanctions and it seems like a sense of unity.

“But on two big issues, it’s got to be disappointing, there’s no NATO public policy declaration.

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Mr Keane added: “At the end of that summit to deal with this particular issue, chemical biological weapons and nuclear weapons which the Russians have been waving in front of our face now for almost 30 days.

“What we need is… Think policy statement, not something that’s left to a reporter to ask a question on.

“And then you get a statement that you just repeated, which leads to more confirmation than anything else.

“A much better statement, using my words… I don’t want to put words into other people’s mouths.

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“But with me, the use of any form of WMB would be unacceptable.

“We will not let it stand, it will result in decisive consequential actions and all options are on the table.

“Words to that effect, in a public policy statement, and we didn’t get it and it’s really unfortunate.

“And what it does it leaves in the minds of Putin and his  leaders just what would the reaction be, ambiguous like that and I think it’s very unfortunate.”

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Fear of the Russian military deploying chemical biological weapons has been heightened.

Ukrainian outlet InformNapalm has warned that: “Our conclusions may sound premature or too apocalyptic, but after the missile attacks and bombing of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, which the Russian army resorted to, we believe that it is necessary to make these data public and try to thwart any such intentions of Russia.”

And NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels on Thursday: “We’ve tried to be very clear about the gravity of the use of any such chemical weapons.

“These are agents that should never be employed and certainly not on the battlefield, as we are concerned Russia might.”



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