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Support for Ukraine

Volume 710: debated on Tuesday 8 March 2022

The UK has been at the forefront of diplomatic, economic, humanitarian and defensive support to Ukraine. The UK was the first European country to provide lethal aid to Ukraine, and my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary is convening a group of countries to do more of that. We are the largest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, including with our largest ever UK Aid Match contribution to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, which has now raised more than £100 million.

The Russian forces are doing to Ukraine what they supported the Assad regime to do in Syria: starve, bomb and target civilians, schools and hospitals. In Syria, with the support and funding of the UK Government, the White Helmets provided vital search and rescue services and other crucial support. That saved thousands of lives and helped to document the atrocities. Will the Foreign Secretary commit to supporting a similar organisation in Ukraine, to save lives there?

What is happening in Ukraine is simply abhorrent. Our current priority is supporting Ukraine through humanitarian aid. We are donating £220 million of humanitarian aid, which is the leading figure in the world. That will be used to save lives and protect vulnerable people. However, I will listen to my hon. Friend’s suggestion and see what we can do on that front, because we need to do all we can to address this horrendous humanitarian crisis.

I know that my right hon. Friend is as proud as I am that the sanctions on Russia that we have introduced to try to support Ukraine are the most powerful we have ever introduced in history. Does she agree that we may need to go further and that nothing should be off the table in terms of who or what we target? We need to do whatever it takes to cripple the Putin regime.

My hon. Friend is right: nothing is off the table. We have been and are working with G7 partners, whom we want to see go further in areas such as a complete ban on SWIFT and the complete freezing of all bank assets, and by committing to a timetable for reducing dependency on oil and gas because, fundamentally, Russia is a state propped up by the oil and gas industry and, to really tackle the funding for Putin’s war machine, we need to cut off that funding stream.

Since Russia’s invasion began we have seen horrific violence from President Putin against an independent sovereign nation. I know the Government will continue to support Ukraine against this barbarism and help her to return to safety. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that while the violence is ongoing we will do all we can to offer humanitarian support in the best interests of the Ukrainian people? Will she detail how communities such as North Devon can assist?

We have deployed humanitarian teams to neighbouring countries—Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Moldova—and they are working closely with local agencies. We have put a record sum into the DEC appeal, which is generating massive donations from the British public. It is important that, rather than donate goods, the public are encouraged to donate cash to the DEC appeal or other trusted charities and aid organisations. The Polish Government have said that donations in kind generate disproportionate amounts of additional work and costs, which prove ineffective and counterproductive to the needs of those affected, so I strongly encourage people to donate financially to the DEC appeal. That is the best way to get funding through to the brave aid workers on the frontline.

On Saturday, I attended a rally in my home town of Eastbourne where people demonstrated their solidarity with Ukraine and, as my right hon. Friend said, donated to the DEC appeal. That same morning, we saw a series of televised images of very sick children having to be evacuated from the sanctuary and specialist care of their hospital setting, under bombardment. What medical support are we providing to Ukraine and neighbouring countries so that those little lambs have a chance?

The United Kingdom is the No. 1 donor of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, with £220 million, and we are doing more than any other country on medical support, with the sixth flight of medical supplies having gone out to Ukraine last night. I assure my hon. Friend that Foreign Office teams and Ministry of Defence teams are actively supporting efforts to get very ill children out of Ukraine so that they can get the medical support they need.

I welcome the Government’s actions in response to the distressing humanitarian situation in Ukraine. Across Keighley and Ilkley we are all deeply concerned about the deteriorating events. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the substantial funding the Government have put in place will deliver vital support to aid agencies as they respond to this distressing deteriorating situation?

We can all see how terrible the situation is, with 2 million people fleeing Ukraine. As I have outlined, we are providing humanitarian assistance. We are providing Ukrainians with access to basic necessities and vital medical supplies, as people are forced to flee their homes. We will continue to work with our friends and allies throughout Europe to deliver as much as we can to those in need.

The Foreign Secretary knows that a vital way to help Ukraine is to prevent those who have stolen money from the Russian people from hiding it in our capital city, but after years of austerity, our hollowed-out enforcement agencies simply do not have the resources to go toe to toe with billionaire oligarchs. The world’s other major financial centre, New York, does not have the same problem and takes a much more robust and well-resourced approach to the tackling of illicit finances. Will the Foreign Secretary acknowledge that unless we properly fund our law agencies that can tackle illicit funding, we can have all the tough laws in the world but people will still see the UK as a soft touch?

We have established a cross-Government taskforce to enforce the laws that we are putting in place on oligarchs. It is important to know that the legislation that we passed yesterday will reduce the amount of bureaucracy required to sanction oligarchs. That will help us to target our resources better across Government, so that we can focus more of our efforts on enforcement. I was asked earlier about further measures on transparency. Those are all being introduced and we are very committed to doing that.

I was speaking to Ukrainian friends of mine who live in Kendal just a day or two ago. They have family in Kyiv and family in Crimea. In Kyiv, they know exactly, tragically, what is going on. In Crimea, they are completely in the dark and fed only what Putin tells them. Does the right hon. Lady agree that one way we can help Crimea and the whole of Ukraine is to ensure that people in Russia and Russian-controlled territories know the truth of the murderous barbarity being done in their name? Will she be encouraged—I am sure she is—by the fact that, in the past week, visits to the BBC’s Russian language website have trebled? However, that is only 10 million people, and there are 150 million people in Russia. How can she help us to ensure that information gets to the Russian people?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the importance of the BBC in communicating to the Russian people. The fact is that they have been lied to for years through disinformation via state TV, and we are now seeing Putin taking even more repressive measures to stop social media. One factor of this crisis is that young people in Russia are less likely to believe the regime because they have had access to social media. Putin is now trying to cut that off. We are working with social media companies to see what we can do. We have established a cross-Government information unit to communicate with the Russian people directly in the Russian language. Moreover, one impact of sanctions—and a reason why we have targeted banks—is that they send a message to the Russian people when they are forced to queue for money, when they cannot get on the tube, or when they cannot access the normal services that they have been accessing. I welcome the actions of corporates in Britain to withdraw their services from Russia. The message must get across to the Russian people that this appalling war is being fought in their name.

On the referral to the International Criminal Court, what more can be done to assist in the collection and preservation of evidence, including forensic evidence, of potential war crimes? I ask the question because, if that evidence is held in towns that, heaven forbid, the Russians eventually take, by the time the International Criminal Courts asks for it, it may no longer exist.

On our ICC referral to the prosecutor, which is now being taken forward, we are working closely with our allies on helping to collect that evidence. It is important that we did that early on. This is being led by the Justice Secretary who, as I have said, will be visiting The Hague to work out how we can make sure that that evidence is collected. May I praise the brave British journalists who are currently operating in Ukraine? We saw a terrible attack on the Sky team—completely unforgivable action by the Russian army. Those journalists are valuable in helping to collect the horrendous evidence of what is happening.

Ukraine’s national debt is already crippling its economy. In 2020, the debt stood at $94 billion. At this truly dark moment, it is unconscionable that Ukraine should be required to service that debt or to take on more. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether she has had any conversations with other Governments, the IMF, the World Bank, the G7 or EU Foreign Ministers about sweeping debt cancellation for Ukraine—perhaps along the lines of the mutual aid agreement struck by the allies in world war two?

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has been discussing that with G7 Finance Ministers. We are doing all we can to support Ukraine, enabling it to have the finances that it needs both to resist Russian aggression and also, eventually, to be able to rebuild its country after this horrendous invasion.

I agree with the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), who asked the first question on this. Like all bullies, Vladimir Putin demonstrates horrific patterns of behaviour. He helped to starve Syrians in Aleppo and elsewhere, and now he is obliterating Ukrainian cities. But do we not also have to look at our own patterns of behaviour? I see the same administrative failures that hampered our response to Syrian refugees now limiting that desire that the British public have to help Ukrainian refugees. That administrative incompetence is harming our approach. What consideration has the Foreign Secretary made of the effect of the Home Office’s inadequacies on Foreign Office objectives?

We do have to learn the lessons of the past 15 or 20 years, where we did not do enough to tackle Putin and Russia, we allowed the build-up of force and we did not respond strongly enough to what happened in Crimea and the Donbas. I am determined to do things differently. That is why the UK is leading not only on diplomacy, but on the toughest possible sanctions and the toughest possible support for the Ukrainian people in their resistance. I have already briefed the House on the Home Secretary’s roll-out of new centres to help Ukrainian people with visas. She has opened up a family route and a sponsored humanitarian route, and we continue to take that forward. We are open for refugees.

Today, on International Women’s Day, we see all the women trying to escape with their families, their children and their mothers and fathers to reach places such as Poland, which has offered refuge to some 1 million refugees, and Ireland, which has taken several hundred thousand. Here in the UK, however, barely 100 have been able to find refuge. That is a shameful lack of humanity in the face of the greatest humanitarian catastrophe in Europe since world war two. Does the Secretary of State agree that this paltry effort to offer refuge is a stain on our otherwise commendable effort on the crisis in Ukraine? Will she urgently work with the Home Secretary, shake up the Home Office and get this sorted?

As I have said, the Home Office has opened new centres for people to be able to put in their applications. It is running a 24/7 helpline and has a surgery for MPs in Portcullis House. I also point the hon. Lady to the fact that we are the largest donor of humanitarian aid, with £220 million. We also want to help people to settle in the region; many people coming from Ukraine want to settle locally and we are helping in that effort by sending our humanitarian teams to the region.

On International Women’s Day, Europe is leading and united in welcoming more than 2 million refugees, almost all of whom are women and children, fleeing the bloody and murderous war by Putin against Ukraine and its citizens. Yet, pitifully, the UK stands at only 300 visas. Shamefully, we learned this morning in The Daily Telegraph that while Ireland has waived visas and expects to welcome 100,000 refugees, the UK Government have expressed fears that that would create a drug route to the UK. On the very day that President Zelensky will address this House, does the Foreign Secretary realise that the Home Office’s continued xenophobic and inhumane immigration policy must be, for her and her office, a complete humiliation, undermining the support for Ukraine and its people? Will she now call on her colleague the Home Secretary either to reverse that policy, or to resign?

As I have said, we have opened up two new routes. The Home Secretary has opened up a family route and a sponsored humanitarian route. We are also providing huge support in the region, working closely with the Ukrainian Government and local Governments such as the Polish Government.