Two weeks ago we said Theresa May had risen to the Russia challenge following the Salisbury attack – strong words were matched with decisive action on the ground giving the Prime Minister a much needed boost. But, would her international allies listen to her subsequent appeal to follow suit with their own diplomatic expulsions or would they give her the cold shoulder, bringing her back down to earth with an ominous Brexit bang?
The diplomatic machine went into overdrive. Theresa May called an impromptu summit in Brussels last week and Boris did his own round of phone calls and face to face meetings, calling for a united front against the Kremlin.
Even the most optimistic in Government could not have imagined the result. More than 20 countries including 18 EU member states gave over 130 Russian diplomats their marching orders. The US alone expelled 60, almost double the amount Obama sent home in retaliation for supposed Russian interference in the 2016 US election. Compare this with the lukewarm international reaction to Blair’s call for action following Litvinenko’s death in 2006 and it’s even more impressive.
According to Boris this is the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers ever. Russia’s intelligence network has undoubtedly been compromised. And Putin, riding high on the back of his re-election, must be privately seething.
This is certainly a personal success for the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. With one foot out of the Brussel’s door and relations with European allies hardly at their peak, the world was watching to see if UK foreign policy could pack any punch at all. Whether this result could be achieved in a post-Brexit world, when the UK won’t be able to quickly convene EU leaders, remains to be seen. But this was certainly a significant diplomatic win and could be a sign that security matters is at least one area that EU member states will be willing to fully co-operate with the UK on.
However, just as the Prime Minister’s stock looked like it was recovering, she let slip at a dinner this week that she was going on a walking holiday in Wales this Easter weekend. We all know what decision she made last time she took a perambulation west of Offa’s Dyke. Snap election anyone?