ANDREW LEWER MP: Ripples of instability being felt around the world

As the war in Ukraine enters its second phase, we are becoming well versed about the impact it is having on the UK economy as it mixes with the economic damage caused by measures designed to control Covid and its aftermath, write Andrew Lewer MP.

By Graham Tebbutt (edited by)
Wednesday, 13th April 2022, 5:57 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th April 2022, 6:00 pm
The effects of war in Ukraine are being felt around the world

The drive for net zero is also heating up international energy markets. Thus, fuel and food prices are rising at the same time and there are worries about the impact of future wheat and sunflower oil supplies of which Ukraine and Russia are major producers.

The UK rate of inflation is now at 7% and my constituents are all beginning to feel a fiscal squeeze on their wallets, some more sharply than others. Understandably, we tend to be focussing on what the Ukraine crisis means for us and in Europe.

However, the reverberations of this conflict reach much further than our continent. We need to be cognisant of the risks that this may bring in under-reported places like Lebanon, for example, which could have a deeply destabilising effect in an already unstable geopolitical region.

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Prior to the war in Ukraine, Lebanon was already experiencing a sharp economic crisis. Just one of many grim metrics is their current inflation rate: it has reached 240% this year. Lebanon only has one month’s worth of wheat reserves and stocks of vegetable oils are down to two and a half months and the massive port explosion in Beirut 20 months ago reduced grain silo storage capacity by about half. The Russian invasion of Ukraine could not have happened at a worse time for them.

Lebanon imports nearly 60% of its cereals and 40% of its fats and oils from Ukraine and Russia and also 25% of its iron and steel. There are already food and fuel shortages in the country; it is hard to see the situation improving soon. This risks an acute political crisis which in turn may well delay any vital trade and aid negotiations to try and stabilise its position.

I use Lebanon as just one example of what is now happening around the world: There are plenty of others such as Libya, Syria, Iraq, Somalia and most recently Afghanistan. Each one can unleash all sorts of hazards that impact directly and indirectly on countries like the UK. (Mass immigration is, incidentally, only one such challenge.) Nation states are complex and highly interconnected eco-systems. Given the right sets of circumstances they have the propensity to collapse suddenly.

We do not always have direct levers to pull to avoid these hazards, but we do have the ability to mitigate them. High on the agenda should be our energy, food and defence security.

The Government has announced an energy strategy now that goes some way towards protecting us in the future, especially via increased nuclear power capacity.

We desperately need to get a grip on our illegal immigration crisis and further legislation is imminent – but of course there must be action upon any new laws too; dismay over a lack of prevention of illegal Channel crossings is set alongside in some senses the opposite problem of red tape preventing Ukrainians from being settled swiftly. This has created a swirl of frustration over asylum, refugees, illegal migration and the distinction between them is very much reflected in my postbag.

Increased defence capacity is on its way too, though debate continues as to the focus of this: tanks versus cyber-warfare etc. More immediately, by giving the Ukrainians the weaponry and supplies to turn the tide of battle we help to ensure that any future negotiated peace agreement is firmly in Ukraine’s favour.

A complex world shows no sign of getting any less complex or any easier to deal with. Even something as inoffensive as a bottle of sunflower oil on a Northampton supermarket shelf has within it the germ of global conflict, inflation and instability.