Party Leaders Clash on Ukraine Following Farage Remarks

The Tories and Labour criticised Mr. Farage for saying NATO and the EU provoked Russia, while Sir Keir came under fire for saying Corbyn was better than Johnson
Party Leaders Clash on Ukraine Following Farage Remarks
Reform UK leader Nigel Farage launches 'Our Contract with You' while on the General Election campaign trail in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, on June 17, 2024.(Ben Birchall/PA Wire)
Lily Zhou
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Current and former party leaders clashed on Ukraine Friday and Saturday following remarks made by Nigel Farage and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir criticised Mr. Farage after the Reform UK leader said he believes NATO and the European Union had provoked Russia into invading Ukraine.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson questioned Sir Keir’s commitment to Ukraine after the Labour leader said his predecessor Jeremy Cornyn would have done a better job than Mr. Johnson.

Asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin during a BBC Panorama special programme aired on Friday, Mr. Farage said, “I said I disliked him as a person, but I admired him as a political operator because he’s managed to take control of running Russia.”

Mr. Putin has served continuously as either Russian president or prime minister since 1999, with elections that have been described as “rigged.”

Mr. Farage, a former member of the European Parliament, said he had foreseen a war in Ukraine since the 1990s because of what NATO and the E.U. did.

“I stood up in the European Parliament in 2014 and I said, and I quote, ‘there will be a war in Ukraine,’” he said.

“Why did I say that? It was obvious to me that the ever-eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union was giving this man a reason to his Russian people to say ‘they’re coming for us again’ and to go to war.”

Mr. Farage went on to say he had been making similar comments “since the 1990s, ever since the fall of the [Berlin] Wall” and added: “Hang on a second, we provoked this war.”

But he also said the war is Mr. Putin’s fault because the Russian president has “used what we’ve done as an excuse.”

Mr. Farage’s remarks drew criticisism from a number of Tory ministers and former ministers including Home Secretary and former Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and former Defence Minister Ben Wallace, who helped lead the UK’s support for Ukraine since the war, as well as Labour shadow defence secretary John Healey.

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a press conference inside the Downing Street in central London, on Dec. 7, 2023. (James Manning/PooL/AFP via Getty Images)
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a press conference inside the Downing Street in central London, on Dec. 7, 2023. (James Manning/PooL/AFP via Getty Images)

Writing on social media platform X, Mr. Cleverly said Mr. Farage was “echoing Putin’s vile justification for the brutal invasion of Ukraine,” and sought to convince voters not to support Reform, which is widely believed to divert a significant amount of Tory votes and help deliver a bigger Labour majority.

“Nigel has been clear that he wants to destroy our party,” he said.

“He excuses Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine. And he is more focused on inflammatory rhetoric than delivering for working people. We can’t concede to his style of politics, nor allow him in our party,” he added.

Mr. Wallace also launched into Mr. Farage, likening the Reform leader to a “pub bore” who “presents very simplistic answers to actually I am afraid in the 21st century complex problems” during BBC Radio 4’s ”Today“ Programme, and said Mr. Farage ”is going to have to deal with the real world.”

Mr. Sunak and Sir Keir reacted to Mr. Farage’s remarks while on campaign trails on Saturday.

The prime minister told broadcasters that what the Reform leader said “was completely wrong and only plays into Putin’s hands.”

“This is a man who deployed nerve agents on the streets of Britain, who is doing deals with countries like North Korea, and this kind of appeasement is dangerous for Britain’s security, the security of our allies that rely on us, and only emboldens Putin further,” Mr. Sunak said.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks at the Ukrainian welcome reception at their offices in London on Feb. 19, 2024. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks at the Ukrainian welcome reception at their offices in London on Feb. 19, 2024. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Sir Keir told reporters he believes Mr. Farage’s remarks were “disgraceful.”

“Anyone who is standing for Parliament ought to be really clear that Russia is the aggressor, Putin bears responsibility, and that we stand with Ukraine, as we have done from the beginning of this conflict, and Parliament has spoken with one voice on this since the beginning of the conflict,” he said.

Starmer: Corbyn Better Than Johnson

However, the Labour leader has had to deal with his own headaches after endorsing Mr. Corbyn, whom he has expelled from Labour.

Sir Keir replaced Mr. Corbyn as Labour leader following the party handing a landslide victory to Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party in the 2019 general election, to rehabilitate the party.

He later booted his predecessor out of the Labour after an investigation found the party under Mr. Corbyn had carried out political interference in anti-Semitism complaints.

Sir Keir was questioned on Thursday over his support for Mr. Corbyn during the 2019 election campaign.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walk at Mykhailivska Square, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on June 17, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service via Reuters)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walk at Mykhailivska Square, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on June 17, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service via Reuters)

Grilled by audience members at the BBC Question Time election special over whether he truly believed his predecessor would make a “great” prime minister, Sir Keir did not give a direct answer, instead saying his predecessor would have been a better prime minister than Mr. Johnson.

Hitting back in an article published in the Daily Mail, the former prime minister said he found the remark “utterly terrifying.”

“It shows that we may now be only days from electing a Labour government that has simply no idea how dangerous the world is today, and how important it is that Britain is strong in the face of our adversaries.

“Keir Starmer genuinely believes that in the past five years, Jeremy Corbyn would have made the right decisions as Prime Minister for the security of Britain and the planet,” he claimed。

Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking at a rally during a pro-Palestine march in central London on Feb. 3, 2024. (Belinda Jiao/PA Wire)
Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking at a rally during a pro-Palestine march in central London on Feb. 3, 2024. (Belinda Jiao/PA Wire)

Referencing Mr. Corbyn’s record on Palestine and Ukraine, including his call on the West to stop arming Ukraine in 2022, Mr. Johnson called on Sir Keir to take his remarks back.

“By endorsing a Corbyn premiership, Starmer has cast serious doubt on Labour’s commitment to Ukraine, and Britain’s commitment to Ukraine under Labour. He has reminded us that so many in his party still genuflect to their past, and display a weird deference to ‘Moscow’—as though Moscow was not now run by a kleptocratic gangster,” he said

During an interview in 2022 with Lebanon-based TV station Al Mayadeen, Mr. Corbyn said he disagreed with Russia’s invasion, but believed “pouring arms in isn’t going to bring about a solution. It is only going to prolong and exaggerate this war.”

PA Media contributed to this report.