Dear Editors,

Iain Martin (11 February) correctly spells out – in cold hard pounds, shilling and pence – how US economic war on Europe really is a disaster for a divided West… but on Zelensky hero-worship, we are poles apart.

By ‘shilling’, I am not referring to out-of-date non-decimal currency, but the people at the head of our governments and supra-national organisations who – despite this US economic war being waged on our doorstep – nonetheless parrot the “West Good; Russia Bad” war propaganda emanating from the Biden administration. 

Who was Boris Johnson to head to Kiev in April 2022 – when a peace deal was on the table – to encourage further conflict? Does it not cause at least a moment of reflection to note the number of Ukrainian peace negotiators that were assassinated around that time?  Consider “Denis Kireyev, one of the Ukrainian negotiators, assassinated on March 5 by the Ukrainian secret service (SBU) because he was too favorable to Russia and was considered a traitor. The same fate befell Dmitry Demyanenko, former deputy head of the SBU’s main directorate for Kiev and its region, who was assassinated on March 10 because he was too favorable to an agreement with Russia—he was shot by the Mirotvorets (“Peacemaker”) militia. This militia is associated with the Mirotvorets website, which lists the “enemies of Ukraine,” with their personal data, addresses and telephone numbers, so that they can be harassed or even eliminated; a practice that is punishable in many countries, but not in the Ukraine”. 

I’m sure I do not necessarily need to invoke Oscar Wilde to point out that this is highly irregular… or at the very least careless.

Furthermore, why do we find Boris Johnson – again – in Kiev, this time in January 2023, claiming (on behalf of who?) that the UK would “stick by Ukraine as long as it takes”? Is this the right point to be asking which American companies (or agencies/individuals?) have paid him £2,488,387.53 in aggregate for speeches yet to be delivered following his resignation as Prime Minister? That’s some shilling. It is quite clear how the US industrial-military machine benefits from a proxy war with Russia in the Ukraine but – as Iain Martin points out – this may well not be in Europe’s best interests.

Speaking of US interests – and before escalating the conflict – might it be prudent to at least further investigate the detailed, but as yet unverified, theory laid out by the journalist that uncovered the My Lai massacre in 1969 as to how Nordstream 2 was taken out – allegedly a clandestine US operation?

The idea that the Russian bear is totally madly out of control and intending to overrun the whole of the West is absurd (of course, we should not rule it out, and “he who wants peace should prepare for war” – we should ensure we can defend ourselves).  But defence is different from attack.  This simplistic story of Russian aggression is – like any fairy tale – a fantasy.  Even if one ignores concrete assurances given by NATO in the 1990s not to expand eastwards, US meddling in the Ukraine region, especially from 2012 onwards, and far-right paramilitary and military actions promulgated against Russian-speaking people, it is a complete madness to be escalating the conflict. How has it come to pass that 8 years of reporting of Azov’s role in supporting global terrorism just gets memory-holed?

Might these thoughts sow a sliver of doubt into the minds of those who cannot see past the saintly visage of the Ukrainian leader, clad in fatigues? Yet the Ukrainian leader is not the messiah – why is no-one remotely interested in his Panama Papers offshore accounts and shady business dealings? Are these just the siren calls of the Putin mastermind? ‘Do not appease those Russians’ we get told, ‘you are just listening to Russian bots – this is a disinformation war!’.

Bear in mind the recent story of the Hamilton68 dashboard – a Russian bot-tracker that was “the brainchild of former FBI special agent and MSNBC contributor Clint Watts and operated under the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a think tank founded in 2017” – which turns out to have been a complete fabrication. Oops. Oh, and we now know from Big Brother Watch’s detailed sleuthing that the Cabinet Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport had ‘hit squads’ – a Ministry of Truth that included military personnel – involved in squashing dissent if it deviated from official government narrative. We now know the extent to which the UK Government got it wrong (yet again I agree with Iain) in terms of the Covid response: just think how many lives – and money – could have been saved if constructive dissent had been heeded. The ‘official narrative’ needs questioning like never before.

Forgive me, therefore, if I am somewhat leery to hear that the Foreign Office has established the ‘Government Information Cell’ (GIC) focused on identifying and countering Russian disinformation in the UK and abroad about “the Kremlin’s war”.

Even if it proves impossible – despite this huge body of evidence to the contrary – to move away from this “Russian Man Bad; West Good” mantra, surely one cannot ignore the sheer horrifying bodycount on both sides? The Ukrainian theatre has become a meatgrinder. Of course we should not provide fighter jets and risk turning a proxy warm into a hot – or even nuclear – war.  Providing more military hardware to prolong this war is an affront to humanity when instead the West could be looking for de-escalation.  Are the parameters of peace – autonomy for Russian-speaking regions & NATO to stop pushing East – that much of a concession?

Alex Starling, London

Immigration reform will help Britain to regain growth

Strike actions throughout the UK are adding to an already volatile economic climate, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will have to work hard to ensure that Britain remains stable and attracts vital investment.

The end of 2022 was marked by mass industrial unrest as employees across the transport network, NHS, Royal Mail, schools, and the civil service chose to strike. Recent talks between ministers and unions have failed to resolve ongoing disputes with nurses, teachers, and rail workers, and 2023 is likely to be a year of further stoppages and instability.

This crisis has not only left many in the UK without access to public services, but also threatens to undermine a domestic economy which is already in a weak state. While No.10 has announced plans for new legislation that will enforce ‘basic’ level of service during stoppages, the PM must broaden his focus and address other manageable economic issues to regain the confidence of the markets and the public. As it happens, the ongoing labour shortage is one of the few economic challenges that can be resolved in the relatively short term, and therefore needs to be a top priority as the country experiences a series of domestic crises.

The UK is struggling with a domestic job market defined by record high vacancies. Older workers have decided to retire, and younger people are flocking back to higher education. The highest pay raises in a decade have been unable to curb shortages in skilled labour, while low-skilled industries, such as farming and hospitality, have also struggled to attract workers since Brexit and COVID19.

Although these issues have contributed to the UK’s economic woes, they also represent a unique and crucially important opportunity for Prime Minister Sunak to give relief to the British economy. If he can effectively respond to these labour shortages, Sunak can assume a stronger position in negotiations with unions while signalling to markets and investors that the UK is serious about addressing its challenges.

The general plan of action has already been laid out by previous administrations, making the Prime Minister’s job even simpler. Under Truss’s stewardship, the Home Office considered making changes to the shortage of occupation list by eliminating employers’ duty to prove that there is no suitable local worker for the role and lowering visa fees. Current total visa costs for a skilled worker are £5,681 in the UK, whereas they are only £270 in Canada.

If Prime Minister Sunak pursues reform, he would be building on a policy platform which has already enjoyed recent success. In the post-Brexit period, the creation of graduate and skilled worker visas has allowed a high number of foreign professionals to enter the UK, and evidence shows that such trends help increase GDP per capita and spur innovation. Moreover, recent surveys suggest the British people have become generally more receptive to such policy reforms as immigration is no longer a primary concern.

Brexit was in large part motivated by a desire to create a ‘global’ Britain, capable of competing with the world’s leading economic powers, although this remains an empty slogan. Current visa and immigration policies are causing the UK to miss out on top talent from around the world and become less competitive globally. Signs of this financial disadvantage are clear, as the UK’s inflation rate is higher than any other G7 country, exports are down and productivity remains woefully low.

The UK’s experience with labour shortages is not unfolding in a vacuum. In Canada, the majority of businesses have identified labour shortages as their biggest concern for future growth, as the overall size of the labour force has been consistently dropping. The Canadian government has responded by introducing a large package of visa and immigration reforms, including an innovative pathway to permanent residence for over 90,000 skilled and essential workers and international graduates who are actively contributing to Canada’s economy.

If Prime Minister Sunak is truly serious about establishing innovative ways to entice top talent and curb the shortages, he should look to forward-looking countries such as the UAE, which has been a leader in immigration initiatives to sustain its rapid growth. Their five-year green visa, for which skilled workers and investors are eligible, now allows for foreigners to sponsor themselves without assistance from their employer or a UAE national. Their revised golden visa now offers a 10-year residency for eligible investors and individuals with exceptional talents.

Immigration and visa reform may seem like a drop in the bucket during the current economic crisis unfolding in the UK. Some may even view the proposed changes as contrary to the theory of Brexit. However, it is time to face up to reality. Leading countries across the world recognise the central importance of attracting skilled workers. Just this past year Germany, the US and New Zealand among others have made changes to their immigration systems to attract top talent.

Given the overwhelming challenges facing the current government, the Prime Minister must consider every option to alleviate the pressure on key industries and employers. As such, immigration reform must be made a top priority if Britain is to regain growth and stability.

Anthony Harris, Former Ambassador to the UAE

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