None of the below will happen in the straightforward event of an imminent coup in Russia. Nor perhaps in the more subtle one of a ceasefire soon, followed by eased sanctions and a negotiated peace.
But most of it will take place in the event of a longer war, and much of it should have happened anyway. Here are ten ways in which politics is set to change.
First, defence policy. It’s a statement of the obvious that defence spending will rise – at the expense of budgets elsewhere, further complicating Rishi Sunak’s calculations. But as important as the percentage by which it will rise is how it will rise.
Russia was named as “the most acute direct threat to the UK” in last year’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. Now the Government will have to react on the basis of that judgement, and review the review itself.
That should mean a larger army, a focus on our European hinterland, and no more naval adventures in the South China sea. “Putin’s Russia is closer to home – remember the Salisbury attack – and Islamist extremism is already here,” as I wrote at the time of the AUKUS deal.
This site has been singing the same song since the review was published, and before (see here, here, here and here – “The Conservatives risk obsession with China to the exclusion of other threats, including Russia and Islamist extremism”).
The last may fade away in public consciousness, which would bring its own dangers with it. The second knock-on effect of the war will be on energy policy. To pick up on another theme familiar to ConservativeHome readers, Government policy will need a much greater stress on security of supply.
Which means extracting more of our own oil and gas as a bridge to more nuclear and renewables. That might not affect the second leg of the energy policy stool, lower electricity prices. But it will have have an impact on the third, carbon emissions.
As this war gathers pace, it is looking harder for us to hit Net Zero by 2050, though I’m sceptical about that timetable in any event. Next, food. Agriculture policy will always seek to strike a balance between consumers and producers, and in the wake of Brexit we now have more scope to adjust.
To date, the tilt has been towards consumers, with less farmer subsidy (“mine are doing their nut”, one Minister told me yesterday) and more countryside rewilding. That is going to have to change, which will have an effect on trade policy.
Deals with Commonwealth friends and allies – Anne-Marie Trevelyan has just agreed one with New Zealand – have implications for domestic production, no less than those with other countries. And a lesson of Covid should be that one cannot rely on supply chains to deliver as planned.
Which will mean a switch from just-in-time to just-in-case. Then there is the exposure of universities to Russian and Chinese influence. The sanctions in placed are already poised to snarl up science partnerships with counterparts in the Putin-led state.
There will be protests, for good reason and bad. It will be argued that many Russian academics are opposed to the war, and that collective punishment is a bad thing. That argument will have wider resonance as the effects of sanctions kick in.
But read Tom Tugendhat on this site, writing about the universities’ dependence on Chinese overseas students, or elsewhere on the need for a register of China’s interests in the UK. A Counter-States Threats Bill was promised in the Queen’s Speech. Ministers will need to speed up getting it before Parliament.
Next, immigration and asylum. Taking more refugees from Ukraine, as they flee West from the war, will have an effect elsewhere – since public opinion will always back, as it must, control on overall migration numbers. Watch out for the tangling-up of Ukrainian refugees and small boats.
Voters won’t long tolerate the opening-up of legal routes if illegal ones run out of control (as the traffic across the channel already has). How many who seek help from the gangmasters will be from Ukraine? Or from Afghanistan – in the wake of last summer’s disaster?
How many who arrive will claim to be, whether they actually are or not? Pondering the European landscape takes one to our relations with the EU. Liz Truss was invited to and attended a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council last week. That’s a sign of easing tensions, as Europe and America close ranks.
It may even be possible in this improving atmosphere to recast or minimise the Northern Ireland Protocol, although I’m doubtful – since the theology of the EU requires stringent checks at the sea border to guard against the non-existent threat to the internal market.
But either way, don’t expect Article 16 to be moved any time soon (will will bring its own risks, as indeed would moving it, during the run-up to this spring’s election to the Northern Ireland Assembly). There are conceivable effects on the debate about devolution and independence.
Scottish independence ought to be a less attractive option in a more dangerous world – and Ministers can be expected to make that argument as they continue to develop the UK’s internal market. Meanwhile, expect the UK to work more vigorously through European institutions.
Writing on this site recently, David Lidington named “the Northern Group that brings together the NATO members and partner countries that border the Baltic and the North Sea”, the E3 (France, Germany and the UK) and “the party too European Intervention Initiative that brings together EU and non-EU countries”.
Boris Johnson issued a statement last week in the wake of a meeting of the Joint Expeditionary Group, whose members are the UK, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Iceland. The Group has previously carried out its own military exercises.
Then there is the economy. I’ve already referred to a higher defence budget necessitating a spending squeeze elsewhere. There are those who believe it isn’t necessary: that the Government should cut taxes, go for growth and let borrowing take the strain.
Up to a point: Jacob Rees-Mogg hinted in our last Moggcast that government ought to be able to find the £12 billion of annual savings for the next three years that would render the coming National Insurance rise unnecessary. But Sunak’s take on history and the economy in his Mais Lecture was sound.
Namely, that the economic recovery of the 1980s came off the back of lower interest rates, secured in the 1981 budget by tax rises, not cuts. The lesson of the era is that tax cuts and spending control march in step – one that we may have to learn all over again at a time of stagflation, as growth slows and shortages send prices rocketing.
There will be pressure for the City to be less open to dirty money, which the institutional Treasury will try to resist as best it can, and a squeeze on the levelling-up project. That takes us finally to culture – and, no, I don’t just mean the “sporting and cultural Siberia of its own making” which Nadine Dorries referred to last week.
The last fortnight has seen the contention that Putin’s aggression has been encouraged by Western decadence discussed vigorously. That’s a bigger theme than the conclusion of an article can tackle.
Though the progress of Putin’s war, or perhaps the lack of it, ought to give pause for thought. At any rate, apologists for dictatorship are getting a hard time. That’s a change for the better.