Pro-Russia rebels driving a tank through Donetsk today as international tensions increase over access to the MH17 crash site. Photo: Getty
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David Cameron: Russia faces tougher sanctions for MH17 crash

The Prime Minister warned President Putin to stop aiding separatists in Ukraine, as responsibility for the MH17 crash was laid at Russia's feet.

The Prime Minister has called for tougher sanctions on Russia, after detailing evidence that pro-Russian separatists were responsible for shooting down flight MH17.

Speaking in the Commons this afternoon, David Cameron demanded a ban on the sale of military wares from the EU to Russia and asset freezes on Putin's “cronies”.

He said that Russia cannot expect to keep enjoying access to European markets, capital, knowledge and technical expertise.

Noting the “reluctance” of some European countries to confront Russia about its involvement in the destabilisation of Ukraine, he said that they “should not need to be reminded of the consequences of turning a blind eye when big countries bully smaller countries.”

"It is time to make our power, influence and resources count," he added.

The Prime Minister confirmed he has spoken with Presidents Obama and Hollande and Chancellor Merkel, as well as the premiers of the Netherlands, Australia, Poland and Malaysia and said: “We're all agreed on what must happen.”

He called on Russia to exert influence on the pro-Russian separatists at the crash site to allow the repatriation of the bodies of the victims, “ensuring they are treated with dignity”. He also demanded uninhibited access for international investigators.

Russia must halt its support of separatists in the Ukraine too. Cameron said: “President Putin must use his influence to ensure an end to the conflict in Ukraine by halting supplies and training for the separatists.”

Pulling no punches, he made clear when the blame should be laid for the "appalling" crash: “The weight of evidence is pointing in one direction. MH17 was shot down by an SA11 missile fired by separatists.”

After paying tribute to the victims, Cameron said: “Alongside sympathy for the victims, there is anger. There is anger that this could happen at all. There is anger that the murder of men, women and children has been compounded by the sickening reports of looting of victims' possessions and interference with the evidence.

“And there is rightly anger that a conflict that could have been curtailed by Moscow has instead been fomented by Moscow.”

He added: “This has to change now.”

Earlier today Tony Blair called for a common EU defence policy in order to stand up to Russian aggression “on its doorstep”.

Giving the Philip Gould memorial lecture on the 20th anniversary of his selection to the Labour leadership, Blair said that Putin must realise that if pro-Russian separatists are proven to be responsible for the “hideous” shooting down of MH17, the Russian leader must “take responsibility.”

The Prime Minister also made a statement about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. He made clear that the current crisis was “triggered by Hamas raining hundreds of rockets" on Israeli cities and reiterated “Israel's right to take proportionate action to defend itself.”

He added, however, that when he spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night: “I urged him to do everything to avoid civilian casualties and bring the situation to an end.” 

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.


Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.