Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with ministers from the Federal Financial Monitoring Service yesterday in Moscow. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Miliband urges Cameron not to put profit before people over Russia

The Labour leader pressed Cameron on trade sanctions after a No. 10 document appeared to rule them out.

Today's PMQs will be regarded by most as one to forget. As expected, Ed Miliband devoted all six of his questions to the Ukraine crisis (Labour's Jon Ashworth has written to Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood regarding the Patrick Rock affair) and wisely struck a statesmanlike tone. Indeed, his last question wasn't actually a question but a commitment to offer the government Labour's "full support" at this "delicate and dangerous moment for international security".

Yet the consensual tone masked the potential for significant differences to emerge between Miliband and Cameron over how to punish Russia for its breach of sovereignty. Following the leak of extracts from a No. 10 document suggesting that "the UK should not support for now trade sanctions or close London's financial centre to Russians" (presumably because of the consequences for UK business), Miliband asked the PM what the UK would be tabling at the EU summit tomorrow and whether he was keeping open the option of sanctions. Cameron simply replied that there would be "costs and consequences" for Russia, but failed to offer any more detail.

Miliband then smartly reminded him of his tough talk during the invasion of Georgia in 2008, when he declared: "Russian armies can't march into other countries while Russian shoppers carry on marching into Selfridges". Would he look at asset freezes and visa restrictions? The PM gave the stock answer that "nothing should be off the table" (a response which, nonetheless, contradicts the No. 10 document) and said he would be speaking to Barack Obama this afternoon. Whatever emerges from the talks, Miliband has made his stance clear: profit should not come before people.

It is also worth noting Miliband's emphasis on the importance of the EU in resolving the crisis. As with his call for action over climate change last week, this is an issue over which he can drive a wedge between Cameron and his backbenchers.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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