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14 February 2022

The Ukraine crisis has exposed Tory fractures

Fears for energy security are driving Conservative MPs back towards fracking and oil.

By Stephen Bush

Is Europe on the brink of war? The US government has warned that Russia could invade Ukraine within days, as Western governments recall diplomatic personnel from Ukraine and urge people not to travel to the country. Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, is travelling to Kyiv to try to persuade Vladimir Putin not to invade. The Kremlin, meanwhile, insists that the massing of an estimated 130,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders is a defensive move. 

Here in the UK, the Ukraine crisis risks further aggravating internal Conservative divisions – not over the party’s position on Ukraine, on which the Tories, along with most opposition parties, are united, but over energy policy. If Putin does invade, there will be further sanctions on Russia and, with them, further increases in the price of energy across the world.

Tory opponents of Boris Johnson’s climate and energy policies have their preferred solution: an end to the 2019 fracking ban, and further exploitation of the UK’s oil and gas reserves in the North Sea. His supporters in the party argue that it is a bit more complicated than that. As Zac Goldsmith sets out in a short Twitter thread, these measures would not impact “our” energy prices directly and fracking is, in any case, incredibly unpopular with the British public.  

But a weakened Prime Minister looking to survive has to ask himself: am I worse off alienating Zac Goldsmith, a long-time political ally who cannot really hurt me as he is now in the House of Lords, or Conservative MPs on the right of the party, who can hurt me in any number of ways? One consequence of Boris Johnson’s weakened position is that his climate and energy policies are under some threat – and a Russian invasion of Ukraine could put them under yet more pressure. 

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