UK

Britons must endure ‘short-term pain’ of energy bills so Putin defeated – minister

Armed forces minister James Heappey admitted that a “really expensive winter lies ahead” for many families in the UK and stressed the new Prime Minister’s “first priority” would be a bigger support package.

But he stressed that bowing to Mr Putin’s aggression, including his cutting back on the gas flow to Europe, would ultimately be “catastrophic” for the West’s security.

It would lead to the world becoming in future decades “really uncomfortable, really dangerous and really expensive”.

Households across Britain are seeing their energy bills sky-rocket, as the price of gas has soared following the Russian president’s invasion of Ukraine six months ago.

Armed forces minister James Heappey

/ PA Archive

Regulator Ofgem will set the energy cap on Friday, and it is expected to jump from £1,971 to more than £3,500 in October, and possibly rising even above £5,800 in April.

The spiralling energy bills are fuelling inflation with forecasts that it could hit as high as 18.6 per cent in January.

Speaking on Sky News, Mr Heappey said: “I can understand why lots of people eating their breakfast and worrying about the cost of living will be agreeing…that arguably the most straightforward solution to the cost-of-living crisis is that we re-establish relations with Russia and everything goes back to the way that it was in the European energy market.”

But he stressed: “Every single thing that I have seen in the last six months tells me that that would be catastrophic for security in the Euro-Atlantic…not on some ten or 15 or 20 year horizon.”

“But within just a few years, we would find ourselves in a situation where an emboldened Russia was causing cost-of-living challenges that are a hundred times worse than what we are seeing right now because they might seek to expand their ambitions beyond Ukraine and into Nato territory in the Baltics for example.”

On Ukraine Independence Day, he added: “We have to stand up for Ukraine, with Ukraine, so that this all ends on Zelensky’s terms because if we do not, whatever the short-term pain and cost might be, we set the conditions for security in the Euro-Atlantic, and by the way an emboldened President Xi in the South China Sea, to make the next 20 years on this planet really uncomfortable, really dangerous and really expensive.”

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky stressed on Wednesday that his country was “reborn” when Russia invaded six months ago.

He marked 31 years of his country’s independence from the Moscow-controlled Soviet Union with a vow to drive Russian forces out completely.

After days of warnings that the Kremlin could use the anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence Day to launch more missile attacks on major cities, Kyiv was unusually quiet and the second biggest city Kharkiv was under curfew after months of bombardment.

In an emotional speech to his compatriots, Mr Zelensky said Mr Putin’s invasion had revived the nation’s spirit.

“A new nation appeared in the world on Feb. 24 at 4 in the morning. It was not born, but reborn. A nation that did not cry, scream or take fright. One that did not flee. Did not give up. And did not forget,” he said.

Speaking in front of Kyiv’s central monument to independence in his trademark combat fatigues, Mr Zelensky, 44, vowed to recapture occupied areas of eastern Ukraine as well as the Crimean peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

“What for us is the end of the war? We used to say: peace. Now we say: victory,” he said.

Mr Putin’s war effort in Ukraine has made little progress in recent weeks, after its troops were pushed back from Kyiv at the start of the war.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting of defence ministers in Uzbekistan that Russia had deliberately slowed down what it refers to as its “special military operation” in Ukraine to avoid civilian casualties.

Britain, the US and other allies have increased their military, economic and diplomatic support for Kyiv, with more advanced weapons from the West boosting Ukraine’s military strength.

Ukraine’s Independence Day coincides with the six-month anniversary of when Russia invaded

/ PA Wire

Mr Putin, though, is believed to be banking on the West losing the appetite for a long battle as the economic impact on its citizens bites.

Amid claims that some EU nations are already starting to lose patience, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace denied that there is “much waning”.

He told BBC radio: “I don’t think that there’s been any wavering, That’s what Putin would love the world to do. It’s what he would fantasise, we’d all sort of go back to our sun loungers.

“The simple reality is we see this as a direct threat not only to Ukraine, but to our values, and the world is still pretty solid and determined.”

The United States, which has already sent £9 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, will announce a new package of about £2.5 billion as early as Wednesday, a US official said.

The UK has been at the forefront of supplying military equipment to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons.

However, Britain’s former Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Richards called for the West to set out a clearer strategy on what it is seeking to achieve in Ukraine as it tries to keep the alliance together.

He stressed: “Despite Ben Wallace’s heroic efforts to keep everyone on the same page, there is no doubt that this in the face of real economic hardship is going to get harder and harder.”

Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of Nato, said the war in Ukraine will “most likely end at the negotiating table”.

He told Sky News: “We will support Ukraine for as long as it takes, we will support Ukraine to prevail as an independent sovereign state in Europe and then this war will most likely end at the negotiating table, and the outcome of that will totally depend on the strength on the battlefield, that’s the reason why we support them.”

He urged Nato members to boost defence spending as we “live in a more dangerous world”.

The Russia/Ukraine war continues

/ AP

Mr Heappey stressed that Britain and its allies were “at a sort of epoch change in our security situation”, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, if she becomes Prime Minister, had committed to increase defence spending to three per cent of GDP.

However, both Ms Truss, and her rival for the Tory leadership Rishi Sunak, have been criticised by economists for failing to lay out more details of their support packages for households facing eye-watering high enery bills.

Ms Truss is sticking to her plan for tax cuts, including reversing the National Insurance Contributions hike, and targeted support for the less-well-off households, while former Chancellor Mr Sunak would also do the latter, while also temporarily cutting VAT off bills.

But both these policies would still leave many households having to find potentially thousands of pounds of savings in the New Year.

Labour has proposed freezing the energy cap at £1,971 at a cost of just under £30 billion for six months, which has been praised by economists for being a clearer plan but very expensive.

The energy industry is proposing a Tariff Deficit Fund which would see the cap stay at around £1,971 over the next three years and then decrease down to some £1,100 over a decade.

The scheme could cost some £100 billion and would be paid back over time by bills remaining higher than the cost of energy as it dropped, or possibly by general taxation.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is examining the proposal.

But the Government remains in limbo with major decisions delayed until a new Prime Minister is in place in early September.

Mr Heappey though pledged: “What everybody needs to know..is that the Government of the United Kingdom is going to help them with the cost of living.

“There is lots that has already been done but I know it will be the first priority for the new Prime Minister to make sure that the Government does more to help them through the really expensive winter that lies ahead.”

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