The United Kingdom cannot flag or fail, our message must be clear; Ukrainian victims of war seeking refuge are welcome.
My name is signed to the words above in a letter to the Prime Minister last week. I then spent an hour with him conveying the same message – I proudly stand by them today as well.
I am horrified by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and am very supportive of the steps this Government has taken on economic sanctions against Russia. The UK led the world in sanctions against Russian financial institutions and airlines. So far, we have seen some of the harshest, most extensive, and most well-coordinated sanctions on any regime in history, at a pace that has stunned Putin and his cronies.
While leading the way in blocking Russian access to the Swift payment system, Britain has also frozen the assets of all Russian banks with immediate effect, prevented Russian companies from borrowing on the UK markets, and cut Russia’s Central Bank off from international markets. The rouble and Russian stock markets have collapsed in value.
Sanctioning over 100 companies and oligarchs at the heart of Putin’s regime, we have helped to isolate the vast majority of the Russian defence sector, members of the Russian Duma, and the Federation Council. Even Putin’s international allies have not been spared, with Belarus facing a wave of economic prohibitions for its complicity in Putin's invasion.
As I write, the foreign secretary Liz Truss is rallying our allies to go further still, seeking to restrict Russian oil and gas exports. We import 3% of our gas from Russia, and the money we pay for that gas helps fund the invasion. I have urged the PM to ban the sale of Russian gas immediately. The message to Putin and his allies is clear - we will continue to ratchet up pressure so that they pay the price for Russia’s barbarous war against Ukraine.
However, the legal regime surrounding sanctions against individuals includes protections for suspect individuals against disproportionate loss of their right to property, which while understandable, has made it impossible for the Government to act as fast as it wants and as fast as other jurisdictions. Government ministers have been pushing to sanction more oligarchs, but Government lawyers have been warning they can’t do it. This is why the Government is urgently reforming the sanctions regime, with legislation today, enabling us to accelerate sanctions against individuals in emergencies. We should at least be able to mirror the US and EU regimes.
As the war progresses, it is becoming increasingly clear that this war will have a devasting impact on the civilian population. Millions have already taken to dangerous roads out of the country, dogged by immoral, illegal strikes on their homes. The Prime Minister is right to call these war crimes. But we also must take decisive action as hundreds of thousands of people are displaced.
There is huge cross-party unity in our support for the people of Ukraine, whose suffering is beyond comprehension. Last week, the Ukrainian ambassador had an emotional standing ovation in the House of Commons, and afterwards I met him for an hour to hear the plight of his people. This is why I wrote to and spoke with the Prime Minister, to ask him to extend our support.
I am glad to see action has been quickly ramped up. Last week, the Home Secretary visited Poland to launch a new family scheme for Ukrainian refugees, in which British nationals and anyone settled in the UK will be able to apply to bring their parents, grandparents and siblings to the country.
All political parties are determined to do all we can. I will continue to call on Ministers to seek a flexible and pragmatic approach to those Ukrainians wishing to seek refuge in the UK. We also asked him to offer as much support as possible to our European partners who are currently the first safe havens for Ukrainian refugees - namely, Poland, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia.
This must not be business as usual - we need immediate support for the Ukrainian people.