None of the major political parties in Great Britain, including the opposition, spoke against the ratification of the agreement.
Orysia Lutsevych is manager of the Ukraine Forum at Chatham House, London.
UK’s relationship with the EU is best described as ambivalent. On the one hand Britons try to stay at ‘arm’s length’ from Brussels and deeper integration projects, such as Schengen and euro zones; on the other hand, they are interested in benefiting from the common market of goods, services and capital. An old joke from the famous ‘Yes Minister’ TV series goes as far as to suggest that the goal of the UK diplomacy is to create a disunited and powerless Europe.
But jokes aside, the debates about the future of the UK in the EU are heated. On the 23rd of June 2016, British citizens will go to the polls to decide whether the UK will remain a member of the EU or leave it. Prime Minister David Cameron is a facing fierce anti-EU front inside his own Conservative Party, which is highly divided on the issue. The debates are centred around possible trade and economic impact of Brexit, implications for national security, impact for the City, and what it could mean for the future of the Union itself, as Wales and Scotland are traditionally more pro-EU than England.
With the growing euro-scepticism inside the UK, especially among conservative and far-right voters, Ukraine’s strong aspiration to get closer to the Union may seem strange to many on that side of the Channel. Many in the UK struggle to understand why two years ago the rejection of a trade agreement between Ukraine and the EU triggered a major national upraising, with people waving EU flags and opposing security forces in freezing temperatures.
None of the major political parties spoke against ratification
Traditionally, the leading UK political parties - Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats - have always supported EU enlargement and Ukraine’s closer integration with the Union. The Association Agreement was viewed as a tool to support and encourage reforms in Ukraine, to bring the country closer to EU norms, as well as to give Ukraine gradual access to parts of the EU Internal Market. Both the House of Lords and the House of Commons have ratified the Agreement in March 2015. The Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), in particularly, is viewed in the UK as a pragmatic instrument to create additional economic and trade opportunities for the UK. In 2014, UK exports to Ukraine amounted to mere £354 817million, which is roughly what the UK exported to Poland in just the month of January 2016.
None of the major political parties, including the opposition, spoke against the ratification of the agreement. Some criticism against the EU policy towards Ukraine was expressed in the light of the current Russia-Ukraine conflict. The newly elected leader of the opposition Labor Party Jeremy Corbyn stated in March 2014 that ‘Ukraine has been put under enormous pressure to come into the EU and NATO military orbit’. Corbyn’s messages resonated among the extreme left-wing segment of the Labor Party because of anti-war, isolationist and anti-NATO sentiments.
The far right and far left wings
The far right and far left wings tend to side with the pro-Russia positions in the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Two years ago Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independent Party (UKIP) accused the EU of having ‘blood on its hands’ because of its unrealistic policy towards Ukraine, which created false expectations of possible membership in the EU. Despite having gained some popularity in local elections, the party managed to win only one seat in the 2015 general elections and is hardly a significant player on the national political scene.
Indirect response to these allegations was provided by the House Commitee on European Scrutiny on the eve of the Association Aagreement ratificaiton: ‘The crisis in Ukraine was not a result of EU actions or the proposed signature of the Association Agreement (AA) in November 2013. When Russia initially expressed concern about the AA the EU quickly engaged in dialogue with them, to set out facts and dispel myths. We are committed to continuing the dialogue with Russia to provide a sustainable way to de-escalate tensions, while not allowing Russia to dictate Ukraine's sovereign choices’.
This statement summarises well current UK policy towards Ukraine and the region. Should the British people decide to remain in the EU, the UK could become an even stronger advocate for Ukraine’s integration with the EU, as its pragmatic economic interests dictate.
Orysia Lutsevych, Manager, Ukraine Forum, Chatham House
Added Clingendael comment: Nigel Farage has been invited to the Netherlands in connection with the NO-campaign.