Boris Johnson has had a meeting at the Nato summit with Anthony Albanese, the new Labor prime minister of Australia. Albanese took office last month after beating the Liberal incumbent Scott Morrisson, who was reportedly getting campaign advice from Isaac Levido, the consultant who ran Johnson’s 2019 general election campaign.
According to the Downing Street readout of the meeting, Johnson “welcomed Australia’s participation in the summit as the largest non-Nato contributor”. A No 10 spokesperson said:
The leaders agreed on the importance of supporting Ukraine and ensuring Putin’s vainglorious conquest ends in failure.
The Prime Minister and Prime Minister Albanian both welcomed the Aukus pact, which is promoting stability and security across the Indo-Pacific.
They looked forward to working more together to boost prosperity and create jobs in both our countries, including when the UK-Australia free trade agreement comes into force.
Speaking at the Nato summit this morning, Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, also said that it was important for western countries not to become economically dependent on China. She said:
I think the lesson we have learned from the Ukraine crisis is the increased dependence of Europe on Russian oil and gas contributed to a sense in which Russia felt enabled to invade Ukraine.
We also need to learn that lesson, I believe, with China of not becoming strategically dependent on China and in fact making sure that we have strong alternatives.
I think there are huge lessons that we can learn and we need to learn them as soon as possible.
Truss also said that it was “very worrying” that China recently decided to express its support for Argentina’s claim to the Falkland Islands.
In his interview with LBC this morning Ben Wallace, the defense secretary also claimed that Ukraine was “winning” the war against the Russian invaders. He explained:
I would still say the Ukrainians are winning. They are extracting huge amounts of cost from the Russian armed forces.
Twenty-five thousand Russians, we think, have been killed in that fight in the space of 112, 115 days. Russia has failed on all its major objectives.
It is now reduced to a grinding advance – a few hundred meters every few days at massive cost in one small part of eastern Ukraine along two or three axes. That is not a victory in anyone’s book.
Wallace also claimed that if he had been a defense secretary in a British government that had miscalculated as badly as Russia did, he would have been sacked by now.
The government would have been overthrown in Britain and there would have been thousands of very angry parents and girlfriends who’ve lost their husbands … [Vladimir Putin has] reduced Russia in the eyes of the world and made it a lesser country.
Arriving for the first day of the Nato summit in Madrid, Boris Johnson said the likely accession of Finland and Sweden to the alliance had shown again the miscalculation of Russia in invading Ukraine. He said:
The first lesson really from today is that if Vladimir Putin was hoping he would be getting less Nato on his western front as a result of his unprovoked, illegal invasion of Ukraine he’s been proved completely wrong – he’s getting more Nato.
This is a historic summit in many ways, but we’ve already got two new members coming in, Finland and Sweden, a huge step forward for our alliance.
And what we’re going to be doing now is talking about what more we can do as an alliance to support the Ukrainians, but what we also need to do to make sure that we think about the lessons of the last few months and the need for Nato to review its posture on its eastern flank.
Boris Johnson told a German broadcaster yesterday that Vladimir Putin would not have invaded Ukraine if he had been a woman. Nadeem Badshah has the story here.
This might not be the most profound geopolitical insight to come from a British prime minister, although that does not mean Johnson is entirely wrong.
On LBC this morning Ben Wallace, the defense secretary, was asked if he agreed. He said he did not want to get into this debate, but he then went on to offer his own assessment of Putin’s psyche. The Russian president suffered from “small man syndrome”, Wallace said. He went on:
You rarely hear the phrase small woman syndrome, you always hear small man syndrome. I think he’s certainly got it in spades.
Putin is reportedly 5ft 7in.
But Wallace did cast doubt on the theory that women are unlikely to be warmongers, citing Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry, as evidence to support his point. In the course of this answer he also called Putin a “lunatic”. He told LBC:
To be fair there is that lady, the spokeswoman in the ministry of foreign affairs, she’s like a comedy turn, she does her statement every week, threatening to nuke everyone or doing something or another. She she’s definitely a woman… she She’s a lunatic like [Putin] is, so I’ll leave it to that.
Liz Trussthe foreign secretary, has told the Nato summit that invading Taiwan would be “a catastrophic miscalculation” by China, arguing that the UK and other countries should reconsider their trading relationships with countries that used their economic power in “coercive” ways.
Speaking at the panel meeting alongside Anthony Albanese, the Australian prime minister, and Alexander De Croo, the Belgian prime minister, Truss said:
I do think that with China extending its influence through economic coercion and building a capable military, there is a real risk that they draw the wrong idea that results in a catastrophic miscalculation such as invading Taiwan.
With China expanding its strategic ambitions, Truss, said, Nato needed to expand its strategic concept – its core mission last updated in 2010 and due to be revamped at this summit in Madrid – to specifically reference China.
The G7 countries and nations like Australia should use their “economic weight” to challenge China, she said – adding that countries like the UK could even rethink their approach to trade with Beijing. She explained:
I think historically we haven’t used that economic power. We’ve been equidistant, if you like, about who we trade with, who we work with. And I think countries are becoming much more focused now on, is this trade with trust, do we trust this partner? Are they going to use it to undermine us, or are they going to use it for the mutual benefit of both of our economies? So trade has got a lot more geopolitical.
UPDATE: Here is my colleague Peter Walker‘s story about Truss’s comments.
Good morning. Boris Johnson is at the Nato summit in Madrid today, and Ben Wallace, the defense secretary, has been doing the morning interview round. The Daily Telegraph splashes today on a story saying Boris Johnson faces a cabinet split over defense spending. It says:
The Telegraph can reveal that Downing Street intervened to water down calls for higher defense expenditure from Ben Wallace in a speech delivered on Tuesday.
Mr Wallace, the Defense Secretary, was due to argue that spending just two per cent of GDP on defense was outdated. However, the line was removed at Number 10’s request.
Downing Street was said to have been left “furious” by what was seen as an attempt to bounce Mr Johnson into announcing a major defense spending increase while at the Nato summit this week.
This morning Wallace claimed the story was based on a misunderstanding. Some words were taken out of the speech, he admitted. But that was not because the PM disagreed with them, but because the PM wanted to say them himself, Wallace said. He told Times Radio:
There were some words in my speech that were taken out because the prime minister is going to say them today.
I think the center just wanted to make sure that he said it before the defense secretary said it. It is perfectly legitimate. It was his words from him. There is nothing conspiracy in it, I’m afraid.
Wallace also restated his call for defense spending to rise. He told Sky News:
In the here and now we are rightly set. The question is what happens in the middle of the decade.
My settlement was done before Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia is very, very dangerous on the world stage. The world is less secure than it was two, three years ago and is not looking likely to change for the rest of the decade.
That is the moment, in the middle of the decade, to say we should commit to increased funding.
While there is broad agreement in cabinet that defense spending should increase, views do seem to be split over quite what the rise should be, and how it should be presented. One issue is defense spending as a share of GDP; another is the Tory manifesto promise to increase defense spending at least 0.5% above inflation. In their overnight story, my colleagues Peter Walker and Dan Sabbagh explain what has been happening.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9am: Boris Johnson attends the official opening of the Nato summit in Madrid. The summit will continue throughout the day.
9.30am: The Commons privileges committee meets in private to start planning its inquiry into whether Boris Johnson lied to MPs about Partygate. Harriet Harman is expected to be elected as the committee’s chair.
9.45am: Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, gives evidence to the Commons work and pensions committee.
10am: Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international trade secretary, gives evidence to the Commons international trade committee about the trade deal with Australia.
10.30am: Lisa Nandy, the shadow leveling up secretary, gives a speech to the Local Government Association annual conference.
12pm: Dominic Raab, the deputy PM, faces Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, at PMQs.
12.45pm: Sajid Javid, the health secretary, gives a speech to the Policy Exchange thinktank on digital transformation in healthcare.
2.15pm: George Eustice, the environment secretary, gives evidence to the Commons environmental audit committee.
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