Many constituents have been contacting me about the situation in Ukraine.
This is war in Europe against a proud independent country which has done nothing to threaten Russia, but which President Putin seems determined to seize by brute force. Russia’s attack is a clear breach of international law. There must be a ceasefire followed by the complete withdrawal of Russian forces.
The Ukrainian people are showing great courage and strength in the face of this onslaught and there are a number of things that we need urgently to do to help.
First, we must continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the very large number of Ukrainians – now about 10 million people – who are either internally displaced or have fled across the border into Poland, Hungary and other countries. We must work with our allies, the UN and relief agencies to offer practical assistance.
As the UK, we should be extending a warm welcome to refugees who want to come to our country to be with family members or to seek shelter, just as we have done for those fleeing past wars in Europe. Ministers have now accepted that they must do more to help, but despite recent announcements too many hurdles remain. Ministers should reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and drop unnecessary checks, or they will force Ukrainians to wait months to actually reach the UK.
Labour has called for emergency protection visas for those fleeing Ukraine who want to reach the UK. It would lift normal visa conditions other than biometrics and security checks which can be swiftly done en route. This would provide a quick, simple and safe route to sanctuary for all who need it, including those who are seeking to come to the UK to join family members here.
The Government should be assisting in the matching of sponsors and refugees. Are we seriously asking Ukrainians fleeing Putin to advertise themselves on social media? Or that Brits who are happy to give up their spare room, many of whom may be elderly, have to find a Ukrainian family themselves on Instagram?
This group of refugees will include many children and older people, with complex needs. Ministers need to set out what support they’ll give to schools, healthcare providers and local authorities, who are already supporting more than 12,000 Afghan refugees, to help local communities that are already facing public services under significant strain. Sponsors will also need support as they welcome vulnerable and potentially traumatised people into their homes. Councils and charities on the front-line of delivering this scheme need to be consulted now. It is ridiculous that they are still in the dark about large swathes of a scheme they will be centrally involved in implementing. Ministers must also make urgent provision for unaccompanied children who currently have no route to safety in Britain.
The latest Home Office Guidance can be found here:
UK visa support for Ukrainian nationals – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
I should add that I am opposed to the measures in the Nationality and Borders Bill that seek to criminalise those seeking asylum here in the UK and to take the power to set up offshore processing centres for asylum seekers – a proposal which is both abhorrent and totally impractical.
Secondly, we must continue to impose the toughest sanctions on Russia. The British Government has now introduced much tougher sanctions, as have the EU and the United States, which have cut off Russia’s banks from financial markets in the West and prohibited dealings with the central bank, state-owned investment funds and the finance ministry. The European Union, the USA, the UK and other allies have also agreed to exclude a number of Russian banks from Swift, the international payment system used by thousands of financial institutions. We are already beginning to see the impact of these sanctions in the decline in the value of the Russian rouble and a growing number of other companies are now pulling out of Russia.
After dragging its feet for far too long, the UK Government eventually fast-tracked legislation to target money-laundering by foreign oligarchs in London. Foreign owners of UK property will now have to declare and verify their identities. The aim is to stop overseas Russian criminals and oligarchs from using agents to create companies or buy property on their behalf. A growing number of Russian oligarchs have now been sanctioned.
Thirdly, we need to isolate Russia in other ways by severing sporting and cultural links. The way was led by the Polish national football team which announced that it would not play Russia in a World Cup qualifier. Russia has now been expelled from the 2022 World Cup and its teams suspended from all international football competitions, and Russia and Belarus were kicked out of the Winter Paralympic Games.
Fourthly, we must provide more defensive military equipment to the Ukrainian army and militia who are trying to resist the Russian advance. The UK has been doing so for some time and I support us doing more. The European Union has taken the unprecedented step of saying that it will buy and supply weapons to Ukraine. Ukraine is not, however, a NATO country and the NATO Secretary General, the President of the United States and the Prime Minister have all made it clear that there is no question of NATO forces entering Ukraine or of NATO aircraft engaging with Russian aircraft because of the risk of provoking a much larger European war.
Fifthly, Ukrainian civilians are being shelled and killed as cities are attacked. The situation in Mariupol is particularly shocking. The Russians are trying to destroy the city – 90% of buildings have been damaged in some way – and there is no running water or electricity. The conditions there have been described as medieval.
There is now prima facie evidence that war crimes have been committed by Russian forces in Ukraine. It is vital that evidence is collected so that those responsible can eventually be held to account. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has announced that he will launch an investigation into possible war crimes or crimes against humanity in Ukraine.
Continuing to do all of these things, will show how the UK and other countries are standing in solidarity with the Ukrainian people and with President Zelensky who recently addressed the House of Commons. He has offered inspirational leadership in these dark times. As someone who lost three of his great uncles in the Holocaust, he understands why brutal dictators must be defeated. Events on the ground are moving quite quickly, but the steps I have outlined above are essential and must be kept in place and strengthened until Russian forces leave the country.
There is no justification for this war of aggression, and the consequence for Russia has been the very opposite of what President Putin intended. He has actually strengthened Europe and the NATO alliance. His country is now a pariah. It is facing political and economic isolation. Sanctions are biting. Russia’s sporting teams will no longer be welcome anywhere. Russian planes cannot fly into or across Europe. Germany has announced a big increase in military expenditure and the EU is now supplying weapons to help Ukraine resist the invaders. NATO will end up putting more troops into member states in Europe. And in Moscow and other Russian cities brave Russians have taken to the streets to protest against a war, even though they know that they will be arrested. Above all, President Putin despises democracy and freedom.
I know this is a very worrying time but if I can be of any further assistance then please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.
MP for Leeds Central