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On Britannia - Monday 24th May

On Britannia
Monday 24th May, by Jeremy Hutton
The aftermath of a Belarusian ‘hijacking’ of a Ryanair flight is leading the news today as Western leaders unite to punish the Lukashenko regime for its ‘piracy’. Meanwhile HMS Queen Elizabeth is heading east and the free trade fight back begins. Enjoy the newsletter.

Leading the agenda
Civilians hauled off forcibly landed plane in Belarus
In the biggest foreign policy story of the day, the regime of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus forced a Ryanair flight travelling from Athens to Vilnius to land in Minsk yesterday citing a bomb threat as justification. The civilian airliner was intercepted by a Mig-29 fighter jet and ordered to land immediately. Upon touching down, the plane was reportedly boarded by Belarusian KGB agents who seized Roman Protasevich, a journalist who supports the Belarus opposition, as well as a female companion (and possibly others). Protasevich is wanted in Belarus on charges of extremism and may face the death penalty. Incredibly, Ryanair’s press statement on the matter made no mention of the passengers who were forcibly removed from the plane.
Western leaders have strongly condemned the action, which has been widely deemed a hijacking. In a statement issued this morning, Dominic Raab said Lukashenko ‘must be held to account for his outlandish actions’ and that the UK was working with allies on a coordinated response which would include sanctions. Tom Tugendhat joined with his counterparts in several other countries to issue a joint statement calling for Belarus to be suspended from the International Civil Aviation Organisation, all overflights to cease and branded the event an ‘act of piracy’. You can find a full write-up of the incident here by the Daily Mail, including the reactions of a wide range of international leaders.
British Carrier Strike Group begins maiden voyage
At long last, the UK Carrier Strike Group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth has set sail on its far-reaching maiden voyage. The voyage, expected to take seven months, will head through the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and then head north through the South China Sea up to Japan. Paying a farewell visit to the vessel, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was sent off afterwards with three cheers from the crew. You can find full details of the deployment here.
Commenting on the operation for the Daily Mail, James Rogers noted the difficulties the task force may come across as adversaries attempt to ‘harry’ the voyage. Admiral Tony Radakin, however, has been criticised for possibly downplaying the difficulties China and Russia may try to create, calling them ‘responsible nations’. Read on here.
And in comments which may be received with aghast in the United States, speaking to the Portsmouth News, the top US officer onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth has called the vessel the ‘nicest ship I have been on’ and playfully said ‘don’t tell anybody back home.’
In the halls of power
As begun last week, this section will now be a full run-down of the week ahead in parliament but will on Thursday be replaced with a focus on output and events from an assortment of foreign policy think tanks. As always, do send any constructive criticism over to jeremy@geostrategy.org.uk.
The House of Commons this week will kick off with Defence questions this afternoon. Some of the areas to be discussed include the UK withdrawal from Afghanistan, British Army modernisation and steps taken to protect veterans from ‘vexatious’ legal claims.
In an Urgent Question, Tom Tugendhat will ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on the Belarus ‘hijacking’. The rest of the week there is little of great note to foreign policy buffs in the Commons, although several MPs will question Michael Gove about UK-EU trade on Thursday and Damian Collins will lead a Westminster Hall debate about World Press Freedom Day. Of course, it is always worth keeping an eye on the Order Paper for changes.
In the House of Lords tomorrow, Baroness Jones will ask about the UK’s aims for the COP26 summit. On Wednesday, Baroness Sugg will ask about legislation to reduce the UK’s overseas aid budget and Lords Parkinson and Sikka will lead a session on Global Anti-Sanctions Regulations. On Thursday, Lord Collins will ask about the UK’s efforts to deliver on the commitments made at the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government summit, Baroness Cox will ask about the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, recently home to a brief Armenia-Azerbaijan war. Baroness Sheehan will lead a short debate into legislation to enable the UK to meet its climate targets and Lord Alton will lead a short debate into bringing the perpetrators of genocide to justice.
As for the committees, the Third Delegated Legislation Committee will debate the Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions legislation on Tuesday, the Defence Committee will take evidence on UK-French naval cooperation. The Foreign Affairs Committee will take evidence on the Myanmar Crisis, witnesses include a minister of the National Unity Government of Myanmar. The International Development Committee is taking evidence into its inquiry into Philosophy and the Culture of Aid.
On Wednesday, the Northern Ireland Committee will continue its inquiry into the Northern Ireland Protocol, the Lords International Relations and Defence Committee will take more evidence on the UK-China trade and security relationship (including from former Hong Kong Governor Lord Patten) and the International Agreements Committee will take evidence about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bloc. Finally, on Thursday a committee will meet to discuss sanctions on Myanmar.
Below the radar
The free trade fight continues. After a number of newspapers took the line last week that a free trade deal with Australia was being resisted by British farmers, the free traders have been out in force backing the deal. Writing for the Daily Telegraph today, Roger Bootle argues that letting the protectionists win would be betraying Brexit. In the same paper, Marcus Fysh states Britain has nothing to fear from a UK-AUS deal. In Red Box, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott warns against ‘petty provincialism’ and for The Sunday Times, Dominic Lawson rebuts the idea that opponents of the deal are on the side of the consumer. Rounding off the series of articles with a different approach, former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer makes the case that the deal is Britain’s first step towards more trade with other Indo-Pacific nations in ConservativeHome.
Will AI revolutionise defence? In, somewhat concerning, comments made to the Daily Telegraph, the head of Strategic Command General Sir Patrick Sanders has likened Artificial Intelligence to ‘the one ring to rule them all’. That is to say, the great weapon from the Lord of the Rings which corrupts the hearts of men and leads to a war which threatens the freedom of all living things. Perhaps Sir Patrick didn’t quite get the point of Tolkien’s trilogy, but nevertheless this interview is worth a read for an understanding of why AI is set to be so important to the British military, and others.
In an interview with Defence News, General Sir Mark Carlton-Smith about modernisation, green energy and countering Russia. In the interview, Sir Mark explains Britain’s intention to increase the Army’s engagement with Japan and South Korea, increasing its forward deployed equipment in Europe and explains the advantages of the army going green. Read more here.
What’s the problem with a wee kleptocracy? In a well-timed article for The Times, Edward Lucas has made the case that criminal regimes are the West’s biggest threat. In this interesting article, Lucas has outlined the brazen methods these states, and their inhabitants, use and called for greater international joint approaches to tackling global gangsters. Read on here.
Over and out
That is it for today, be sure not to miss our upcoming events with speakers such as Nigel Biggar, Andrew Bowie MP, Tom Tugendhat MP and the Georgian ambassador to the UK. Click here for more details.
Until then, have a great week.
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