I beg to move,
That this House condemns Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine; stands in solidarity with Ukrainians in their resistance to Russia’s invasion of their sovereign state; supports the UK providing further defensive military, humanitarian and other assistance to Ukraine; recognises the importance of international unity against Russian state aggression; and calls on the Government to ensure that the United Kingdom’s NATO defence and security obligations are fulfilled to counter the threats from Russia.
This is an Opposition day and a Labour-led motion, but we have called this debate to unite, not divide, this House of Commons. We have called this debate for Parliament, on behalf of the public, to stand united in condemnation of President Putin’s invading of and killing people in a sovereign democratic country; for Parliament to stand united in support of heroic Ukrainian resistance; and for Parliament to stand united with western allies and other countries around the world in confronting Russia’s aggression.
Putin’s attack on Ukraine is an attack on democracy—a grave violation of international law and the United Nations charter. He wants to weaken and divide the west. He will not stop at Ukraine; he wants to re-establish Russian control over neighbouring countries. Britain has a long tradition of standing up to such tyrants. Our country believes in freedom, in democracy, in the rule of law, in the right of nations to be able to decide their own future. These are the very values that Ukrainians are fighting for today. They are showing massive bravery. We must support their resistance in every way we can.
Putin certainly miscalculated the strength of the Ukrainian military and the resolve of Ukrainians to fight for their country. But this is only day seven, and Russia has such crushing firepower, and Putin such utter ruthlessness, that we must expect more of their military objectives to be taken in the weeks ahead—and I fear that we must expect greater brutality, with more civilian casualties.
Whatever short-term success Putin may secure, we must make sure that he fails in the longer run. This has to be the beginning of the end for President Putin. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in his remarkable speech on Sunday:
“The twenty-fourth of February 2022 marks a watershed in the history of our continent.”
President Biden said in his state of the union speech yesterday:
“Vladimir Putin sought to shake the very foundations of the free world, thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways, but he badly miscalculated…the United States and our allies will defend every inch of territory that is NATO territory”.
When the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), and I were in Kyiv in January, we were told time and again that western unity was Ukraine’s best defence. I am proud of the way that we in Britain, with our parties in this House together, have helped to build that western unity in recent weeks, but it will be severely tested in the weeks to come. It must endure, and it must endure for years to come, to ensure that it is Putin who fails in the long run.
Of course I agree 100% with the tone of what my right hon. Friend is saying: we all want to stand united. Some of us on this side of the House have been arguing for much more substantial sanctions. We need to throw everything at this. It is about artistic sanctions, sporting sanctions, financial ones, educational ones—literally everything. We seem to be going very slowly in this country. The Prime Minister said earlier that we had sanctioned hundreds of people in this country, but that simply is not true. We have sanctioned eight so far. We are going much slower than Europe or the United States. Is there any way that we can get the Government to work with those of us who want to work to help the Government to go faster?
My hon. Friend has been at the forefront in pushing for this, not just in recent weeks but over several years. I sincerely hope that the answer to his question is an emphatic yes, and that we will hear it from the Minister for the Armed Forces today. From the Labour Benches we have given, and will continue to give, the Government our fullest possible backing for the sanctions they are willing to make and the steps they are willing to take, but this has been too slow, so we will continue to do our job as the official Opposition to push the Government to go further, to meet the imperatives of Putin’s aggression, and to meet our duty to stand by the Ukrainian people.
Some of the people who have not yet been sanctioned are military leaders who are already active in Ukraine, including the commander-in-chief of the Black sea fleet, Mr Osipov, and the Defence Minister. Surely by now these people should not be able to remove all their possessions from the VTB bank, for instance. They have 30 days to do so unless we manage to sanction them today.
Our guiding principle must be that the sanctions are swift, severe and sweeping. On those three tests, what has been done so far still falls short, as my hon. Friend says. This House and Members from all parts of it have an important role to play in ensuring that we maintain unity, but also that we do more.
I say to the Minister that we will give Labour’s full support to the economic crime Bill introduced into this House on Monday, but it was promised more than five years ago. We will give our full support to the reform of Companies House, but that was first announced two and a half years ago and we still have only a White Paper, not legislation. I urge him to urge his colleagues in other Departments to step up, to speed up and to display the kind of leadership that he and his Front-Bench comrades from the Ministry of Defence have shown in recent weeks. We also give them our full support.
This is a debate for Members far more expert than I to speak in, so I will be brief. I want to emphasise that there are six areas in which action is required and in which our unity will be tested. These are six areas in which the Government have had Labour’s full support in the action they have taken so far. To the extent that the Government go further, they will maintain Labour’s support.
First, there is military support for Ukraine. As further Ukrainian requests come in—I know the Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence are serious about this—we must respond by scouring our inventories, stockpiles and weapon stores to provide the Ukrainians with what they can use immediately. We must reinforce their capability and capacity to defend their country.
My right hon. Friend raises an important point. We need to ensure a supply of arms for the Ukrainians, but could we also look at the possibility of our Polish and Czech allies furnishing weapons that we backfill? It would be quicker to move them into Ukraine from Poland or the Czech Republic than waiting to move them from the UK.
My hon. Friend is right, and I expect we may hear from the Minister that exactly that sort of action is being taken. It is certainly what some other European countries are doing, because the premium is on providing the defensive weapons and lethal aid that the Ukrainians require now. The fastest route to do that is required.
The second area is the requirement to cut Russia out of the international economic system. Putin himself has opened up a new front. The western sanctions are now opening up a new home front for Putin to fight on, because people in Russia are rightly asking why they cannot take their money out of the bank, why they cannot use their credit card and why they cannot use the metro. People in Russia are bravely coming out on to the streets to demonstrate the growing dissent in Russia for Putin’s rule.
But to be effective, we must do more and act faster. As I said a moment ago in response to interventions, to the extent that the Government are willing to act, they will continue to have Labour’s full support.
I agree that Russia must be cut out of the international economic system, but does this not go further? We cannot have Russia as part of an organisation that sponsors the rule of law, democracy and human rights, which is why my colleagues and I were very firm in getting Russia suspended from the Council of Europe.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the action he and his Council of Europe colleagues from all parties and all nations took last week.
Russia must feel that Putin is leading it in the wrong direction, towards increasing isolation, increasing cost, increasing damage and increasing uncertainty. We must ensure the people of Russia see that, whatever success he may secure in the short term in Ukraine, he fails in the longer run. As I said earlier, this must be the beginning of the end for President Putin.
The right hon. Member probably has not had time to see it, because it has only just appeared on the wires, but there is a manifesto from socialists across Russia who absolutely condemn this war and absolutely condemn Putin and the oligarchs. They say the war is actually being fought on behalf of the very wealthy, and they look for a different Russia, one of peace that is not at war with Ukraine. We should send a message of support from this House to people in Russia who are opposed to the war, as well as supporting the people of Ukraine in the horror they are going through at the present time.
My right hon. Friend is right: I have not had time to see that declaration. To that extent that it has been made, it is clearly welcome, brave and part of a growing chorus of brave voices within Russia of those who are ready to resist the way Putin has run their country and to stand up and say, “This invasion, this killing, this contravention of international law by President Putin is not being done in my name.” To the extent that they are taking that stand, I am sure that we in all parts of this House would honour them and support them.
I said that I wanted to mention six areas. Further military support for Ukraine is essential. Cutting Russia out of, and taking further steps to isolate it within, the international economic system is essential. The third thing is pursuing Russia for the war crimes it is committing in Ukraine. The International Criminal Court chief prosecutor has confirmed that he already has seen evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He wants to launch an official investigation, and he requires the backing of ICC states such as the UK. This will be a difficult job: identifying, gathering and protecting evidence, and investigating in the middle of a war zone. He will need resources and expert technical investigators. Britain can help with both, so I hope we are going to hear from the UK Government, sooner not later, that they formally support the ICC opening the investigation and that they will support that investigation with the resources that we, as a long-standing, committed member of the ICC, are rightly in a position to provide.
I very much commend the right hon. Gentleman on his motion. Does he agree that this war, like no other before it, is capable of such a thing, as the evidence will be that much easier to collect, and that there must be no stone that these individuals can crawl under when this is all over that will hide them or protect them? The message must go out loud and clear: if you are in any way complicit in the horrors being perpetrated in Ukraine at the moment, you will be found out and you will be held to account. You will be pilloried internationally, in the appropriate legal setting, for the crimes you have committed.
I simply endorse what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is very much in the spirit of the unity of this House on all necessary fronts. I say to the Minister, as I have said on the other dimensions of action required in this crisis, that if the Government are willing to take that step to ensure the ICC can pursue those aims, they will have Labour’s full support.
I am enormously grateful. I completely agree with the point that the right hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) has made, but there is a difficulty here, as international law has not yet recognised that initiating a war of aggression is itself a war crime. I think it should be, and the British alternate judge at the Nuremberg trials said it should be and declared that it was, but this has not actually been put into law. We need to change that, as I hope my right hon. Friend would agree.
That was certainly a point raised with the Prime Minister earlier today. For me, action immediately, in the current crisis, given the current invasion and the killing going on in Ukraine, is more important than constitutional change in the ICC. The fact that the chief prosecutor already says that he can see evidence of war crimes and of crimes against humanity, giving him the grounds to investigate and, I hope, pursue and prosecute, means that, as a starter, that is where I want to see the concentration at present.
The fourth area is not within the Minister’s brief. As the Official Opposition, we have urged the Government to take action on this, backed the steps that they have been willing to take, but pointed out that so much more needs to be done, and this, of course, is in helping Ukrainians fleeing the war—Ukrainians who need a safe route to sanctuary. We welcome the Home Secretary’s further steps yesterday, but there are questions about how this scheme will work. There are still gaps and there are still likely to be delays, but to the extent that this really is a route for the reunion of families, it is welcome, and we want to see it in place and working as soon as possible.
However, the fact is that many of those now fleeing Ukraine are leaving behind family members. Their first preference will be to stay as close to their country as it is safe for them to do. What we have not yet heard from the Home Secretary is what the UK Government will do to help those countries that, certainly in the weeks and months ahead, most immediately are likely to bear the biggest burden and have to offer the greatest refuge to those fleeing war. On behalf of the Labour party, may I say that, to the extent that the Government are willing to step up and play that part alongside other European countries, they will, again, deservedly have Labour’s full backing.
Although I share the comments about the Government stepping up and helping those countries and those who have family in this country, does the right hon. Member agree that we have to do more to help refugees in general? When people are fleeing for their lives, often in the middle of the night, under attack, leaving everything they know, everything they own and everything they love literally with what they can put their hands on at that moment, it is unreasonable to expect them to be thinking and planning for making a visa application. We should simply waive it and make it easier for them.
The first thing that I want Ukrainians now forced to flee Ukraine to know is that if they have family in Britain, they can be reunited. This is about extended family members who need to get out of that country and seek the sanctuary that Britain has a proud record of providing for many decades. That is our first priority. The second must be to support those countries on the refugee frontline, on the borders of this country that is now beset by war caused by President Putin. That is what I want to see the Government doing and that is where I want to see their first priority.
My right hon. Friend is making a fantastic speech. Does he agree that resistance takes many forms and that one of its forms is that of independent journalism? I know that a number of journalists are now trapped in Ukraine. Many of them have chosen to stay in Ukraine, but some are trapped. They are worried about their families. They want to know that they can have safe passage to the UK or to Europe. Like Members on both sides of the House, I believe that all these restrictions should be lifted, but in the interim I urge the Government to pay particular attention to journalists who are doing an admirable job in reporting on what is happening. We know what Putin thinks of these journalists—he has already attacked the UN public service broadcasting tower. They know what is in store for them. They are potentially on lists. Perhaps my right hon. Friend could make a comment on that.
Indeed, one of our fundamental values as a British democracy is the right to free speech and information. Those freedoms come at a price, and that is often the price that journalists, under pressure, have to pay. Those brave Ukrainian journalists, especially those who are staying in the country to try to make sure that those of us beyond their boundaries know what is really going on, deserve our honour and our respect. If necessary, we need to be willing to act where we can to assist them.
I promise to be as brief as possible. Yesterday, when the Home Secretary made her statement, I made her an offer, which I am not sure the right hon. Gentleman heard. He is right to say that we need to keep contact with the neighbouring countries to Ukraine. I offered to use the good offices of the delegation to the Council of Europe, which knows these countries and their leaders very well, to make sure that we maintain that contact and to help her in taking forward the discussions that she needed to have with them.
Then the hon. Gentleman has answered his own question; I am delighted he was able to answer it with an emphatic yes.
I turn now to the fifth dimension, where the Government will have Labour’s full support if they act as they should. It is one thing to confront Russian aggression abroad, but we must also strengthen our defences at home. We know that the UK is not immune to Russia’s aggression. We have had chemical weapons used on our soil to kill people. We have had dissidents murdered on British soil. We have had cyber-attacks against UK Government Departments, our defence agencies and even the organisations trying to develop our covid vaccines.
I say to the Minister that for too long that has been the poor relation of our national security and our national resilience. The Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report in 2020 said:
“Russia’s cyber capability…poses an immediate and urgent threat to our national security.”
The recommendations of that report have still not been implemented in full. The Government’s integrated review, almost a year ago, promised a national resilience strategy, but that has not yet been published. Our armed forces are essential to both our national defence and our national resilience. With the Army already cut to its smallest size for 300 years, in the light of the circumstances and the threats we now face, Ministers’ plans to cut a further 10,000 troops from Army numbers over the next three years must now be halted.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the excellent speech he is making. I asked the Prime Minister about Russian cyber-activity last week, particularly with the well-known history of bot farms and misinformation, and he did not have a response in terms of taking action. Bot farm activity has reduced in recent days because Russia has limited access to the internet. Is it not the case that we as a sovereign nation should be looking to take action to limit the influence of Russia’s bot farms and misinformation on our economy and society, rather than leaving it to the Russians?
Indeed, we have been slow to appreciate the scale of the disinformation driven by the Russian state directly and by its proxies. We have been slow to realise the extent to which it is corrupting our public discourse and in some cases interfering with our elections. Once again, the steps the Government could be taking, but that they seem very slow to take, have been set out in this House by my hon. Friend and others who are experts in that area.
Finally, on the sixth dimension, talking is always better than fighting. Even in these circumstances, President Zelensky in Ukraine has displayed outstanding leadership. Even as Russia continued to intensify its attacks, he was willing to hold talks, saying that there was
“still a chance, however small”.
He is also right to say:
“It’s necessary to at least stop bombing people…and then sit down at the negotiating table.”
I see as a significant development today’s confirmation that China is ready to play a role, saying that it is
“looking forward to China playing a role in realising a ceasefire”.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for the six dimensions that he has laid out: I wholeheartedly support him on all those points. There are so many other things that I am sure other colleagues across the House would want to add. I just wanted to make my own personal tribute to President Zelensky. He has shown outstanding leadership during this brutal war. He has been asked to step up in the most difficult and most challenging situation facing his country, and he has demonstrated great leadership and incredible resilience. I am sure the whole House would support him, and it was wonderful to be able to show our support for the Ukrainian ambassador today.
I thank my hon. Friend and endorse what he has said. I hope he will endorse the fact that as a party and, I hope, as a House, we are ready to back calls for a ceasefire. We want to see serious negotiations and we want to see a Russian withdrawal from Ukraine.
Finally, let me turn to NATO. Labour’s post-war Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, was the principal architect of NATO and, in particular, its article 5 commitment to collective defence. When he introduced the North Atlantic treaty to Parliament in 1949, he told this House:
“Unity against aggression has…become more than ever important”
and that this aggression
“usually comes when one man, or a small number of men, start by getting complete control of their own country and then create an atmosphere of fear and mistrust among those around them.”—[Official Report, 12 May 1949; Vol. 464, c. 2016-17.]
Bevin could have been talking then about President Putin today. NATO remains a defensive alliance built on diplomacy and deterrence, with not just collective security but democracy, peace and the rule of law enshrined in its founding statutes.
Over 70 years on from Bevin’s speech, NATO has proven to be one of Britain’s most essential and most successful alliances. However, a decade-plus of Russian aggression, cyber-attacks, assassinations, annexations, disinformation and mercenary groups, culminating now in a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, demands that NATO change. New security priorities, longer-term deployments, more integrated operations, more advanced technologies, better spending to match threats, and closer co-ordination with the Joint Expeditionary Force, with the European Union and with other democratic nations beyond the alliance should become the hallmarks of a stronger NATO.
We have taken settled peace and security in Europe for granted since the end of the cold war. We cannot do so any longer. We will be dealing with the consequences of this illegal Russian invasion for years to come. But for now, through these very darkest days that Ukraine is facing, we must simply stand united with Ukraine.
The House stands united today in our support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. We showed that in the way we rose to support the Ukrainian ambassador before Prime Minister’s questions, and, for all the necessary challenge over policy that goes on in this place, we will show it again this afternoon, because fundamentally we in this House are agreed that President Putin’s ill-conceived enterprise in Ukraine must not and will not succeed.
But how we achieve that is not just through the sanctions we impose, the military aid we provide or the breadth of the cultural and diplomatic isolation we secure, as important as all those things are; it is through the beacon of hope we provide, and not only for the Ukrainian people but for the Russian people too. How they would love to have a day where the opposition choose the topics for debate, immediately after a session in which the legislature, without fear, can challenge the Head of Government. Indeed—perhaps no Government Minister has ever said this from the Dispatch Box before—how lucky we are to have an Opposition altogether.
We have grown complacent over that freedom. We do not value it as we should. It is no cliché to remind the House that freedom is not free and that no matter how much we complain about the imperfections of our own politics, people have fought and died so that we can argue in this place and in our national media over whatever we wish. Today in Ukraine, people are fearful that those days may soon be over for them. They know only too well that freedom is not free. In the lifetime of their most senior citizens, they have lost their freedom and recovered it twice already. It is no wonder that so many thousands of Ukrainian men and women are rallying to the flag to ensure they do not lose it again.
I put on record my thanks to the Defence Secretary and the Minister for their actions over the past few weeks. They have shown proper leadership on this. Will the Minister support comments from Gerry Connolly, who is the president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly? He is arguing within NATO for a centre for democracy, to make exactly the arguments that the Minister is making, to reinforce among our populations why we have NATO and what it is defending.
I think I instinctively support the proposition. It is extraordinary—forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker; I know you were keen on brevity, but this is a tangent too interesting to miss, frankly—but when we came together after the second world war to bring NATO into being, it went without saying that the freedom, liberty and democracy we all enjoy was something we should collectively stand for, but in the 70 years or so that have passed since, we have forgotten what a luxury that is. We have forgotten how to speak proudly about freedom without being criticised as somehow trying to shut down the other side. There absolutely is a market for the west to relearn that we can disagree with each other ferociously and we can have polarised societies in which one side simply cannot abide the very existence of the argument of the other, yet we can still see the good in that and communicate it strongly to those who do not have that luxury.
In this debate today, we must also be clear on who our quarrel is with. When we talk of aggression, deceit and contempt for the international system, we must not talk about “Russia”; we must talk of Putin and the kleptocrats that surround him. When we talk of who must pay the price for this grotesque violation of international law, we must blame Putin, the Russian elites and the hubris of the Kremlin’s military leaders, but again, not the Russian people.
We want the Russian people to enjoy the freedom, democracy and security that we have been taking for granted. We want them to know that NATO and the west mean them no harm. We are a defensive alliance, and we were recasting ourselves for an altogether different future until President Putin annexed Crimea and challenged the sovereignty of so many other countries in eastern Europe and the Caucasus. When President Putin fails—and he eventually will—we look forward to a Euro-Atlantic where Russia and the rest of Europe exist as friends and neighbours. In the meantime, we stand our ground not to intimidate the Russian people, but to deter their President, who is a bully and has caused too many in our alliance to think that they could be next.
I would like to provide the House with a brief update on the situation in Ukraine. Russian forces have met strong resistance and are behind schedule on their intended plans. We recognise, unfortunately, that the cities of Melitopol and Kherson in the south of the country have fallen, but that brave resistance remains in both. Colleagues, those were both day one objectives for the Russian armed forces, and both only fell in recent days after fierce opposition. Everywhere else in the country, no other city or major town has fallen to the advancing invaders. As much as that should be a cause for celebration and hope, it is important we remain realistic about what is still to come. The harder the Ukrainians fight back, the harder Putin will order his military to push. Already, we have seen a horrific artillery and missile barrage on Kharkiv among other places. I am fearful for what is to come in Kyiv. As the Prime Minister has said today, and as the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) rightly noted, there is already clear evidence that in applying indiscriminate force in the way that he has, President Putin and his military leadership have already committed war crimes.
I thank the Minister for the update. It is an absolutely tragic situation and we all stand in support of people in Ukraine. More than half a million residents have already left the country in a short time, and the UN estimates that the number could go up to 4 million, which would create the largest refugee crisis that Europe has witnessed in decades. Will the Government offer the UK as a place of sanctuary for people regardless of whether they have family here?
If the hon. Lady will allow me, I will come to the humanitarian aspect towards the end of my remarks.
Many hon. Members and our friends in the media have been increasingly concerned about the advancing column to the north of Kyiv. They are right to be—it is an enormous concentration of military firepower and it contains the stores needed for a battle in the capital. Let us be clear, however: no Russian military planner wanted to see that column move at such a glacial pace.
There have been cries for the column to be disrupted or destroyed, which is not something that NATO could ever do without entering the conflict, but the reason it is inching forwards so slowly is that it is being held up by blown bridges, obstacles, artillery fire and fierce attacks from the Ukrainians. That column may yet reach Kyiv—it will reach Kyiv—but it will be vastly depleted when it does and we have already given the Ukrainians the tools with which to attrit it further.
The real scandal is not that the column exists—we have known all along that Russia would need to encircle and take Kyiv—but for the Russian people. How on earth could their military leaders think that such a large concentration of military hardware on a single road, backed up in a traffic jam for tens of miles, could lead to anything other than an awful loss of Russian life? Like so many of President Putin’s plans, I am afraid that there is hubris, tactical naivety and a total disregard for the brave young Russian soldiers who he has sent into battle. We should take no satisfaction in their slaughter. The Ukrainians are doing what they must to defend their country and its capital city, but there will be an awful number of casualties because of such dire Russian military planning.
The UK stands with Ukraine in providing further defensive military, humanitarian and other assistance to the country. As I have told the House already, we have trained 22,000 members of the Ukrainian armed forces under Operation Orbital since 2015 and we were among the first European nations to send defensive weapons to the country with an initial tranche of 2,000 anti-tank defensive missiles.
It is an odd feeling, because those missiles are deadly weapons and I am afraid that, every time they succeed, they take young lives. We should reflect, however, that the UK has sent forward a weapon that has become almost a symbol of the defiance of the Ukrainian armed forces, so as brutal as the effect of that weapons system is, it is something for which the Ukrainian people will regard us favourably and be grateful for a very long time.
In the next hours and days, we will provide a further package of military support to Ukraine, including lethal aid in the form of defensive weapons and non-lethal aid such as body armour, medical supplies and other key equipment as requested by the Ukrainian Government. It is not possible to share with the House more of the detail at this sensitive point in operations, but we will do our best to share it with hon. Members after the event as much as we can.
Meanwhile, in response to the growing humanitarian crisis, we are putting more than 1,000 more British troops at readiness, some of whom have started to flow forwards into neighbouring countries. That complements the hundreds of millions of pounds already committed to building Ukrainian resilience and providing vital medical supplies. Last Friday night, the Defence Secretary organised a virtual donor conference on military aid for Ukraine, during which all 27 nations present agreed to provide the country with much-needed lethal aid and medical supplies.
In the midst of this catastrophe, it is important to recognise the importance of the unity that the international community has shown against Russian state aggression. The United Nations General Assembly has been holding an emergency special session, just the 11th in its history, with nation after nation speaking up in condemnation of President Putin and in favour of peace.
We have also seen an extraordinary change in the defence posture of several nations. Germany has increased its defence spending to more than 2% per cent of its GDP, and changed a decades-long policy of not providing lethal aid. Sweden and Finland—nations proud of their respective neutrality and non-alignment—have agreed to donate arms to Ukraine. Even Switzerland has been party to sanctions against Russia. This is a seismic shift in the Euro-Atlantic security situation. If Putin hoped for fracture, he has achieved consensus. Countries such as South Korea and Singapore have also in recent days unveiled sanctions on Russia, despite south-east Asia having largely avoided taking sides in the previous conflicts.
Yesterday, new financial legislation was laid in the House that will prevent the Russian state from raising debt in the UK and that will isolate all Russian companies, of which there are over 3 million, from accessing UK capital markets. Alongside the measures taken by other nations, these crippling economic sanctions are already having an effect. Russia’s central bank has more than doubled its key interest rate to 20%, while Moscow’s stock market remains closed for the third consecutive day in a bid to avoid major slumps. Ultimately, it will not be Putin who pays the price of the economic constrictions, but the Russian people, with soldiers dying, inflation rising and the country cut off from the outside world. As I said at the start of my remarks, we need to show the Russian people some hope for the way that things could be when President Putin eventually fails, as he surely will.
I am following the Minister’s remarks with a great deal of interest. In his very fine speech, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), who spoke for the Opposition, mentioned China in his sixth point. I hope my hon. Friend will do so also, because there is one country that could turn this off tomorrow if it wished to, and that is China. What position have the UK Government taken on China? Although my enemy’s enemy is my friend, will he be wary and cautious about his dealings with China, given that China of course continues to commit human rights abuses in Xinjiang, potentially in Taiwan and in Hong Kong? While it is commendable that it abstained at the United Nations, we need to be very careful about how we position ourselves with respect to China in the weeks and months ahead.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Asia and the Middle East will want to talk about China in her concluding remarks. Right now there is an opportunity to work with Beijing to bring about an outcome that is right for Euro-Atlantic security in the short term, but I do not think that that automatically means we close our eyes to our wider concerns about China and our competition with that country over the decades ahead.
Finally, I want to update the House on NATO defence and security activities. In addition to HMS Trent, HMS Diamond has now sailed for the eastern Mediterranean. We are doubling the number of UK troops in Estonia, with the Royal Tank Regiment and the Royal Welsh battlegroups now complete in Tapa. We have increased our fast air presence from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, from where those jets are now engaged in NATO air policing activity over Poland and Romania.
In his excellent speech, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne asked two questions of the MOD about capability. The first was on cyber-resilience, and he will not be surprised to know, I hope, that there has been a series of Cobra meetings on homeland resilience and that the cyber-threat to the homeland has been an important part of those discussions. It is a capability that the UK has invested in through the National Cyber Security Centre. I would never go so far as to say we are well prepared because, frankly, we cannot know fully what is thrown at us, but the right discussions have been had and the right investments have been made, and I think what we have as a defensive cyber-capability is one of the best in the world.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked me a question about the shape and size of the Army, and he knows from his many clashes over the Dispatch Boxes with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that it is subject to some debate, but the Secretary of State, to his credit, has always said he is a threat-based policy maker. It may well be that we learn something new from what is going on in Ukraine at the moment, but my reflections in the immediate term, from the operational analysis I am seeing, is that precision deep fires and armed drones are doing exactly what we saw in Nagorno-Karabakh and Syria, on which we based the integrated review. For those in massed armour in a modern battlespace, that is a pretty dangerous and difficult place to be. We may yet see something different when we get into the close fight that will cause us to reconsider. Right now, however, the lessons we are learning from what is going on are exactly the same as those from Nagorno-Karabakh and northern Syria, and the IR was based on that operational analysis, with the Army rightly observing what it would call a deprioritisation of the close fight.
I thank the Minister for giving way and for his update. He is right to emphasise the unanimity of the international consensus on the invasion of Ukraine and on sanctions. He may be aware of reports that Russian oil producers are not able to find purchasers for some of their oil production; however, there are purchasers and movements of oil shipments in the gulf of Finland. What is our position and the international position on Russian oil shipments and starving Russia of the foreign currency that delivers?
I do not feel entirely qualified to answer in the detail I would want, but my analysis of the geostrategic situation in eastern and southern Europe is that we certainly need to have our eyes wide open to who else beyond the obvious western European countries are customers for Russian oil and gas. We need to be having a discussion within the international community about how some very vulnerable countries, perversely including Ukraine, but also Serbia and others in the Balkans, are still drawing on Russian gas, and how we get them off that without causing a situation that completely cripples their economies. But I am somewhat out of lane and dare say the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy would be concerned to have heard me offer even those thoughts.
If I may take the Minister down another lane, I think Ministers accept that everybody in the House wants the Government to be able to move as fast as possible on sanctions. I just note for instance that Abramovich is now trying to sell his football club, and clearly lots of oligarchs are rapidly divesting themselves of things, including through auction houses, and I hope that Sotheby’s, Christie’s and others are taking action on that today. Can the Minister update the House on the measures the Government will take—perhaps this will be done later by the Minister winding up the debate—to speed up those sanctions? We are a long way short of what the US and the European Union have done; there may be legitimate reasons for that, but we do worry about it.
I do my best to inform myself as widely as I can. I suspect the Minister for Asia and the Middle East will be able to give a fuller reply to the hon. Gentleman later. I think there is a requirement to launch the widest and quickest set of sanctions we can in a way that is legally acceptable, but neither should we diminish the effect of the sanctions that have already been put in place thus far. I share the hon. Gentleman’s sentiment that we could and should do more, but let us not forget just how punitive what has been done is and the effect it is having.
I want to finish by talking about the humanitarian situation, which I am afraid risks becoming a catastrophe. Ukraine will keep fighting; so it should. Russia must stop. Europe—the world—must be ready to support that situation as it evolves because the fighting is going to get worse. We should explore, and we are exploring, what humanitarian corridors could look like, but they will not be easy and will need the support of both sides.
The Minister is making an impassioned speech. The scenes in Ukraine are heartbreaking and it is my strong view that we should do everything we can to allow refugees to come here. The Prime Minister said in today’s Prime Minister’s questions that European Union countries were able to move more quickly and waive visa requirements because they were part of Schengen, but that is simply not the case. The Irish Government and Ireland are not part of Schengen—as we should all know by now after the long discussions around Brexit, they are part of the common travel area—but Ireland was able to do it; why are this Government not waiving visa requirements for refugees fleeing Ukraine?
Again, the right of family members to come here has already been offered, and it is for 100,000 people, as I understand it, which is extraordinarily generous. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point and his concern, and I know that many hon. Members see this as an increasingly totemic issue.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but is this not a moment to reflect that if the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently in the other place, were to pass with clause 11 as part of it, any Ukrainian coming here to seek refuge who passed through another country to get here would be criminalised and treated as a second-rate refugee? Does that not make him feel a little uneasy? Is this not a moment for the Government to reconsider that proposal?
The right hon. Gentleman, who is a skilled parliamentarian, asks his question in a way that makes it uncomfortable to hear. However, the reality is that the criminalisation of those illegal routes—as they will be—is an important deterrent against the illegal criminal gangs who so viciously and exploitatively bring people across the channel at huge expense and in huge danger. Actually, legislation that might change that situation, provided that it is accompanied with safe and legal routes, and I have every confidence that it will be—[Interruption.] Well, I beg to differ. I do not share his analysis of the Bill or its effect and the need for it.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
That will not be easy, and we should not get our hopes up, because both sides in the conflict will need to agree. However, we should want to explore that urgently.
I believe passionately that Ukrainians do not want to leave their country. As the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) said in his speech, they do not want to be refugees. Therefore, once they have reached the west of their country—or, in extremis, crossed the border immediately from it—our mission should be about making them as comfortable as possible there so that they can go home as quickly as they want to, because they are patriots who want to be Ukrainians living in Ukraine.
I am afraid that this will get much worse before it gets any better—that is what keeps me awake at night. We must work out how we can alleviate the humanitarian challenge and the sheer misery of the millions of people who find themselves living in cities that are under siege without risking escalation that could make this world war three.
There is cause for optimism as the Ukrainians are fighting heroically, but we must brace ourselves, as the Ukrainian people are, for something much worse. Putin could stop this now if he wanted to. We must all continue to insist that he does and that Ukrainian territorial sovereignty is restored completely.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), for his fine speech and the Minister for his fine response to it. As I am sure others will do as the debate goes on, I thank the Government for the genuine openness that they have shown to Members of the House as the situation has developed. It has made a huge difference to all Members to have that level of access and detail from the Department.
We all look on in horror at what we see on our TV screens with the train stations of a major European capital city and cities across that country filling up with refugees. We thought, did we not, that we had left such scenes behind in our history, but they are back with us once again. Cluster bombs are being used on cities like Kharkiv, a city I visited and know well. It breaks my heart to see what is happening to people in Ukraine: war crimes—war crimes—being committed in 2022 on the continent of Europe. We even have a situation where towns and villages are being surrounded by Russian troops to starve the local population of food, water and other supplies they need to survive. That takes on a particular resonance in a country that in its past suffered, almost 100 years ago, a famine genocide organised by Stalin that killed many millions of Ukrainians and is still very much alive in the minds of Ukrainians to this day. One of the most horrifying things we saw yesterday was the bombing of a holocaust memorial in the capital city of Kyiv. So terrible is it that it puts to bed the utter lie of Putin’s claim to be denazifying Ukraine. Ukraine has denazified itself in the past and will continue to do so in its future.
Like others, I want to pay tribute to the heroism of President Zelensky, the Ukrainian armed forces and the Ukrainian people themselves. I have been in daily contact with friends, MPs and others who I have gotten to know over my many trips there over the years and they still show the incredible resolve, generosity and kindness that we all know them for. They have their own family members and their own safety to worry about, but still they are helping Members of this House to get their constituents to safe places. Some of them are still keeping up their spirits with a sense of humour. Kira Rudyk, leader of the Opposition Holos party, was on UK news this afternoon. It was put to her that she, like every other Member of the Verkhovna Rada, is on Putin’s kill list. She responded by reminding everyone that she is also on the top 10 bachelorette list in Ukraine, so she hopes that that somewhat balances out. To maintain that level of generous spirit and maintain that level of dignity and resolve that we have seen in these circumstances? I suppose we could all hope that we would do the same, but I am not so sure that many of us would.
My party and I have supported the Government over their actions in Ukraine. We have ensured that they get the support from the SNP Benches for the defensive equipment, economic support, and political and diplomatic support they have given to Ukraine, and we will keep doing that. Indeed, like others and, I suspect, the Minister himself, we always want to see the Government go further. That is the job, I think, of the Opposition here. Yes, we are united, but we always want to push the Government to go further where they should.
There are two areas where the Government should. First, on sanctions, it is the case that we are behind other international actors and we want the screws to be turned and turned quickly. Like the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), we agree that there are almost certainly legitimate reasons why we have not done that, but we need to do what we can to fix it. Secondly, on refugees, the Minister is right. Most people will want to stay in a country close to Ukraine, because they want to return to Ukraine. I well understand why people will want to get back there and rebuild their country—it is a proud country and a proud democracy—but we do stand alone in putting in front of people fleeing war crimes all the unnecessary bureaucracy that does not need to be there. I plead with the Government to change that stance and be more open and welcoming, and at least match the offer of EU member states.
It cannot be said enough that our conflict or disagreement is not with the citizens of Russia itself. It is a proud country and it has made incredible contributions over the years to science, innovation, arts, culture and much else. Indeed, Scotland and Russia have shared many connections, not least militarily, over the years. The Russian people, as we are starting to see, are victims of a sort in this conflict as well. As the sanctions start to bite, there will be consequences for them. Indeed, they are already starting to feel it. This war is over one man’s imperial hubris that started not last week, but in 2014. It has already seen the deaths of around 15,000 Ukrainians, and that is before we count the Russian dead. It has displaced about 2 million Ukrainians in their own land.
It is worth taking ourselves back to how this started. It was nothing to do with NATO or the west; it was all because Ukrainians decided that they wanted a European, Euro-Atlantic future, and they wanted Putin’s boot off their neck. Ukraine threatened no one, and remains a threat to no one.
In time—today is not the day for it—we will have to consider exactly what has happened and how the European security architecture has been thrown up in the air like a kaleidoscope. The Minister and the shadow Defence Secretary rightly mentioned the change in German policy. We all watched with our jaws open as the Chancellor reversed 30 years of energy policy and 70 years of defence policy on Sunday. The European Union is now a much stronger military alliance than we ever thought it would be. If someone had told me that that was where it was going two weeks ago, I would not have taken them seriously. That is something for us all to take the time to think about. The integrated review will need to be revisited; only a fool would think otherwise. I was always sceptical of the Indo-Pacific tilt. This is not a time for I-told-you-sos—most definitely not—but all of us in this country and in other countries around Europe will need to rethink defence and security postures going forward.
We are the custodians of the treaties and institutions that were set up to maintain peace and security across Europe, and we need to ask ourselves what we need to do to fix them, because they are more than creaking at the seams right now. How have we got ourselves into a situation where we are seriously contemplating a Government who are accused of committing a genocide against their people—China and the Uyghurs—presiding over peace talks about war crimes carried out by their ally in Moscow against people in Ukraine? I am not sure it could be argued that we have been very good custodians of those treaties and institutions, which have so far by and large held up, but are creaking in a massively unprecedented way.
There will be time to debate those things in the future. Today we must focus on Ukraine, Ukrainians and the war criminals who are carrying out this horror in that nation. For me—if you will indulge me, Madam Deputy Speaker—this is personal, having taken many trips back and forward, like many other Members of the House. We have friends in common, actually. I have phoned friends whose children I can hear in the background being loaded into cars to flee cities—cities in which I have enjoyed meals with their families. I was in Kyiv this time last month. Even then, it did not feel like a city that was on the brink of war. I have been on the phone to friends and heard shells going off in the background—the calls cut off as they have to run. Then there is always that hellish thought when I call someone or text them and for hours do not hear back, and do not know whether they are safe.
It is personal for me, and for many of us in this House. I enjoyed nothing more than welcoming friends from Ukraine to Glasgow for COP26. I had hoped that they would be in my constituency for the Scotland-Ukraine match, although I am not sure what it would have done for our reputation if we had beaten them.
Well, a boy can dream. That now will not happen, but Ukraine is a democracy and the Ukrainians are a free people. They need and deserve our support and focus, and the unity of this House—today, tomorrow and going forward. I am sorry to say that the Minister is almost certainly correct that this will get worse before it gets better, so let us focus on how we make it better. It will require some big, bold thinking—a Marshall plan to rebuild that country from the destruction caused and the destruction yet to come.
In that, we must maintain unity. Where we push the Government to go further and faster, it is not because we want to be oppositionist for opposition’s sake—that is in nobody’s interest. Let us keep to the unity that Ukrainians need, because it is not just us watching the war in their country; we should ask ourselves what we want them to see when they read our newspapers or scroll through our social media accounts. I want them to see common cause to end the war, support Ukrainians and ensure that Ukraine’s democratic future, which they took a stand on in 2013 and into 2014, is still there. Ukrainians today are the real leaders of the free world, and they deserve nothing less.
I thank my friend the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) for both his collegiate tone and the content of his speech. I wish I had the time to touch on a lot of it. However, in the time available to me let me say that I share entirely his view of the stunning bravery of the Ukrainian people under incredible duress. Equally, I share his desire to see Putin and all his commanders in court in The Hague as soon as possible.
This is a European city, a European country, a member state of the Council of Europe that is under siege and under attack. While men are staying to fight, women and children are fleeing across the border. I want to pick up on two points made by the right hon. Gentleman. The first is that the receiving countries, particularly Poland at the moment, need our help with humanitarian aid and all the strength we can afford in support of them. I had a call today from a little town called Zamość, with 15,000 people, 100 km from the border with Ukraine. That town is receiving trainloads of refugees at 800 per train. It is becoming overwhelmed. The people there simply cannot handle the volume of refugees flowing through their villages. We have to get help to them fast.
Secondly, we have to get the refugees we are prepared to take into the United Kingdom. Again, the sooner and more efficiently we can do that, the better. In 1956, we took refugees from Hungary in this country. In 1968, we took refugees from Czechoslovakia. In 1972, West Malling airfield in Kent played host to 28,000 Ugandan Asians fleeing Idi Amin. We have done it before and we can do it again. I have spoken with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), and with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, both of whom are now on a fast footing to co-ordinate this relief effort. The British people want to help, and we can.
Manston airport in my constituency is mothballed, but the owners have told me that they are prepared to make it available. The runway can be swept and cleared within half a day. The military hardware that my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces wishes to see sent to Ukraine can be flown from Manston almost immediately. We have the warehouse capacity and the runway capacity to fly it out. With the back-up of Kent fire brigade, Manston can then be used to fly in refugees from Ukraine and from Poland.
Next door to Manston is a Home Office facility that is capable of processing 1,000 people a day. It also has food facilities and accommodation. I urge those on the Front Bench to take on board the fact that those facilities are available. We do not have the time to wait; the people we are trying to assist do not have the time to wait. We can do this now. We can cut the red tape, and we must do it.
During his abhorrent dictum on the illegal invasion of Ukraine, President Putin used false claims of genocide to justify his callous actions. That is a cruel irony, not least given his appalling track record of international law breaches and human rights abuses. We witnessed his brutality in Georgia and did nothing. We witnessed his brutality in Syria and did nothing. True to form, we are witnessing his brutality once again in Ukraine. This must the last of the suffering that he is allowed to cause.
We are all inspired by the resolve, determination and spirit shown by the Ukrainian people, but there will be inevitable tragic consequences to their heroism. The more they resist, the worse Putin will react, and those unable to defend themselves will pay the price for his petulance. Standing with Ukraine means delivering economic, military and humanitarian support today, but it also means delivering justice tomorrow; it means ensuring that the man responsible for Ukrainians’ suffering is held to account and made to answer for his crimes. The Prime Minister says, “Putin must fail.” He must, but that alone is not enough. Putin must pay.
On Monday, the International Criminal Court announced that it would open an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been committed in Ukraine since 2013, and any new alleged crimes. That is a very important announcement. Innocent men, women and children are being murdered in schools and hospitals and in their homes. Amnesty International has now verified four attacks on Ukrainian schools, including the cluster bombing of a nursery, which killed a child and civilians. Human Rights Watch reported an attack on a hospital, again with a cluster bomb, which killed and injured civilians, including healthcare workers. The vicious bombardment of Kharkiv on Tuesday, in which homes were targeted, left dozens of civilians dead. According to Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, a thermobaric weapon was used against Ukrainian forces.
Although Russia is not a signatory to the convention on cluster munitions or to the safe schools declaration, international humanitarian law prohibits the use of indiscriminate attacks with indiscriminate weapons, but it is clear that Putin is already becoming increasingly desperate. As the Ukrainian resistance evolves towards insurgency, civilian deaths will almost certainly surge.
The UK is a proud state party to the Rome statute, so we must now support the ICC with money and people to aid its investigation; I would be very grateful if the Minister gave an assurance that we will, and if he provided an update on where we have got to on the question of a state party referring the case, as per the prosecutor’s request. We must work with the Ukrainian Government, allies and non-governmental organisations to collect and preserve evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity; again, I would be very grateful if the Minister gave an assurance that we will. Most importantly, we must do everything within our power to prevent further civilian suffering, including making the necessary preparations to get aid in and people out safely and effectively.
Putin is safe, a long way away from the frontline, but the blood of the innocent is on his hands. This is his war and it may not end soon, but it is imperative that he pays for what he has done. If he does not, Ukraine will not be the last to suffer.
When the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN learned of the invasion, he said:
“There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell.”
It will be difficult—some say impossible—but wherever Putin ends up, the UK must do everything we can to ensure that it is via a court.
Over the past decade or so, we have seen increasing evidence of Russian ambition. In 2007, Russia planted a flag on the seabed at the north pole. In 2008, it invaded Georgia. In 2014, it invaded Crimea. In the same year, we saw Malaysia Airlines flight 17 shot down. In 2018, the events in Salisbury happened. Between 2009 and 2018, there was a 440% increase in cyber-attacks across the world, of which 75% were allegedly from Russia. We have had instability in the Balkans, interference in elections, destabilisation in Bosnia with active intentions to undermine the Dayton agreement—the list goes on.
This is known as sub-threshold activity, and we have got used to it. We have never really been quite sure, but it has been happening. However, there is nothing sub-threshold about the wilful and destructive invasion of a sovereign neighbour. What has happened over the last week is nothing other than abhorrent. For the Ukrainians, this is about hearts; it is about their homes and their lives. It is about survival; it is about repelling an invasion.
We have seen the indiscriminate use of weapons, including cluster bombs and thermobaric weapons—death and destruction. No one knows what Putin’s wider intent is. Perhaps it is to restore the Soviet Union; perhaps it is to expand his country; perhaps it is imperialism. We do not quite know, but the response to this incomprehensible action has been comprehensive and clear. Our reaction in the west is not just disbelief; it is beyond that—this is beyond belief.
The Prime Minister should be praised for his actions to lead the coalition of willing nations. The sanctions have been excellent, and I support 100% the support for refugees. More broadly, I am very comfortable with what NATO is doing, particularly on the supply of aid and equipment. Yes, we have left the European Union, but Members should be under no illusion: we are still supporting Europe. Our engagement with Europe is as strong as ever. I also commend the Opposition Front Benchers, who have been outstanding during the whole crisis. Parliament is at its best when we work together, and there has been an awful lot of sense spoken on both sides of the House over the last week.
Before I finish, I want to make some points to those on the Front Benches. I have three main observations. First, as politicians, we need to be careful and precise with our language. We must not inflame and we must not be careless, because people are watching—both our allies and those in Russia. This is about global leadership. We need, therefore, to be firm but not inflammatory with our language. By the same token, we need to work with the media, and the media must report this conflict accurately and fairly. Operational security is critical, and we must not get ourselves into a situation where carelessness in the media puts people’s lives at risk.
My humble answer is that it should not. RT is currently spreading Russian propaganda, which nobody wants to see and nobody believes.
My second point is very important: we must make sure that we are not inadvertently sucked into direct conflict with Russia. The principles of article 5 are sacrosanct. NATO is a defensive alliance. NATO works. We must therefore adhere to our treaty obligations by not intervening directly, until the point that we must. We must resist that, so I say to Ministers: please be wary of come-ons and proxies; please be wary of any attempt by Putin to suck us into a conflict with him and his forces. To be worthy of its pre-eminence, NATO must fulfil the obligations placed upon it as the most successful military alliance ever.
My third point is very serious: whatever happens in Ukraine—our hearts go out to everyone involved in this ghastly conflict—we need to be ready. If Russia attacks or invades a NATO country, in line with our article 5 obligations, we must be ready for what comes next; we will be at war. As much as nobody wants an escalating conflict, Putin must be clear that if he crosses that line, we will have a big problem. NATO is a defensive alliance, but it is also poised and ready to do what it must.
This is about planning and positioning. It is about ISTAR—intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance. It is about our understanding what the Russians are doing. And in the unthinkable event that we do go to war, we cannot afford to watch evil unfold.
Can I begin, as others have done, by expressing my admiration for the role that the Ukrainian armed forces—sometimes irregular, sometimes regular—have played? Most of us have been astonished by the resistance they have been able to put up, and I think that that astonishment applies in Moscow as well. Along with that, I want to add my genuine appreciation for the Defence Secretary and the Defence team, who have been exemplary in the way in which they have operated to ensure that we are supporting the capacity of the Ukrainians to defend their own country. That has been absolutely fundamental, and it is a leading example of how we as a nation ought to behave, so well done there. I wish I could be quite as complimentary about the role of our sanctions regime, because we are playing catch-up there. It is a matter of fact that the EU has sanctioned far more individuals than we have, including two who have major UK interests, Alisher Usmanov and Mikhail Fridman. We have not sanctioned those individuals, and it is astonishing that we are seeing the EU sanctioning those with assets here when we do not.
Something else that we now have to look at seriously is the way in which our legal system has been acting to defend the interests of those around Putin and the oligarchs who base their moneys here. An example is the ability to prevent journalists from examining the truth. Inquisitive journalism is fundamental to outing the role of dirty money in the City of London, as we must do. That is a matter of national shame, but we are playing catch-up on that as well. I hope that Ministers will take that message on board, because it is now time now to do this. I think there is consensus that we can do it, but it is not just about the dirty money; it is also about those who protect that dirty money in our society. I think there is consensus around that.
I am also bound to reflect on the potential, even now, for the flow of refugees. We do not know how this situation is going to end. We do not know what will make Mr Putin and those around him pull back from this level of adventurism, and because we do not know that, we have to assume that things will get massively worse and that the flow of refugees will get worse. If the flow of refugees does get worse, and if we are talking about the potential for many millions of refugees, the UK clearly has to be prepared to respond.
Following a point made by the right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) about places being unable to cope with the numbers of people coming through and the need to keep them flowing, one of the difficulties is the dog-leg in the UK system that people have to navigate to get visas. I am currently waiting in real time for the Home Office to tell me where a bunch of 12 people can go to get visas. Their travel to Scotland is all arranged, but the difficulty, the bottleneck, is the Home Office. We should not be doing this right now. People can get moving and get going, but they do not know whether to get a bus to Warsaw or where else to go, or where they can get a visa. Hopefully we will know in the next few hours, but the frustration and the angst for their family back in Lewis is huge. I just wanted to put that on record.
The hon. Gentleman is right. If we could see the same alacrity from the Home Office that we have seen from the Ministry of Defence, we could make a material difference.
I spoke earlier this week to the ambassador from Moldova. Moldova is a country of something short of 3 million people, yet it has already taken 90,000 refugees, which is proportionately the equivalent of the UK taking in 2 million people. Moldova is a desperately poor country and it cannot accommodate that 90,000. There has to be some process by which the flow of refugees can be moved from the reception countries to those that have greater capacity, but in any case we need to ensure that we are making the necessary humanitarian assistance available to Moldova. The bureaucratic point about the Home Office is inevitably a real one, and it is time for Home Office Ministers to act to ensure that they are part of the solution and not part of the problem.
There is one other point I want to make, and it is a little more wide-ranging. We have to look forward, and we have to do that in two ways. First, we need to make sure that we have a commitment that our role with respect to Ukraine is not just during this period of crisis. We are always excellent at focusing on a crisis before moving on, whether it be Syria or Libya—we can all list them. We have to be here for the long run, because Ukraine is too strategically important both militarily and to the ecosystem of the wider Europe. On that basis, and the time is not now, reconstruction has to be somewhere on the planning agenda of the G7.
My other point will be massively controversial. When the European Coal and Steel Community was created back in the 1950s, the logic was that coal and steel were the key strategic industries of the era of post-war reconstruction. The community worked together to create something a little different. Energy is today’s strategic variable.
Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, made an incredible move by saying that he will wean Germany off Russian oil and gas, and we have to begin thinking about how we can play a role in supporting those who depend on that gas. That will be Moldova and Ukraine, and it may well be Germany, too. It will take imagination, but it is the kind of thinking we saw when Ernest Bevin created NATO and when the European Coal and Steel Community was created all those years ago. That may be controversial, but now is the time to do it.
When this crisis started, I looked at the areas for which I have responsibility. My outrage was enormous that the Council of Europe, which is responsible for the rule of law, democracy and human rights, still contained a country that abuses all of them, namely Russia.
Yes, I am emotional about this. I am emotional because I have long campaigned for Russia to be chucked out of the Council of Europe for not following any of its guidance to members. One good thing about the Council of Europe is that we get to know other parliamentarians from across Europe, and we know Ukrainian parliamentarians because we work with them, because we sit with them and because we talk with them.
I was sent a picture the other day by a Ukrainian MP—I will name him because he has named himself—called Oleksiy Goncharenko. He was in full military kit and carrying a Kalashnikov. That really brought it home to me. I thought to myself, “If we were attacked, would I put on full military uniform and go out with a rifle to defend this place?” I hoped I would, and my heart went out to Oleksiy Goncharenko because of all he is doing and because of his bravery in standing up to it.
I spoke very strongly in the debate at the Council of Europe on suspending Russia, and I did so with the backing of the delegation because, as has already been mentioned, it is so much better that we operate on a cross-party basis. I have always tried to run the delegation as a genuinely cross-party operation.
I would particularly like to thank two people who spoke very forcefully at the meeting of the Committee of Ministers—the second Chamber of the Council of Europe—and had to vote on this issue. The first is my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger), and the second is not a Member of this House but our permanent representative at the Council of Europe who spoke very strongly and gave a very clear idea that Britain would vote to suspend Russia. During that debate, I also had to put up with listening to people such as Pyotr Tolstoy, who leads the Russian delegation, and who said that Ukraine had nuclear weapons that were pointing at Russia. He lied—it does not have nuclear weapons and it is not pointing any at Russia. Yet that was the message he gave out.
As a member of the Council of Europe, may I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the leadership he gives to members of the British delegation? He is steadfast and decisive in his work, and he has achieved a result that Europe should celebrate, because it was his efforts and those of his colleagues that put Russia out last week. I think that has been decisive. Will he say something about the punishment that is now going to be meted out to the Council of Europe in terms of financial penalty? We should urge Her Majesty’s Government to give more resources to the Council of Europe in that regard.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks and for raising the point about what will happen in respect of the financial shortfall that will occur when Russia refuses to pay its dues to the Council of Europe. I have already had discussions and I make this plea to the Government: we cannot do this job in part. We have suspended Russia from the Council of Europe, but we cannot let the Council of Europe go down to the difficulties that will occur as a result of the Russians; we need to be prepared to step in and make up the difference that will come about when they do not pay their dues. The amount is not huge. Our permanent representative gave me the estimate that the amount we would have to pay is somewhere between €4 million a year and €9 million a year, depending on how this is calculated; it is a rounding error whichever way one calculates it. Therefore, we should accept that and agree to pay it. The French have already agreed, as have the Germans and the Dutch. Why have we not done so? Will we do that pretty quickly?
Lastly, in the intervention that I made during the statement by the Home Secretary, I offered the delegation’s services in terms of being able to talk to the neighbouring countries of Ukraine and to work with them to sort out the problems of migration. We have, in the Council of Europe, a body that looks after migration very well. We do not need to reinvent it; we have it there, and let us use it to the best of our ability.
I rise to voice my condemnation of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and to give my full support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. I would also like to voice the support of the people of Llanelli, many, many of whom have been hugely generous, offering accommodation for Ukrainian refugees, responding to an initiative by our Polish community to bring goods to send to Ukrainians arriving in eastern Poland and giving money, through an online facility kindly set up by Llanelli Rotary Club. I have also had lots of messages from constituents urging the Government to relax the visa rules and take a much more practical approach to enable and assist Ukrainian refugees to come here; they feel angry and embarrassed that the UK is not offering the welcome that other European countries are offering, with their permission for Ukrainians to stay for three years. I urge the Government to rethink their approach immediately and open our doors to Ukrainians.
It is understandable, when we see the horrific scenes on TV, to focus on the land, sea and air threats posed by Russia, but in the short time available I want to focus on the need for unity across the free world, and the very powerful threats posed to that united resolve by the use of cyber-attacks and information warfare. Make no mistake, Russia has very considerable expertise in those matters. There is nothing new about propaganda or information warfare, but technological advances and our increasing reliance on technology make it much easier, quicker and cheaper to customise messages ever more precisely, for ever more targeted audiences thousands of miles away.
No longer are we subjected to a billboard slogan merely four times a day or to the same TV advert aired a dozen times in an evening, but, every spare moment, as we idly thumb our phones, we are ready targets to be bombarded with internet messages. Moreover, this bombardment masquerades as our free choice, as we scroll and click, often oblivious to the subliminal messages that target us. Worryingly, some security experts argue that 62% of all web traffic is generated by bots. The potential for such “computational propaganda” to be used by state and non-state actors both overtly and covertly is enormous. It can be used to stir up social unrest and racial hatred and erode the will of the population to defend itself.
We have seen the use of hybrid tactics by Russia in Ukraine to influence not only different sections of the Ukrainian population and the Russian population back home, but opinion much more widely across the free world, which Russia has a very strong interest in. The very nature of this form of hybrid warfare is that it is difficult to attribute responsibility with certainty. Perpetrators may choose to claim responsibility, to create deliberate ambiguity, or to use technology to conceal their involvement completely, creating the impression of spontaneous, indigenous action. Furthermore, targeting and manipulating public opinion, even if systematic and attributable, cannot be prosecuted under international humanitarian law, which focuses on physical harm.
I appreciate the difficulties that Ministers have in speaking about these matters in public, but I simply urge the Government to make considerable investment in our capabilities in respect of information warfare and countering this type of attack, and ask that we urge our NATO allies to do likewise.
That brings me to unity, which is crucial to countering threats from Russia. It has been heartening to see such a unified initial response from our allies in NATO and, more broadly, from countries across the world, but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) said from the Dispatch Box, this will not be easy to maintain and we must constantly work at it. I urge the Government to make dialogue and strengthening relationships with our allies, both in NATO and beyond, an absolute priority and to give it the resources that it needs.
Putin thought that when he invaded Ukraine the people there would crack and that the west would split, but he was wrong. We have seen the most inspirational demonstration of courage in Ukraine and of unity in the west. That has been represented in this House since the beginning of the crisis. I personally commend the position taken by those on the Opposition Front Bench in their conduct of this crisis and thank them for it. In particular, I commend the speech made by the shadow Defence Secretary earlier, the position taken by the shadow Foreign Secretary and, indeed, by the Leader of the Opposition. It was also very good to hear the former Leader of the Opposition earlier in the debate speaking on behalf of the socialists of Russia in support of the people there opposing Putin. Putin has brought the whole House together, which is a very good thing.
This morning, in New York, the United Nations voted by a great majority in condemnation of Russia, with countries, including the UAE and Israel, which had abstained in previous resolutions, voting in support. It is worth recording with shame the names of those countries that supported Russia in that vote—North Korea, Syria, Eritrea, and Belarus. What a line-up! I do have some concern about the 35 countries that abstained in that vote, including our friends India and South Africa and I hope that they will come round to a more vocal condemnation in due course.
It is also worth recognising the decision by the Human Rights Council to establish a commission of inquiry into violations of human rights by Russian forces—by forces on all sides. I agree very strongly with my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), who pointed out earlier that it is by holding soldiers and commanders to account for what happens on the battlefield that we will put the greatest pressure on those troops to resist the orders that they receive, to behave well and to lay down their arms and withdraw.
I commend the UK’s leadership on the sanctions regime. We are squeezing the windpipe of the Russian economy and its tentacles here in this country, which are many and deep because of our role as a financial centre. I do want to emphasise that not every Russian here in London is a Putinist or an oligarch; some are dissidents against the Putin regime. I am concerned about the calls we are hearing for blanket appropriations or expulsions of Russians. That is not the British way. Everybody has basic civil rights, including the right to legal representation. We must uphold the rule of law in this country.
I wish I had advice to give those on the Front Bench on the strategy or the way out of this conflict, but I will focus the rest of my remarks on what might be done to mitigate the horror unfolding in Ukraine. I commend the Government on their commitment to humanitarian priorities, sending 1,000 troops to the borders of Ukraine. I also commend people who are sending help, and particularly those sending money.
It is admirable that we are now working with the Disasters Emergency Committee. It was announced today that we have set up a new fund and are committing £20 million to it to match the donations made by the British people. That is a better way to help refugees than by sending material support. We should send a signal that the best way to support people is financially.
Here at home, I commend the Government on expanding the family route and setting up the community sponsorship programme. We also need a philanthropic fund here to support those community sponsorship groups. The best thing we can do is to arrange financial support for those groups, rather than piling up blankets, toys and second-hand clothes in council buildings; I am not sure that is the best thing we could be doing at this time.
Of course, one thing we cannot do with philanthropy is defence spending. I end by commending the Government on their commitment to the Defence budget: 2.4% of GDP is a tremendous step. However, the fact is that we need to go further. It is great that we have invested in sub-threshold defences, but our allies are now fighting above the threshold. We need more men and women in uniform. We need more tanks and armoured vehicles, but they are vulnerable to being taken out from the air, so we need more cyber-defences. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister agrees that the conventional war is not over and we must invest further in our armed forces.
I commend the men and women of the Royal Welsh battlegroup, in particular the Royal Engineers, the Royal Artillery and the Royal Tank Regiment, many of them based in my constituency, who are fighting to defend NATO.
The invasion of Ukraine is brutal and it is wrong; the justifications for it are a tissue of lies. The resistance of the Ukrainian people against such an onslaught, with Russia deploying internationally banned illegal weapons against civilian targets, is heroic. I imagine everybody here is humbled by the bravery and courage of ordinary people taking up arms to confront such aggression.
Less than an hour ago, I spoke to my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway), who is in western Ukraine. He is a military officer and has been talking to the military there, who are pleading, “Please send us defence anti-tank weapons and defence anti-aircraft weapons.” He has emphasised that, and he asked me to intervene in this debate to make that comment.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I backed today’s motion precisely because it calls for the provision of further defensive equipment and “humanitarian and other assistance”. Although it ought to be unnecessary, I also join the calls to ensure that the UK’s NATO defence and security obligations are fulfilled to counter the threats from Russia.
Those threats are not simply on the ground in Ukraine today, nor is the action to tackle hostile Russian activity limited to support against the current invasion. We must ensure that the tools required to counter Russia now—our continued work with NATO—and the resources required to keep our guard up against a long-term and growing threat are provided in full. I will turn briefly to each of those strands.
On 23 February, the Minister for Asia and the Middle East said in the debate on the Russian invasion:
“We are committed to bringing forward the economic crime Bill. It will establish a new public register of beneficial ownership of overseas companies… It will ensure that individuals and entities can no longer hide in the shadows.”—[Official Report, 23 February 2022; Vol. 709, c. 336.]
I very much welcome that, but given that the ISC Russia report published in 2020 included a chapter on tackling crime, it is hugely disappointing that we do not already have the necessary legislation on the statute book. That is particularly the case given that the Russia report contained the warning from the National Crime Agency that, for example,
“there are several ways in which the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 is too restrictive.”
The report also described the changes the NCA would wish to see to the legislation. I therefore welcome the new legislation, but can we have it brought forward with immediate effect?
On my second point, our relationship with NATO, again, the ISC Russia report was clear, saying at paragraph 129:
“NATO remains at the heart of strategic thought…Diminishing the strength of NATO is therefore a key aim of the Kremlin, as is undermining the credibility of Article V of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, and ‘delivering NATO and non-NATO deterrence’ therefore forms a key part of the 2019 cross-Whitehall Russia Strategy.”
The ISC was
“encouraged to note that Defence Intelligence shares its intelligence assessments with NATO, which we were told aim to try ‘to ensure as common an understanding of the nature of the Russian threat and situation that we face’. Defence Intelligence highlighted several ‘really important parts of how we feed into the NATO system’”.
It is self-evidently the case that with the attack on Ukraine, and for our future defence, that work with NATO will have to be supported and enhanced.
That leads me to my final and most important point—resources. The ISC asked this question:
“If we consider the Russian threat to have been clearly indicated in 2006 with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, and then take events such as the annexation of Crimea in 2014 as firmly underlining Russian intent on the global stage, the question is whether the Intelligence Community should—and could—have reacted more”.
MI5 was clear that there was an inevitable reprioritisation due to the terrorist threat. Defence Intelligence viewed it similarly. SIS and GCHQ saw it as due to the longer lead time required for work on Russia. SIS said:
“I don’t think we did take our eye off the ball. I think the appetite for work against the Russian threat has sort of waxed and waned.”
GCHQ agreed. The ISC fully recognised
“the very considerable pressures on the Agencies…and that they have a finite amount of resource, which they must focus on operational priorities. Nevertheless, reacting to the here and now is inherently inefficient and—in our opinion—until recently, the Government had badly underestimated the Russian threat and the response it required.”
I hope that no one now underestimates the scale of the Russian threat, or the resources necessary, now and in future, and not least to the intelligence agencies, to counter it.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate. It was an honour to welcome the ambassador to Ukraine to the House earlier today and, on behalf of my Ynys Môn constituents, to give him and President Zelensky our support and respect.
This debate is about standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, and standing united as a Parliament and as a people. We must give support in every way we can. I can talk about economic sanctions and military support, but today I would like to talk about people—the British people. Like many of my colleagues in this place, I am experiencing an avalanche of emails from concerned constituents asking how they can help. When the people of Ynys Môn faced covid, their incredible spirit of community, togetherness and resilience really took my breath away. I think it is something to do with being an island community. I am seeing that again now: the outpouring of love and support for a country that many of the people in my constituency have no connection with and have never visited. My constituents want to do something to help. From families in Llanfairpwll, Cemaes and Menai offering rooms to refugees, to an enterprising chap in Holyhead wanting to collect vanloads of supplies and a lady in Valley wanting to know how she can donate blankets, the offers of help are pouring in. My colleagues and their teams will be working just as hard as me and my team to signpost and co-ordinate these generous offers. We cannot and will not stand by and watch the war unfold with all the unnecessary suffering that goes with it. We need as individuals and communities to do something—anything—to help.
We do not want to feel impotent in the face of this cruelty, so I want to use this opportunity to share how we can direct our support most effectively. When donating money, it is important to give to a registered charity. The charity British-Ukrainian Aid and the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain both have fundraising pages online. Big multinational charities such as the Red Cross, UNICEF and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are also raising money to provide large-scale support.
If, like my lovely lady in Valley, people want to donate supplies, the Ministry of Defence has informed me that the Ukrainian Red Cross is the best central point of contact. It can direct people to local collection points to drop off supplies, and the most-needed items are fresh batteries, flashlights, warm clothes, shoes, sanitary products, baby formula, towels and bedding. If people would prefer to donate their time or their property, such as my constituents in Menai, Cemaes and Llanfairpwll, please co-ordinate and contact the Refugee Council, which is co-ordinating offers of housing and accommodation. It is also looking for volunteers to support refugees who arrive here.
Finally, the Ukraine embassy is also keeping its website regularly updated with information about the different ways in which people can help. We all desperately want to help in this abhorrent situation, but I urge everyone to make use of those central agencies to co-ordinate our efforts. I hope the Minister in closing will highlight this Government’s humanitarian sponsorship pathway. By working together, we can make best use of the resources we have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.
I read a tweet this morning from a fellow MP and mum of three in Ukraine—Lesia Vasylenko—that quite frankly tore my heart out. She said:
“I don’t know what to write anymore. Second time in 3 months I had to hand off my 9 months baby girl, not knowing if I will ever see her again. This is a pain only a mother can know. It’s more painful than all of war put together.”
We can only imagine the pain that Ukrainians are going through. Like many Members, I have been inundated with emails from constituents who desperately want Britain and our allies to do everything we can to help, and that is what I stand up in the debate to convey. We are all in awe of the bravery of the Ukrainian people, and we all want to help.
The European Union expects 7 million Ukrainians to be displaced in this tragic, bloody war. According to the UN’s refugee agency, more than 500,000 have already fled to neighbouring countries. We have a proud history of helping people fleeing violence and persecution, and we must do everything we can to support people seeking safety. For everyone who believes that democracy is worth defending—I know we all do here in this House—we must unite and stand to ensure that President Putin and his kleptocratic cronies do not achieve their objectives. That means doing everything we can to help Ukraine defend itself against this invasion and the occupation of its territory. It means reinforcing our NATO allies in eastern Europe to ensure this conflict does not escalate, and it means the toughest possible and most urgent sanctions to increase the cost of war and occupation in Ukraine, so that it becomes untenable.
It also means helping the people in Ukraine as much as we can. Yesterday, I chaired a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on the friends of CAFOD, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, where we heard about the incredible work undertaken by partners in Caritas Ukraine. It has been active there for 30 years, and through its local connections, it is already working to transport people to shelter and to organise spaces where children can play, to help them cope with the harrowing experiences they have been through. All those who want to help can donate directly to that work. They can donate to agencies on the ground or through the Disasters Emergency Committee. Everyone who feels that they want to do something to help has that option available to them today.
Does the hon. Lady share my concern that by sending convoys of material out to Poland, we might risk interfering with supply chains of medical and military equipment and confusing the situation on the ground? I do not speak with great authority, but I have heard that concern. Does she agree that the best way to support refugees in the region is through financial gifts through the DEC?
People want to do everything they can to help. Local communities are working incredibly hard to support those communities in Ukraine in every way possible here in the UK and in the neighbouring countries. I think everybody should do what they can to help through local organisations and advertised means. BBC Radio Newcastle, for example, has published a list of places in the north-east where people can offer support and donations. Everybody who wants to help can and should do so, because that is something we can all do today.
I discussed exactly that circumstance with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities yesterday. He will be issuing details about how we can go about that, because many communities clearly want to help. The hon. Lady will find that it is in the pipeline.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. That is an important example of how important it is to work together on a cross-party basis in this House. We are all working in unity to stand up on the issue.
The debate is important because we know that President Putin is banking on cynicism and apathy to win the day. He has doubted the west’s outpouring of solidarity. He thinks that it will not last and that it will wane, and that in the longer term, we will not want to bear the economic costs of what it will take to continue to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainians. We need to show the world that we are better than that and that we will not wane. I say in all support that our Government need to ensure that any economic pain that we have to shoulder as a country is borne by those who can bear it. That is the responsibility of our Government.
Our country has done what is necessary to defend democracy on this continent before and we will do it again. I stand today to declare my support and that of the thousands of constituents who have contacted all hon. Members, and to ensure that it is known that we have that support.
When communism collapsed in the 1990s, the shadow of war in Europe appeared to have been lifted. Our expectation of peace has been fundamental. It led to our values being taken for granted, cynicism about our institutions flourishing, and some even nurturing scorn for the idea of the west and our open democratic societies.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ended that era. There can be no doubt about where we stand or why it matters. The horrifying images of tanks rolling down residential streets, flats being shelled, rockets hitting playgrounds and innocent civilians dying mean that there is no ambiguity. There is right and there is wrong. The invasion is utterly wrong and those acts are war crimes. At the same time, we have seen the heroic defiance of the Ukrainian people—their bravery, fortitude and humour and their refusal to surrender their country, even at the cost of their own lives.
The contrast between President Zelensky and Vladimir Putin is stark. Putin’s attempts to mislead and confuse succeeded when it came to Crimea, Syria and beyond. This time, he has succeeded only in confusing his own army and uniting most of the world against him. German politics has undergone a watershed; Switzerland is no longer neutral; sanctions, asset freezes and banking suspensions stretch the globe from Latin America to the far east; and even China has stopped talking about NATO provocation. The clear and repeated warnings from the United States and our intelligence agencies proved entirely correct, while every assurance from the Kremlin and its fellow travellers was a lie.
We can be proud of the role of our country. The UK has trained over 22,000 members of the Ukrainian army. We sent 2,000 of our anti-tank weapons before the invasion began. We continue to send supplies and hardware. The Prime Minister has been speaking to President Zelensky every day, and led the effort to exclude Russia from the SWIFT banking system. Nothing is off the table when it comes to further sanctions.
Putin must fail, his morally bankrupt regime must fall and the Russian oligarchs who have based themselves here, while maintaining their role there, must choose. We have asked too few questions of the foreign money that has bought high-value property, serviced by London lawyers, accountants and advisers. Tolerance needs to be replaced by transparency and action.
Yet equally, our issue is not with the Russian people, or many Russians living in the UK who share our horror at Putin’s war crimes. Most are as opposed to his actions as Russian-speaking Ukrainians. Peterborough is home to so many from eastern Europe. We have relatives not only of those under siege in Ukrainian cities, but of those from countries nearby, who understandably fear what may happen next. The Baltic states and Poland are members of NATO. Our commitment to defend their borders from Russian aggression is absolute.
It is heartbreaking that we cannot go further to help Ukraine without risking direct war with Russia, with consequences that would be hard to contain or control. Nevertheless, Putin is not achieving his objectives. As his frustration grows, the deliberate bombardment of civilians is increasing to appalling effect.
For my family, this is personal because Anton “Gido” Petela, who died only very recently, was from Ukraine. While his family originally lived in the Habsburg empire, in Austria-Hungary, following world war one it became part of Poland, but in 1939, the Soviet Union came— déjà vu and he told his family of the horrors on finding bodies walled up in cellars when the Soviets retreated in 1941. He ended up here in the UK, had two sons and three granddaughters, and I married one, hence for me this is a personal experience.
Let me first pay tribute to my colleague Zoryan, who is an LGBT activist. He and other human rights activists in the west of Ukraine—and his mum—are digging in. They are the reason Ukraine is going to win, because they are digging in and they are going nowhere. Ukraine’s struggle is our struggle because it is a moment of clarity. Our choice is between democracy and authoritarianism, because neither option can be taken for granted and the pendulum can swing both ways.
Let me be clear that there is no side of this House and no shade of opinion contained within it that has not found itself sullied in some way by association with these malicious actors. Most of the time, they did so because they thought no one would particularly notice or because maybe there was a bit of money in it for them. However, too many did it because stations allowed them to amplify messages they thought were somehow not being heard. For those on the right, RT was quick to reinforce the ideas they had about the west, and Europe in particular, being decadent and in decline. For the left, it was the so-called anti-imperialists’ message of the contrast with the corporate media we have here.
It is no great pleasure to say that too many in my own party have done that dance with the devil, most prominently when the former leader and former member of the SNP, Alex Salmond, accepted the lucrative offer of a show on RT. What was his excuse? Other than narcissism and the money, I can imagine that he probably thought this moment would not come to pass and that Scotland’s concerns were somehow not connected with the wider problems posed by Putin’s regime. He is wrong.
I can say all this with a relatively clean conscience, as I wrote my first article in the Glasgow Herald to speak out against Scottish nationalists appearing on RT back in May 2016. None the less, I feel a great pang of shame every time I am asked about this, whether it be by people outside Scotland or closer to home inside Scotland. I feel shame because I know I campaigned for someone who proved himself to be so craven and naive, shame because he has been useful idiot for a TV station that promoted far-right, homophobic, Islamophobic and anti-vaccine messages during a global pandemic, and deep shame because I know that in some way it has hurt the cause of Scotland, which we on these Benches hold dear. I only hope that he finally has the decency to announce that he will not return to that station as the allegations of war crimes mount. But that is the point: these platforms seek to delegitimise all standpoints in the democratic system to weaken the whole body politic. They do so through false equivalence, through gaslighting and through the breathtaking cynicism that says all of these systems are as bad as one another really.
So what all of us need to do is be ruthless in confronting those in our own parties and movements who act in ways that are deleterious to the good functioning of a democratic system, those who facilitate despots and hard men, those who take money—and money that has been looted from less wealthy places—and those who allow criminals to escape accountability. Finally, the best time to have done all of that would have been in 2006 after the murder of Alexander Litvinenko; the second-best time is now.
It is a week since our world changed, and for eight nights children have worried in their beds and their bunkers about whether they will wake in the morning or lose their parents. Putin has placed the fate of his legacy on this invasion and that makes him dangerous, so we must focus on limiting the bloodshed however we can.
On the humanitarian situation, there is much worse to come. We must record and document war crimes and ensure that we finally have an atrocity prevention strategy in place across every war zone and conflict zone. We must plan for the use of chemical, incendiary and thermobaric weapons and have meaningful repercussions in place should they be used. There is a lot of discussion at the moment of a humanitarian corridor, but I am afraid I do not support these because they only work when all sides agree and we cannot trust the Russians. Small corridors are insufficient in a nation this size to get the aid that is needed through, and ultimately these corridors become political footballs with much political energy wasted on them. One example of that is the Aleppo enclave.
My hon. Friend is somewhat of an expert on foreign affairs. Is she finding that there is an outpouring in Rutland and Melton of constituents wanting to support the humanitarian effort and lend their help to refugees trying to flee Ukraine?
My constituents are definitely determined to help people and they can do that best through financial donations. The Ukrainians have been clear with me that they fear that clothes, food and medicine could be laced with all sorts of appalling weapons; we have to make sure we offer what they ask for, which is financial donations.
Humanitarian corridors become political footballs. There are no examples of where they have worked in the world, and the UN Security Council more often than not has to approve every single aid delivery. We have to make sure aid gets to where it is needed. However, there is a problem when our sanctions regime is stopping the effective delivery of humanitarian aid. We need a humanitarian exemption like that agreed through UN resolution 2615 (2021) in December, which the US has also passed domestically, because currently humanitarian aid organisations are unable to negotiate with sanctioned entities. We may not like it, but they have to engage with all parties to ensure aid can reach those who need it, so I urge the Government to pass a similar motion to that which the US and the UN passed on the Afghanistan debacle to make sure we get what we need so that aid can get to everyone in Ukraine.
We also need to make sure the UK holds a donor conference, as we did on Syria in 2016, to bring in the funds needed from around the world. I also urge the Government to make sure we have balloons ready and waiting to go up to keep the internet on in Ukraine, because there is no question but that the Russians will at some point decide that they have truly lost the information war and they will switch off the internet; we have the capabilities to keep it switched on.
On sanctions, I welcome what the Government have done particularly on the Russian central bank, which was a true economic strike. I also know that it is due to the British Government that Russian access to SWIFT has been banned across the world, and it was the Prime Minister who made sure in G7 calls that that happened when others were reluctant.
But now we need to go further. Secondary sanctions are required on those cynically filling the gaps made by the sanctions we put in place. We also need to sanction Shoigu and the military generals and chief of staff Gerasimov, and to use our family of overseas territories, which can help us because they hold information on these shell companies and are willing to play their part. We also need to impose restrictions on rouble clearing, and the No. 10 business group should work to make sure it is not just the oil companies that stop working there; we need retail and consumer companies also to pull out of Russia now.
On the military effort, I welcome the fact that since November we have been planning and arming our friends. We now need more air defence systems. We also need to launch deniable cyber-attacks against the Russian Government if we do not see them pull back and we see chemical weapons used in any form. We should also look at defection offers and rewards, which of course should be deniable as well.
I turn briefly to the nuclear threat that Putin has made. It is a sign of weakness. It is a sign of the importance of Ukraine to him, the impact of the measures that we have put in place and the unity of our alliances. However, unfortunately, we must take the threat seriously.
On information operations, we have done an incredible job. The UK has led on this internationally, exposing the reality of what is happening on the ground and the false flags. I pay tribute to Bellingcat and the Centre for Information Resilience, which have done incredible work. We must deny Russia plausible deniability and ensure that future prosecutions can take place. We must also amplify unease and protest within Russia and amplify the costs of its actions.
On diplomatic measures, yes, Putin has united us, but we must ensure that that does not push him closer to China. We must also expel Russian spies. The peace talks are a charade. There has been no ceasefire. When I worked on Syria, we saw exactly the same ridiculous measures, and they made no meaningful contribution.
This is one man’s invasion, and one man is responsible. The bravery of the people of Ukraine is something of which songs will be sung for many years to come. In the Ukrainian national anthem, it says:
“The glory and freedom of Ukraine has not yet died”,
and it must not. Slava Ukraini! Heroiam slava!
Not a single one of us in this House would not do anything that could be done to bring the slaughter in Ukraine to an end, and not a single one of us in this House does not feel a certain helplessness because we cannot make that happen, particularly when we think of the children. That makes it all the more important that we do everything else that we can to support the people of Ukraine in their hour of need.
First, the Government must continue supplying the weapons—do not tell us how; just carry on. Secondly, the sanctions must be tough, and they must remain in place. We must isolate Putin for the pariah that he has become. I say that because the only sure way to remove the risk presented in the long term not just to Ukraine but to the rest of Europe is for there to be a change of leadership in Russia. That may not happen today or in the next two years, but at some point the Russian people will say, “Why are we experiencing all these hardships for the sake of a war with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, the purpose of which we do not understand?”
Thirdly, we must collect the evidence for the ICC. It is essential to bear witness to the crimes being committed. We can see them thanks to the courage of President Zelensky, who has been inspirational—any puppet that Putin installs in Kyiv will have no credibility—and thanks to the journalists who have stood by their posts, filing and broadcasting to counter the lies and disinformation that are as much a part of the war as the rockets that Russia is raining on the people of Ukraine. Fourthly, for those who are streaming across the border, it is the responsibility of all of us to offer them a warm welcome.
We must also think about what this means for the future, as was just said, because the world that we thought we understood has been turned upside-down. Now that President Putin has invaded Ukraine, who is to say with any confidence that he would not be prepared to do the same to the other countries that surround him? We have made a pledge to those who have joined NATO that an attack on one is an attack on all, and we will have to reinforce their defences with our presence to make clear to Russia that this is a line that it does not cross.
We need to invest more in military capability to be ready for the conflicts of the future. Look at the announcement made by Chancellor Scholz on Sunday—that would have been unthinkable even a month ago. We must rebuild our alliances with the European Union. This is no time to be falling out over fish or customs procedures, because, whether a country is in or out of the European Union, we are all Europeans, we face the threat together and we must be ready to make peace together when, one day, there is a change of the leadership in Russia.
What we are witnessing is an attack on the values that bind us together as democratic countries: the freedom to say what we think; the power to choose by whom we are governed; the ability to make those decisions free from the fear of violence at the hands of others; and hope. What we have to do is offer hope that, by those means, we can build a better and more peaceful world to hand on to our children and the children of Ukraine, who are uppermost in our thoughts today and in every day that is to come.
As countries in Europe and around the world rally in support of Ukraine, so too have Members of this House—this afternoon and ever since the crisis emerged. It proves that in these dark times there is always far more that unites us than divides us. What is more, across the country there are charities, communities and individuals eager to show their support, pitch in and help. In my constituency, I am continually inspired by the outpouring of solidarity that I am witnessing. The work of one such group, spearheaded by Rob Scammell, Ed Maxfield and Doreen Joy, will involve driving vans to the Ukrainian border to deliver food and supplies. These are remarkable people in their own right, but what is more, in just 24 hours, largely through the generosity of local people, they have already filled one van load. Their willingness to brighten such dark times serves as a powerful reminder of the abiding presence of kindness and decency in Britain today.
I totally take my hon. Friend’s point, but may I re-emphasise the point made by my hon. Friends the Members for Devizes (Danny Kruger) and for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns)? I have personally seen what happens when people jam up the lines of supply with supplies that are not necessary, so I totally take my hon. Friends’ point that it is better to send money rather than goods, because money gets through quicker.
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that point, which has been heard loud and clear. The overriding point is that people want to help, and they will have heard that message loud and clear throughout the United Kingdom. Schools also want to help, pitching in with collections. Happisburgh primary school is already filling tables. A collection from Blakeney, a beautiful village in North Norfolk, is driving to Lviv today, and a van is going from Cley on Saturday. The point is that I do not represent a metropolitan constituency, with a large population in a city centre; these are small rural villages, where there is an outpouring of people who want to lend their support. Mr Deputy Speaker, you can only imagine the pride that I have to represent my own home at such times as this.
The reality is that humanitarian crises are never simple, and where there is displacement and mass movements of people there lie individual human beings, each with their own life, needs, hopes and fears. Such a multi-faceted situation requires a multi-pronged approach. I am pleased that the Government recognise that, and are working to deliver it. The United Nations has today reported that 800,000 people have left Ukraine. A herculean effort is now needed. For what it is worth, I think our expanded humanitarian route to support British nationals and anybody settled in the UK to bring grandparents, parents, children and siblings here is the right thing to do. Expediting the route to safety and cutting through bureaucracy by waiving the normal requirements, other than security checks, is the right thing to do.
Establishing a scheme for Ukrainians who have no ties to the UK to come here is the right thing to do as well, and we have committed to do that at speed. As we have heard, that scheme will allow sponsors such as communities, individuals and local authorities to bring Ukrainians into the UK. It is imperative that those communities and individuals who want to sponsor people do so as quickly as they can. That approach will not only offer sanctuary to many but allow willing citizens of this country to play an active part in helping others. I have already had numerous requests in my constituency office to provide that help.
I want to end by saying that many Members will be familiar with the adage that history does not repeat itself; but it often rhymes. As many refugees flowed westward across Europe in the 20th century, once again in the 21st century Europeans are displaced and heading west. Humanity is on the move. Our response now will indicate who we are and what we stand for. Policies are in place, and we should commend the Government and the Ministers in the Chamber today, who have worked tirelessly around the clock, for all that they are doing in Ukraine’s hour of need.
In the last week, the terrifying wail of air-raid sirens has been heard on the European continent for the first time in decades. The heroic reports of the resistance of the Ukrainian army alongside brave civilians bearing arms, theoretically outgunned, outmanned and outmatched, are legion. However, Putin’s imperialist and indiscriminate invasion has not only killed women and children sheltering in their homes as so-called collateral damage, but there is increasing evidence of civilians, including families, being explicitly targeted by Russian forces. He is encircling civilian areas to block off supply routes, he has used cluster munitions in residential areas and there are reports, unverified at this point, of even worse. In short, Vladimir Putin has brought war back to the continent of Europe and in doing so has shown blatant disregard for the Minsk protocol and, crucially and shamefully, the Geneva conventions. Vladimir Putin’s enduring legacy will be that of a war criminal. I very much hope, although sadly doubt, that he will pay for his crimes in The Hague at some future point.
The only heartening thing—the only bit of hope—beyond, of course, the bravery and skill of the Ukrainians, is the cohesion and unity of purpose of the western alliance, including our friends in the European Union who have taken some hitherto unimaginable decisions and acted at a speed that runs entirely counter to the usual sedate Brussels pace. If Putin thought that he could divide the EU, weaken NATO and break the international community, not only has he fallen short, but he has achieved the polar opposite.
The antithesis of Putin’s cowardice as he cowers from covid and criticism in the Kremlin is President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people. I have been asked by a great many constituents in Paisley and Renfrewshire North to send our very best wishes to the people of Ukraine and to state that we stand in solidarity with them. As many others have said, everyone wants to help. We are assisting a group of Polish residents in Renfrewshire who are collecting essential items for Ukrainian refugees. My office, despite the advice of the hon. Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) earlier, has been acting as a drop-off point since yesterday and we have already been inundated. Some of those people speak to me, sadly and almost in disbelief, about their own UK Government’s refusal to match the EU’s offer of refuge for three years without a visa requirement. Although the changes announced yesterday are welcome, they still fall short of where we should be.
We gave the people of Ukraine an assurance in the Budapest memorandum against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine. I do not want to be naive about just how difficult that undertaking was and is, but we have singularly failed to do that. Far worse, in my opinion, is the failure to offer unconditional refuge to the people of Ukraine. This Government have done a great many things right in the past few weeks, but that failure, alongside the refusal to close the Russian sanctions loopholes and failing even to sanction some key individuals already sanctioned by our allies, is a stain on this Government and this country.
Of course, the villain in all of this is Vladimir Putin. His actions are severely damaging the long-term interests of Russia and, crucially, of the Russian people. I suspect that despite Putin’s best efforts, an increasing number of Russians understand that as well. Thousands march against the invasion, for peace and freedom, and end up thrown in the back of a police van. In Putin’s Russia, the mildest criticism will not be tolerated. History tells us, however, that that cannot last and that ultimately the longing for peace and freedom cannot be silenced. We stand with those Russians who seek peace and a Putin-free future just as much as we stand with the people of Ukraine.
We stand united in this House with the people of Ukraine. These are dark days, as we see daily on television; it is also a dark time for Europe. We are seeing the invasion of a sovereign independent state and scenes that have not been seen since the second world war. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said that a way of life and a world order are being challenged; they are.
The institutions put in place after the second world war were created by men and women who had lived through the horrors of the first and second world wars. They established rules to avoid what we are seeing now in Ukraine. My party was proudly involved in the establishment of NATO—not an aggressive pact, but one that meant collective security and keeping peace in Europe. When Clem Attlee visited Berlin in 1949 to see the airlift around the Soviet blockade, he said that the system that operated behind the iron curtain was a “ghastly travesty” with no true freedom of speech—a system in which scientists, poets and artists were arrested for deviating from the ruling orthodoxy. That is what modern Russia has today.
May I dispel the arguments from all the individuals who say that it had to be like that? It did not. Look back to 1994, when we had the NATO-Russian partnership for peace and the Euro-Atlantic partnership—a way of trying to build with Russia a secure future not only for Russia, but for the rest of Europe. The reason that that approach has not borne fruit is President Putin, who has systematically raped the economy of Russia and who has impoverished people, with a smaller and smaller clique of individuals making the terrible decisions that have led to the invasion of Ukraine.
Did it have to be like that? No, it did not. Have we taken our eye off the ball? Yes, we have. The report by the Intelligence and Security Committee, on which the right hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) and I serve, is now two years old. It spells out very clearly the opportunities missed. I have to say that the Government have turned a blind eye and are doing so even now. They laud themselves for the sanctions that they have brought in, which I support, but has it taken the invasion of a European sovereign nation for them to wake up?
Even now, more can and should be done. We have to ensure that whatever we do now, we are united across Europe. Forget Brexit, forget political slogans about whatever the Germans or others do—we have to stand united in Europe with all those who oppose what is happening in Ukraine.
We also have to ensure that what we do will endure. There will not be a quick fix—I fear that the tragedy unfolding on our television screens will get a lot worse, alas—but we owe this to the people of Ukraine. To defend the way of life that we take for granted, we have to stand up in this House and speak our opinions freely. We also owe it to ourselves to ensure that the sanctions remain in place and that we work to protect those freedoms.
To reiterate the comments of the SNP spokesperson, who is no longer in his place, yesterday a Russian bomb exploded at Babyn Yar, the largest mass grave from the holocaust, where 33,000 Jews were killed one by one in a two-day period and where 100,000 people were ultimately buried. I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, because on 24 and 25 January, I attended a European Jewish Association delegation to Kyiv to attend Babyn Yar. Just five weeks later, the site where I lit a candle in remembrance has been attacked.
When I was in Kyiv, there was pro-militia graffiti on most streets. The Ukrainians I spoke to on the street had a growing feeling of anxiety, of not knowing what was coming, while we all expected the worst. That has now been realised and they have been attacked. They have been invaded, and it is right that the world supports them.
World Jewish Relief and many other community groups across Prestwich, Whitefield and Radcliffe are raising vital funds for those in Ukraine and those who have already fled Ukraine, and I put on the record my thanks to them. I also thank the Government; so far, I think they have set just the right tone with their humanitarian, economic and military support for Ukraine, all of which has rightly been offered on a swift and resolute basis.
However, with attacks like yesterday’s, perhaps we need to look forward to what support we can offer our friends when this brutal, illegal conflict is over, to repair, rebuild and regenerate, and to protect Ukraine’s heritage. As someone of Ukrainian heritage myself, this is an incredibly challenging time. My family over there are still there, but I know that they are safe; the region they live in has not yet been attacked.
Sanctions have been proposed for many weeks. While I think the Government have got the tone right and Parliament is at its best when it is united, Parliament is also here to act as a scrutineer and sometimes to say, “We don’t think you’ve quite got it right. This is what we think you should do.” Many individuals have been highlighted to whom sanctions should be applied. Where sanctions have not been applied, they need to be applied swiftly and meaningfully.
However, we also need to ensure that many more supportive actions are taken. I appreciated the comments by the Minister for the Armed Forces about what further support is coming in the form of air defence and military support. Having worked with the Minister for Asia and the Middle East many times, I know that she is resolutely committed to ensuring that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office tackles this situation very seriously.
We are in a very challenging time, and we all know that it will last longer and get more serious. With Putin’s heel on the throat of Europe, we all need to take this situation extremely seriously; there will only be more bloodshed before he finally sees sense. I do not think that will be for a while yet, but we must ensure that when he does see sense, the international courts and the rest of the world see him for what he is—a deranged megalomaniac. Hopefully, that will not be too far off. There will be one message from this House, from the rest of the country and, hopefully, from the rest of the world: Slava Ukraini.
Putin’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.
Let us be in absolutely no doubt—not that I believe anyone in this House, or anyone across these islands, Europe or the wider west is—that this is Putin’s war. It is his war of choice—a war against Ukraine, a war against its people, a war against its democracy, a war against its freedom, and a war against that most precious thing of all: its hope. But let Putin be in no doubt that we are united. We are unified in our opposition to his barbarity, and that will not change. We will stand in solidarity and in support of President Zelensky and all those who stand at the forefront of the fight for democracy at this moment.
It is some 30 years since the USSR collapsed. When it did, I was but a bairn—a toddler in my mum’s arms. I could not have envisaged that in my lifetime I would turn on the phone with my own wee boy in the room and look at an image that a woman had posted of her child on the bathroom floor in a makeshift bed, because that is where her bairn goes when the air-raid sirens go off. It does so of its own volition. She says that her child has now become an adult. Putin’s inhumanity to man has caused that.
This Government have done much good in recent weeks. The military support that they have provided is to be commended and their humanitarian response is a start, but we can and must urge them to go further. I believe that they will, in time, do just that. On the humanitarian response, we are of course no longer within the European Union, but we are Europeans and we should have a collective sense of purpose when it comes to our response on this most severe of issues, this refugee crisis that is in front of us. We should have a collective unified European response.
On sanctions, the Government can and must go further. The SWIFT mechanism is indeed a remarkable success, but the reality is that there are oligarchs in this very city who have built their reputations on money laundering, who have turned this city into a laundromat and who are taking their time at this moment to shed their wealth before the sanctions come into play. That cannot be allowed to happen. We must not allow that to happen, particularly when these are the very same people who, like Roman Abramovich, say they have no interest in politics. He says he has no links to the Kremlin, but at the same time, his spokesperson tells us that he is trying to broker peace. He cannot be doing both things at the same time. People like him and his colleagues must feel the full brunt of our force, and they must do so now. I have said it once, I have said it twice and I will say it a third time: Putin’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.
This has been a very good debate to be part of this afternoon. Martin Luther King once said:
“Those who love peace must learn to organise as effectively as those who love war.”
That statement has been ringing in my ears in recent days. Vladimir Putin has been organising for this illegal war for years. Our world-leading intelligence capability predicted the invasion weeks before it happened, but we should have been preparing for it, and organising for peace, years before war became inevitable. We should have seen the path Putin was going down when he started his war on Georgia in 2008. We should have seen that his aggression would not end with his annexation of Crimea in 2014, and we should have seen the strategy behind his decision to tighten his grip on Belarus and central Asia.
The result of Putin’s war is playing itself out on our TV screens and social media news feeds. The next few days will be some of the most difficult. Ballistic missiles, airstrikes and Putin’s 40-mile long convoy of artillery will test the strength of Ukraine’s army, but they will not break the spirit of the Ukrainian people, who have our full solidarity in these dark times, as was illustrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) as he explained his Ukrainian heritage.
The attack on Ukraine marks a new era, a tectonic shift that will have long-term consequences for our country and for Europe. We must ensure that this is an era of unity and strength among our allies, founded on the values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law. In the days since the war began, we have seen a rapid and remarkable recognition of this shift across Europe. Putin would have hoped for, and perhaps expected, a weak and divided Europe. He has banked on our indecision, bet on our divisions and gambled that we would not make sacrifices ourselves or challenge his actions. Instead, he has been met with unity and resolve.
NATO’s fundamental importance has been restated and reaffirmed, with new deployments to eastern European allies. Chancellor Olaf Scholz has taken the brave decision to cancel Nord Stream 2, to increase German defence spending and to export military equipment. Sweden and Finland—non-NATO members with histories of neutrality—have exported weapons to Ukraine. The United States has restated its absolute commitment to the security of Europe. The EU has agreed unparalleled sanctions, and the energy transition towards a low-carbon future for Europe, free from the shackles of dependency on Russian energy, has been accelerated, as has been underlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd).
I suspect this is going to be a long fight, and the short-termism that has sometimes been a problem in the west and in democracies has to end. Corrupt Russian money is finally being targeted. The west has stood together, and so have other nations, in condemning this aggression. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) made it clear that we have to do that.
Putin’s campaign is driving the very things that he claims to oppose. We must use and sustain this unity to maximise the pressure on the Russian regime to end this bloody campaign, and we must be prepared to sustain our focus, as the right hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) said, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) illustrated with his experience and expertise, because the struggle to confront the values that Putinism represents will be long. We should have begun organising for a secure peace years ago, but it is no use to the Ukrainian people for us to be defeatist now.
We must be clear that we cannot take some of the actions that the Ukrainian Government are requesting, such as a no-fly zone, which would bring NATO and Russia into direct conflict. There are many such actions that we should avoid, as the hon. Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) illustrated, but there are many actions we can take now.
First, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) set out in his opening speech, we must continue with our NATO allies to supply lethal defensive weaponry to the Ukrainian armed forces, which need our support in their courageous defence of their sovereign nation state.
Secondly, we need to make our sanctions strong and robust. The measures the Government have taken are welcome, but there is still more we can do. We should target other sectors such as insurance. The EU has sanctioned the Russian insurer Sogaz. Why have we not done that yet?
We should move quicker and broader against Russian banks. The designations to freeze the assets of individuals are moving, but they are moving far too slowly. A week into this war, we have sanctioned only 11 people, most of whom have no assets or minimal ties to the UK. There are people who have already been sanctioned by the United States and the EU, in some instances for several years, whose assets remain liquid in the UK. The Government have said we must move in lockstep with our allies. We agree but, on this matter, we appear to be falling behind. This delay only magnifies the risk of asset flight.
We know that the effect of our sanctions is directly linked to how tightly the tentacles of dirty money are wrapped around our economy and our democracy. We cannot freeze people’s assets if we do not know where those assets are. Sanctions work only if we know who owns what. We urgently need transparency in the system, from property ownership to company ownership.
Although the Government finally seem to be moving after years of indefensible inaction, they are now offering oligarchs 18 months to reorganise their assets—one and a half years for criminals to move their money. That is unacceptable, so I hope the Minister will commit to working with us to change this timetable.
Thirdly, we need diplomatic action to build the widest possible opposition to this war. If a sovereign state can be carved up on the whim of one man, all nations are threatened. Putin believes he is locked in a struggle with the west, and he will have expected our opposition. We must ensure that he feels pressure from other countries around the world, many of which have commercial or other ties to Russia. Some have stepped up eloquently to denounce his new imperialism, but others must find their voice, including allies of our country and fellow democracies.
Our diplomacy must be focused not just on other nations but on the Russian people. These sanctions, necessary as they are, will inevitably have difficult consequences for ordinary Russians, who did not choose this illegal war pursued by Vladimir Putin in their name. We must always be clear that it is the Russian Government, not the Russian people, whose actions we condemn. It is Putin who is responsible for the economic consequences of this war for the Russian people.
We seek only friendship and peace with the Russian public, and the last few days have seen brave acts of protest and criticism. It takes true courage to protest in a police state, and I pay tribute to those in Russia standing up against this invasion. Putin thinks his authoritarianism is his strength, but it is, in fact, his weakness. It is our task to help amplify the voices against war in both Russia and Belarus, standing behind those with the courage to stand up to Putin, from influencers on social media to Orthodox Church leaders on the ground. We must make sure objective news sources can still reach Russia, so that the Russian people can hear the true story of what is unfolding in Ukraine. Will the Minister ensure that the BBC World Service has the capacity to reach as many people as possible in Russia and Ukraine in their native languages?
Fifthly, we should ensure that there is accountability in this conflict. Russia must abide by the laws of armed conflict. But we have all seen horrific violence that appears to target civilians and uses munitions outlawed by international conventions. The scenes from Kharkiv were devastating. Russia must know the world is watching. We must gather the evidence so that anyone responsible for a war crime is held to account, however long it takes. I hope that the Minister will assist the international chief prosecutor in that regard. Members ranging from the hon. Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) have talked about the importance of humanitarian support, and I hope those words are heeded.
I was in Kyiv just a few weeks ago. The Ukrainians I met were dignified and resolute, in the face of hundreds of thousands of Russian troops standing at their gates. Life in the city’s cafes, shops, bars and restaurants buzzed as normal, just as it does in London and across our nation today. The Ukraine I visited was not perfect, but it knew where it was going. The pride the Ukrainians showed in their nation was a reminder that national feeling does not have to be narrow; it can be a powerful force that drives a public towards a democratic and liberal future. It has been heartbreaking to watch what has happened, with this unprovoked attack on not only the Ukrainian people, but the values we share. It has been an assault on democracy, freedom and the rule of law. The Ukrainians’ heroic defence in the face of this invasion should inspire the whole House. Together, we must face down Putin’s grotesque attack on our way of life, organising for a secure peace—a secure Britain, in a secure Europe. Our values are worth defending.
Let me start by thanking colleagues from across the House for this debate and the Opposition for tabling it, because one thing it has demonstrated is our united support together, and with other people around the world, for the people of Ukraine. I will make a few points about that in a moment.
We are united in our horror and condemnation of the attacks in Ukraine. During Prime Minister’s questions, the House, a full House, applauded the Ukrainian ambassador. I know that there are no party lines on this in terms of how united we are in our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and in our condemnation of Putin’s unprovoked attack. I thank Members from across the House for their contributions and passionate speeches. I also thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces for his opening remarks. I join him in paying tribute to the courage and resilience of Ukraine’s armed forces. As we speak, Russia continues with its illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary outlined to the Human Rights Council yesterday:
“The consequences of Vladimir Putin’s unjustified aggression are horrific…Putin is responsible for civilian casualties and over 500,000 people fleeing—with the numbers still rising fast…He is violating international law, including the UN Charter and multiple commitments to peace and security…The UK stands united in condemning Russia’s reprehensible behaviour.”
Last week, we joined more than 40 countries at the OSCE in condemning Putin’s aggression. The Council of Europe also voted to suspend Russia. May I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) for everything that he did to see Russia suspended and for how he spoke so passionately and strongly on this matter?
At the UN, we joined more than 80 members to back a resolution condemning Russian aggression. Meanwhile, Russia stood alone in opposing it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) mentioned during the debate, the UN General Assembly has just passed a resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine by an overwhelming majority. That demonstrates the international strength of feeling on condemning this invasion.
I also want to pick up on a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) on China. We recognise that Russia and China are neighbours and have an important relationship, but Russia is not the same as China, and China claims a policy of non-interference. As fellow permanent members of the Security Council, the UK and China have important diplomatic roles to play in the coming days and weeks. The world will be looking at what China chooses to say and do. China needs to be clear that it does not support Russia’s action in any way.
We have joined forces with the US, the G7, the EU and other partners to take decisive steps through hard-hitting sanctions. These consequences will only increase in breadth and severity as the conflict goes on. I am proud to represent a nation that is so strongly and publicly supporting the people of Ukraine and standing up to the barbaric behaviour of Russia. With our allies and partners, the UK is supporting Ukraine and our partners in the Western Balkans, and we are already providing a range of economic, humanitarian and defensive military assistance.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) and other Members mentioned, today the Disasters Emergency Committee launched its Ukrainian humanitarian appeal. We are matching the first £20 million donated to this appeal—our largest ever aid-match contribution. We have pledged £220 million of aid, which includes £120 million of humanitarian assistance, providing Ukrainians with access to the basic necessities and vital medical supplies.
We call on Russia for unhindered humanitarian access into Ukraine and safe passage out for civilians. This funding will help agencies respond to the deteriorating humanitarian situation, creating a lifeline for Ukrainians with access to basic necessities. We have deployed humanitarian experts to the region to bolster our support to countries receiving those who are fleeing from violence. We are ramping up support for trade in priority industries, such as technology and green energy, to £3.5 billion, including £1.7 billion to boost Ukraine’s naval capability.
May I endorse the point that my hon. Friend made about the contribution of the British Government to the Disasters Emergency Committee? It is an absolutely tremendous and unprecedented thing that is being done, but, of course, it will only work if it is matched by the generosity of the British public. Will she make that appeal on behalf of the House and urge people to support the Ukrainian refugees financially rather than by sending goods?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right. Hon. Members have talked about their constituents who are desperate to be able to support Ukrainians, and this appeal is the way to do so. I urge people to look at the DEC’s website to see how they can offer support by donating to the appeal.
The UK and our international partners stand united in condemning the Russian Government. Russia’s assault on Ukraine is an unprovoked, premeditated and barbaric attack on a sovereign democratic state.
I know my right hon. Friend is trying to make progress, but before she moves on from humanitarian aid I want to press her on the point I made in my speech. Our sanctions regime is so important, but at the moment it is preventing humanitarian organisations from doing the deals they need to do, even with sanctioned entities, to get the aid to those who need it. Will she kindly commit to taking that issue away and look at whether we need to introduce the same legislation as the Americans have and that the UK backed at the UN Security Council in December for Afghanistan, to overcome this exact problem?
I will come on to sanctions, but we must ensure that the humanitarian assistance gets to those who need it, and I will happily follow up with my hon. Friend afterwards.
Putin has chosen a path of wanton bloodshed and destruction, and he must pay a price for the innocent lives lost. The events of the past few days have shown the world that the Kremlin was never serious about engaging in diplomacy; it was focused on deceit and blinded by territorial ambitions. A number of hon. Members from all parts of the House have asked about the role of the International Criminal Court. We agree that it is vital that perpetrators of war crimes are held to account, and we welcome the statement by the ICC prosecutor that he intends to open an investigation into the situation in Ukraine.
In my speech, I mentioned the enormous outpouring around the community in all our constituencies of people who want to help with the refugee crisis. Can the Minister just say that we will accelerate every single plan we have to ensure that we can sponsor, support and help refugees who are trying to flee the crisis?
As I noted earlier, in terms of humanitarian assistance there was an announcement today on the campaign that the Disasters Emergency Committee is running. I must make progress, because we are going to run out of time.
A number of colleagues mentioned sanctions. We have been at the forefront of the international response, and I reassure colleagues that we have been acting in concert with our allies. Our measures will deliver a devastating blow, as we have already seen, to Russia’s economy and military for years to come. Our sanctions combine our partners’ strongest measures and have already had an impact on the Russian state.
Over the past week, we have announced punishing new sanctions that will strike at the heart of Putin’s inner circle and the financial institutions and military-industrial machine that prop up his regime. I could go into detail on the number of designations and how many businesses and individuals will be affected, and the statutory instruments that were announced and have entered into force through an affirmative motion. The two motions approved on Tuesday 1 March brought into force new financial measures covering sovereign debt, sterling clearing and securities, as well as new trade measures.
I could list a number of other measures in this space, but they are only the beginning. We have a rolling programme that will continue to ratchet up the pressure on Russia. We will designate additional companies and members of the elite over the coming weeks and months. The sanctions will strike at the members of Putin’s inner circle, wherever in the world they are based.
In conclusion, the Russian Government have lied to the world and to their own people. It is vital for the safety of every nation that Putin’s venture should ultimately fail and be seen to fail.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House condemns Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine; stands in solidarity with Ukrainians in their resistance to Russia’s invasion of their sovereign state; supports the UK providing further defensive military, humanitarian and other assistance to Ukraine; recognises the importance of international unity against Russian state aggression; and calls on the Government to ensure that the United Kingdom’s NATO defence and security obligations are fulfilled to counter the threats from Russia.
This excellent debate and, at the start of our proceedings, the outpouring of love and solidarity for the Ukrainian ambassador, who was present, with that long standing ovation that the Minister mentioned—unprecedented in my 30 years as an MP—clearly demonstrate in a graphic way the 100% support that this House of Commons has for the brave people of Ukraine. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]