European Council Statement
Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): Let me welcome the summit measures that were agreed. Those include the unity of the EU in condemning Russia’s actions and the decision to provide support and encouragement to the Ukrainian Government, including €11 billion of aid. The Prime Minister referred to the suspension of visa talks and a new agreement on EU-Russia relations. Those measures are welcome, although they had been announced on 3 March before the developments that I referred to at the start. Does he accept that the evidence from recent days suggests that those measures alone will be insufficient to get Russia to change course, and that further action will be required?
Turning to what more needs to be done, I welcome the European Council’s decision to look at further measures, although the agreed language is weaker than we would have wished. I welcome what the Prime Minister said about asset freezes and travel bans. Will he confirm that the time frame for their implementation will be days and not weeks, particularly given that the United States is committed to such action? On the EU-Russia summit, which is referred to in the Council conclusions, surely it makes sense at the very least, unless there is an immediate change of course by the Russian Government, to suspend preparations for it, as has been done for the G8 summit in Sochi. Beyond that, I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement that we need to look actively at other measures. I urge him in the days ahead to build support for further measures among our European and other allies to prepare for the eventuality that they will be required.
David Cameron (Prime Minister): I thank the right honourable Gentleman for what he has said. He has welcomed our approach, which is a combination of pressure and dialogue. That is absolutely right: we should be trying to de-escalate the crisis, but an element of deterrence is required to discourage further aggressive steps from Russia.
Let me try to answer each of the right honourable Gentleman’s questions. He is right that this is a test of European resolve. It is clearly difficult, as he says, to get agreement among 28 countries. There are countries in the European Union that have a heavy dependence on Russian energy, for instance, so we have to try to bring everyone along in the argument. That is what happened at the European Council. A lot of people were expecting a strong US response and an EU response that was well behind it. That did not happen. Given everything, the EU response was a relatively good one.
The right honourable Gentleman asked whether further measures will be needed. That will obviously depend on the Russian response. We are trying to be clear, predictable and consistent in setting out what has been done, what will need to be done if the talks do not get going, and what further steps would be taken if Russia took further aggressive steps, for instance in eastern Ukraine. Setting that out in advance helps people to understand the depth of concern in the EU and the preparedness for action.
The right honourable Gentleman asked whether asset freezes would be put in place in days rather than weeks. Obviously, that depends on whether the Russians set up the contact group and start the dialogue with the Ukrainian Government. If they do not, asset freezes and travel bans will follow, and yes, that should follow in a matter of days not weeks, because the setting up of the contact group and the starting of talks is not a particularly difficult step for the Russians to take if they genuinely want to see this ended through a process of dialogue, rather than continuing with this conflict.
The right honourable Gentleman’s comment about linking the EU-Russia summit with the G8 is absolutely right. It would be unthinkable for a G8 not to go ahead while an EU-Russia summit did go ahead; these things have to be considered in tandem. He also asked whether it would be right to resuscitate the G7, rather than going ahead with the G8. If we do not make progress on a contact group and if Russia takes further steps, clearly one of the measures that we could bring forward relatively quickly would be to take a different approach by going back to a G7, rather than holding a G8, but let us hope that that is not necessary.
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle, Conservative): Why is it acceptable for the Scottish nationalists to be granted a referendum in Scotland on constitutional arrangements dating back to 1707, but unacceptable for Russian nationalists in the Crimea to have a referendum about constitutional arrangements that date back only to 1954? Does my right honourable Friend agree that, if the Crimean referendum could be postponed until such time as international observers could be put in place to ensure that the referendum was genuine, that would be by far the most sensible solution to the problem?
David Cameron (Prime Minister:) To answer the Father of the House directly, the difference between the Scottish referendum and the one in Crimea is that the Scottish referendum is legal. It was discussed and debated in this House and in the Scottish Parliament, and we went a long way to put in place arrangements that I have described as not only decisive and fair but legal. The difference between those arrangements and the Crimean referendum is that the Crimean referendum is illegitimate and illegal under the Ukrainian constitution. That is not to say that the people of Ukraine or of Crimea cannot, over time, find a way of expressing their own preferences. That is what we have done in Scotland, and of course they can do it there too, but the way in which this referendum has come about is clearly illegitimate and illegal; that is the difference.
Jack Straw (Blackburn, Labour): Against the background of thugs in Crimea blocking the admission of OSCE monitors into Crimea, what does the Prime Minister think of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s claim last week that one of the ways of resolving the matter peacefully is by using the OSCE?
David Cameron (Prime Minister): The right honourable Gentleman, who served as Foreign Secretary, speaks with great knowledge. The fact is that a number of things our Russian interlocutors have said have turned out simply not to be true. We have to be very clear in challenging them on that. Of course Russia has an interest in having a strong and positive relationship with Ukraine, which we understand and welcome, but in these circumstances some of the things that have been said about what is happening on the ground, the consequences that would follow certain actions, and indeed the point he has just made, show that they have not been entirely straightforward with us.