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Can Boris Johnson’s pact with Sweden and Finland compensate for his problems at home?

The Prime Minister has signed mutual security with the two countries due imminently to join Nato – but the economic cost of war is worsening.

By Freddie Hayward

The Prime Minister has signed mutual security agreements with Sweden and Finland that could require British troops to defend the two countries in the event of a Russian invasion.

The pact comes as both countries ready themselves to apply to join Nato, reversing their long-held neutrality which lasted during the Cold War. Finland has announced this morning its intention to join Nato and Sweden is expected to make the announcement this weekend. Such a move would extend Nato’s eastern frontier to Finland’s 830-mile border with Russia. The security pacts with Finland and Sweden will only reinforce the perception that Boris Johnson has been a leading figure in organising the more hawkish caucus in the West. He is the first Western figure to pledge military support to the two countries, much as he was one of the first Western leaders to send lethal aid to Ukraine.

[See also: Sweden’s Nato application marks historic shift away from neutrality]

That strategy has been generally warmly received. Polling from UK In a Changing Europe last week showed 58 per cent had a favourable view of the government’s response to Russia’s invasion compared with 11 per cent who didn’t. This consensus – and the support of Labour – is part of the reason Russia’s invasion of Ukraine quickly fell from the political agenda. But it’s also because the cost-of-living crisis is rapidly worsening. What was first seen as a by-product of the war has become the main story.

Indeed, there’s a lot of economic pain heading our way. Inflation is predicted to rise to 10 per cent by the end of the year. Fears of a recession are growing. The ONS announced this morning that the economy shrunk by 0.1 per cent in March. The Bank of England predicts a fall in GDP of nearly 1 per cent in the final quarter of the year. 

But it doesn’t take two successive quarters of economic contraction for that hardship to take effect. Last month, more than seven million adults were living in households that had to buy less food or had to miss a meal, according to the Food Foundation. As Frank Luntz, the American pollster, told me yesterday: “If you’re working class, you’re already in the recession.”

Such hardship is likely to be the dominant issue in the lead up to the next general election. Without serious intervention, Johnson will be hit hard at the polls: 81 per cent of defecting Conservative voters in last week’s elections said the cost of living was among the most important issues. He’ll hope his leadership abroad following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – such as yesterday’s agreement with Sweden and Finland – will compensate for his problems at home. But the depth of economic hardship means that won’t be enough.

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[See also: Why is Finland joining Nato?]

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.

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