With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I want to update the House, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, about the NATO and G7 leaders’ meetings in Brussels last week. Together with our allies, we agreed to keep the pressure up on Putin to end his appalling war in Ukraine through tougher sanctions to debilitate the Russian economy; through supplying weapons to Ukraine and boosting NATO’s eastern flank; through providing humanitarian aid in dealing with the wider consequences of the crisis; and through supporting Ukraine in any negotiations it undertakes.
Strength is the only thing Putin understands. Our sanctions are pushing back the Russian economy by years and we owe it to the brave Ukrainians to keep up our tough approach to get peace. We owe it to ourselves to stand with them for the cause of freedom and democracy in Europe and across the world. It is vital that we step up this pressure. We cannot wait for more appalling atrocities to be committed in Ukraine. We know that the impact of sanctions degrades over time, and that is why we need to act now.
Next week, NATO Foreign Ministers will meet to follow up on the statements of leaders. I will be pressing our allies over the next weeks for all of us to do more. On oil and gas, the UK has already committed to ending imports of Russian oil by the end of this year. We must agree a clear timetable with our partners across the G7 to end dependence on Russian oil and gas permanently. On banks, we have already sanctioned 16 major Russian banks. We have hit Gazprombank and placed a clear prohibition on Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank. We want to see others adopt these sanctions and go further.
On individuals, we have cracked down on oligarchs such as Roman Abramovich. Last week, we sanctioned the despicable Wagner Group of mercenaries. On ports, Britain has banned entry to Russian vessels at all our ports. I will be lobbying our partners across the G7 to join us in stopping Russian ships.
We must maximise the flow of weapons that are being supplied to Ukraine under the United Nations charter of self-defence. The UK was the first European country to start sending lethal aid to Ukraine, and we are doubling our support with a further 6,000 missiles, including next-generation light anti-tank weapons, and Javelin anti-tank weapons. We are equipping our Ukrainian friends with anti-aircraft Starstreak missiles. We are also strengthening NATO’s eastern flank, deploying troops to Bulgaria, and doubling the numbers of troops in Poland and Estonia.
We are co-ordinating deliveries with our allies, and we want others to join us in getting Ukraine what it needs. The UK is providing £220 million in humanitarian support to help the people of Ukraine, from shelters to heaters and medicine. Today we announced our partnership with Australia to fly out more relief, including blankets, cooking equipment and power generators. We are getting supplies directly into Ukraine’s encircled cities, with £2 million in canned food, water, and dried food. As refugees come into countries such as Poland, we are working with the UNHCR so that it is informed about the UK’s Homes for Ukraine scheme. That scheme has already had more than 150,000 applications, thanks to the generosity of the British public.
We know that Putin is not serious about talks. He is still wantonly bombing innocent citizens across Ukraine. That is why we must do more to ensure that he loses and we force him to think again. We must not just stop Putin in Ukraine; we must also look to the long term. We must ensure that any future talks do not end up selling out Ukraine, or repeating the mistakes of the past. We remember the uneasy settlement of 2014, which failed to give Ukraine lasting security. Putin just came back for more. That is why we cannot allow him to win from this appalling aggression, and why this Government are determined that Putin’s regime should be held to account at the International Criminal Court.
We will work to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We have set up a negotiations unit to ensure that the strongest possible support is available to the Ukrainians, alongside our international partners. We have played a leading role alongside our G7 allies in driving the response to Putin’s war, and I want to ensure that that unity continues. Sanctions were put on by the G7 in unison, and they should not be removed as long as Putin continues with his war and still has troops in Ukraine. That is not all. We must ensure that Putin can never act in this aggressive way again. Any long-term settlement needs to include a clear sanctions snapback that would be triggered automatically by any Russian aggression.
In the aftermath of Putin’s war, Ukraine will need our help to build back. In these exceptional circumstances, we have a duty to step up with a new reconstruction plan for rebuilding Ukraine. We will work with the international community to do that. At this defining moment, the free world has shown a united response. Putin is not making the progress he craves, and he is still not serious about talks. President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people know that everybody in the United Kingdom stands firm with them. We were the first European country to recognise Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union. Thirty years on, we are the first to strengthen its defences against Putin’s invasion, and lead the way in our support.[Official Report, 29 March 2022, Vol. 711, c. 4MC.] Over the next week, I will be working to drive forward progress in unison with our allies. Together, we can secure a lasting peace that restores Ukraine’s sovereignty. Together, we can ensure that Putin fails and Ukraine prevails. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of her statement, and the continued briefings on Privy Council terms.
It is now more than a month since Vladimir Putin launched his barbaric and illegal invasion, with horrifying results: buildings razed to the ground, maternity hospitals bombed, and the city of Mariupol turned into a living hell. Ukraine is the victim of a bandit regime that is willing to use violence in an attempt to subjugate its neighbour. But 24 February marked not only an attack on the people of Ukraine; it was also an attempt to crush the values of democracy, rule of law and freedom that we all enjoy. There can be no excuses for Putin’s actions, and one day soon I hope he will be held to account for what I consider to be war crimes.
Day by day, it has become clearer that despite Putin’s brutal tactics he is not winning. A month ago, many people gave Ukraine’s resistance little chance. Many expected Russia’s armed forces to sweep into Kyiv in days, frankly, yet still Ukraine’s forces hold firm. Their skill, bravery and resolve has inspired the world. Putin’s invasion may have stalled, but the threat he poses remains. Reports suggest he may be seeking a way out. We want to see an end to the bloodshed, and the restoration of Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty.
I am sure the Foreign Secretary will agree with me that any ceasefire agreement must enjoy the full support of the democratically elected Government of Ukraine and that, if an agreement is reached, there will be no return to the previous status quo in our economic relationship with Russia. Putin’s regime must still pay a long-term cost for its war of aggression. We must decisively end our dependence on fossil fuels and move rapidly towards cheap, home-grown renewables to support our energy sector. We must complete the unfinished task of ending Britain’s role as the hub of dirty money from Russia and elsewhere. As this war remains in the balance, we must do what we can to ensure that we tip it towards Ukraine.
I am pleased that the NATO, EU and G7 summits last week reinforced western unity. It is right that NATO has agreed to bolster the eastern flank, with the approval of four additional battle groups. I welcome the commitment to increase and strengthen capabilities, as well as cyber-security assistance, financial aid and humanitarian aid, but can I ask the Foreign Secretary what is the scale of the UK’s contribution? Last week’s commitment shows NATO’s long-term strategy is quickly evolving. Other European allies who are reviewing defence spending are boosting their armed services. I was in Berlin last week, where our colleagues in Germany have committed to a historic investment in defence. Finland, Sweden and Denmark all announced reviews or extra resources for defence. Does the Foreign Secretary really believe it is right at this time for the UK to cut the Army by 10,000 in the next few years? If not, will she act on Labour’s call to halt those cuts?
It is time, too, for Britain to return to the table when it comes to European security. Will the Foreign Secretary tell the Prime Minister to stop picking petty squabbles with our neighbours on the continent and instead deepen security co-operation that will keep us all safe?
Last week, G7 and EU leaders focused on closing loopholes on existing sanctions rather than imposing new measures. There remain many gaps in the UK’s regime: trusts are not fully covered; many Russian banks are not designated, and ownership thresholds are too high. We need to ensure effective enforcement, including of the overseas territories and Crown dependencies. Can the Foreign Secretary tell us what her Government are doing to close those loopholes and whether she plans to put further sanctions in place?
A month on from this illegal invasion, the world has changed. The unity across this House, this country and the international community must endure. The next few days and weeks will be crucial, and we send all our support to the people of Ukraine. As this war enters a new phase, we must all adapt and hold our nerve. Through the darkness of terror and destruction, Zelensky’s democratic Government remain in control against all the odds. Bravery is shining through.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: this is about the future of freedom and democracy, and the future of European security. The Ukrainians and President Zelensky are fighting bravely. They are fighting not just for their own future, but all our futures, and they deserve all the help we can give them: humanitarian support, lethal aid, and the moral and diplomatic support that we are providing.
The right hon. Gentleman is also right to say that Putin must not gain from this appalling aggression. There will be no letting up on sanctions. We want to see sanctions tightening. Putin will pay the cost. He will be held to account in the International Criminal Court. We are working with our allies to collect evidence. Of course, we need to make sure that Ukraine is rebuilt following this appalling war and the appalling devastation that the people of Ukraine have experienced.
The right hon. Gentleman is also right that we want to see sanctions increase. In the case of banks, the UK has imposed the most bank sanctions of any of our allies. We want our allies to follow suit, and we want to do more in terms of completely de-SWIFTing the Russian economy and tackling banks of strategic importance, such as Sberbank. We also sanction more oligarchs and other entities than either the EU or the US does. We want to do more, we will do more and we want our partners to do more.
The most crucial thing of all is cutting off the supply of finance from oil and gas. That is what will completely debilitate the Putin regime, and that is why we want the G7 to agree a very clear timetable to end dependence on Russian oil and gas completely. It is vital that we never go back to being dependent on an authoritarian regime for core parts of our economic survival. With next week’s NATO summit, we have an opportunity to move forward with those plans. I encourage all our allies to work with us on this, because the only thing that Putin will understand is tougher sanctions and more defensive aid.
We have boosted our defence spending, and we continue in talks with our NATO allies about boosting the eastern flank. The UK is also leading with the joint expeditionary force, working with our allies around Europe. I talk to my European counterparts all the time. We are committed to boosting European security and working with our friends right across the EU.
Perhaps for too long, the west has harvested the peace dividend, but there is no doubt that we have entered a new era in the battle for democracy globally. May I urge my right hon. Friend to do what she can within Government not only to make the case for a sustained and substantial increase in defence spending, but to ensure that our soft power capabilities are adequately resourced, for the very simple reason that jaw-jaw should always be preferable to war-war?
My hon. Friend makes a good point about the peace dividend. The reality is that, right across the west, not enough has been spent on defence. Meanwhile, the Russians have been building up their armed forces, their military capability and their disinformation efforts. One thing I have done is to re-establish an information unit in the Foreign Office to tackle Russian disinformation. We are working to get that information into Russia so that the people of Russia have a clear view about what is going on, in contrast to the propaganda from their Government. We are also working on expanding our soft power, whether it is through the BBC or other outlets, to get the truth across to the people of Russia. As to my hon. Friend’s other point, I am sure that he will be raising it with the Chancellor at Treasury questions very soon.
I, too, am grateful for advance sight of the statement, and I commend the Foreign Secretary on the very open approach that she has taken to briefing parties across the House on this crucial issue.
The SNP stands part of the international coalition to defend Ukraine and international law, so I welcome the co-ordination across the EU, G7 and NATO. We support the provision of arms, and the further provision of arms, to Ukraine, and we particularly support the establishment of the negotiations unit to help the Ukrainians to negotiate properly. I share the Foreign Secretary’s scepticism about President Putin’s good faith, but let us remember that every single cold war dispute ended with a negotiated outcome of some sort, so we need to keep up that support. I also strongly welcome the support for accountability for war crimes, because we need to think towards the peace at the end of the war.
I am glad to see that sanctions are ramping up. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm to the House that the intention is that, if a person or bank is sanctioned in one G7 or EU territory, that will be mirrored across the other territories? When will that be achieved? I appreciate that we all come from different legal backgrounds, but I think it is important that we set a timescale for matching each other’s sanctions.
On refugees, there is considerable difference between the SNP and the Government. We would far rather have seen the UK mirror the EU’s approach by waiving visas for three years. We think that that would have been generous and proportionate, but it is not what happened. I welcome the fact that the Homes for Ukraine scheme has had 150,000 applications, but I think the far more meaningful statistic is how many of them have been fulfilled. Can she tell us that? If she cannot tell us that, we need to do a bit less self-congratulating about the Homes for Ukraine scheme—I say that constructively. Does she share my concern that the Home Office needs a lot more resource to process those applications properly, and can she confirm that that discussion is under way?
More generally, does the Foreign Secretary agree that the integrated review is now rather badly out of date? Will she give us any indication of the thinking within the Government about updating and refreshing it, because it strikes me that that needs to be done urgently?
On sanctions, it is worth saying that we are already aligned with our allies on key areas of sanctions, including banning Russian state and private companies from capital markets and stopping the Russian Government from raising sovereign debt. On oligarchs, we have now sanctioned more oligarchs than the EU or the US. We have also sanctioned more banks than the EU.
What we want to achieve next week is a levelling up across all the sanction areas. Some of that will mean other countries following what the UK has already done—for example, we have banned Russian vessels from UK ports, which I remember discussing a few weeks ago with the hon. Gentleman—and then we all need to go further. I am clear that we should all go further in terms of SWIFT; we want to see a complete ban on the Russians’ use of the SWIFT system.
We need to keep going with our allies, however, and that is the work that we are doing—putting pressure on and working with our allies. In the case of oil and gas, many European countries are heavily dependent on Russian gas and they need to find alternatives. We are helping and working on that, as is the United States, so this is very much a team effort.
On the Homes for Ukraine scheme, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will be issuing new information about that later this week. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be keen to attend that session to hear more details.
My right hon. Friend mentions the BBC. At the top of the BBC News this morning was the news that an actor had walloped a comedian at an American awards ceremony. Does she agree that we must do all we can to ensure that the horrific stories that are coming out of Ukraine remain high on the news agenda? That is really important. Will she reassure my constituents that the Ukrainian situation remains at the top of her agenda and that she will continue the good work that she has been doing for however long it takes?
My hon. Friend makes a good point about the priorities that people put on various events. What we have seen—the appalling aggression that we have seen in Ukraine—is an epoch-defining moment. We will absolutely not forget that, and we will not make the mistakes of the past, of ignoring and normalising Russian behaviour. This time, we must ensure that Putin loses and we must tackle Russian aggression for the long term. I will continue to work on that together with our allies across the world, and we will not let the issue drop.
I point out to the Foreign Secretary that most of Ukraine’s neighbours are protected by EU and NATO membership. One that is not is Moldova, which has already taken in huge numbers of refugees. Does she agree that, particularly because of the situation of Transnistria, it is vital that we are able to offer some support to the democratic Moldovan Government, who share our values and aspirations but are in a parlous state?
The hon. Gentleman is completely right about Moldova. We are working closely with our allies to provide direct support to it and to help it with the refugee situation. That is something that we discussed at the G7 meeting and that we will be working on further over the next week.
My right hon. Friend rightly refers to the necessity for a clear timetable with respect to Russian oil and gas. In particular, I would like to ask about the German issue, because Germany has a vast dependence on Russia, and it will take a considerable amount of time to get that right—if it can ever be got right. How will the problem be resolved in the short term, because the problem for Ukraine is short term and the quicker we resolve it the better? The problem is that Germany is, effectively, bankrolling Russia at the moment.
I have been talking to my German counterparts, as has the Energy Secretary, about what can be done to work with Germany to help it move away from Russian gas, oil and coal. The United States has also been working with Germany and the EU on supplying liquified natural gas. Germany has undertaken a complete change in its energy policy and defence policy; it is now investing in new LNG terminals and looking at where else it can get that energy from. We are very keen to work with Germany, and indeed other European countries, because we cannot be in a position where Europe is dependent on Russian gas. That does not help the security of the German people and it does not help the security of the British people, so it is in our interests to work together to end dependence.
All of us cannot help but be moved by the scenes that are still going on, not least with the 300 killed in the theatre just last week. Some 3.8 million people have now crossed borders into nearby countries and many of them will have ties to our country. We should all be proud of every person who has said that they want to take someone in. The Foreign Secretary will also know that many of these people are struggling for means—they left with nothing—and would even struggle to get on a flight to get to this country. Are the Government considering chartering airlift flights from the border so that those who can get through the mire of paperwork we have put in front of them—the Liberal Democrats have put on record that that should not be there—can get to this country and take up the safe homes that have been so generously offered?
We are working to support people who want to come to the UK, through the family scheme and the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Considerable transport is being offered; Wizz Air is offering free flights to the UK and there are free Eurostar journeys as well. We are working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to make sure that that information is available. At present, the issue of getting to the UK is being resolved; as the hon. Lady says, we are making sure those visa processes are happening, and that is the responsibility of the Home Office.
Will the Foreign Secretary make sure that a reasonable proportion of the extra £4.1 million that the Government have rightly given to the BBC in respect of the World Service is earmarked for the BBC Monitoring service and, in particular, the Russian and Ukrainian parts of it?
I am afraid that the system that the Foreign Secretary has outlined is not humane. My constituent’s mother-in-law is in Dublin, less than an hour’s flight from Cardiff, but she cannot come to stay with her family member in Cardiff because they are on a global talent visa for the next two years and therefore do not qualify for the family scheme. They are being told to make the application under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. That is ludicrous, as they are in rented temporary accommodation while they are here. Will the Foreign Secretary have a word with her ministerial colleagues in the Home Office to stop this nonsense and allow people in? If they were the constituency MP involved, every Member of the House would say the same as me: this situation is absolutely ludicrous. Can the Government do something about it?
Will the Foreign Secretary say a little more about the humanitarian aid? As she is aware, many volunteers, such as those at the Ukrainian chapel in my constituency, have, in effect, stood back from the enormous efforts they were making in trying to get necessities to the Ukraine and the countries surrounding it. I am sure they will want to be reassured that the humanitarian effort being undertaken by the Government, and indeed by the Disasters Emergency Committee, is delivering what they would want it to deliver.
The DEC appeal has raised more than £200 million and we are deploying our aid into Ukraine. I talked about the work that we are doing with the Australians, and we are supplying food to the encircled cities. The biggest challenge—this a security challenge—is getting the aid into some of those cities. We certainly are well funded for the work that we are doing. The Ukrainian Government are providing a lot of the logistical support to make sure that the supplies get into Ukraine, but the issue is security. We have pushed very hard for genuine humanitarian corridors to be set up. I am afraid that the Russians have not properly done that and, in some cases, getting supplies in is dangerous. Constituents can be reassured that we have the funding and the supplies. The key thing that we are working on with the international agencies is making sure that the aid safely reaches its destination; that is the issue we face.
In an FCDO press release last week, the Foreign Secretary said that Russian intelligence services have targeted UK national infrastructure in what she called a “calculated and dangerous” hacking campaign and that Putin is sowing
“division and confusion among allies.”
She rightly said, in that press release, that she “will not tolerate it”, so will she reassure the House that she is urging the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to open an investigation into the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report on Kremlin-linked influence in the UK? Will she admit that it is simply not helpful that that report has still not been investigated?
I commend my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister on the actions that they have taken to support Ukraine—which have been recognised by President Zelensky—including through humanitarian and lethal aid and by providing the most supportive scheme for families who are fleeing the horrors in Ukraine. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there will be a consequence for the western world—President Putin will have calculated that—through higher food prices and higher energy prices and an impact on the western world’s economies? Will she continue to play a co-ordinating role to ensure that the western world responds in the most robust way and that all Members of the House come together in recognising the impact?
It is certainly true that the crisis is having an impact on energy costs and food costs in the United Kingdom. The Chancellor announced measures in his spring statement last week to help to address some of those costs, but we have to be clear that the cost of doing nothing is huge. This is about European security and the future of freedom and democracy, and we know that the people of Ukraine are paying an incredibly high cost at the moment.
The other point that I want to make is that this is not just about the western world; there are real issues about global food security. One of the things that we are working on as part of our new international development strategy is making sure that we support people across the world. There will be increased demand for food. There are concerns about food supply. We are working very closely with our allies on how we ameliorate those effects, which if we do not get this right could have not just food security and humanitarian consequences, but global security consequences.
The Ukrainian army, with its skill and bravery, is showing that the Russian war machine can be stopped in its tracks. The Secretary of State said that we will learn lessons, one of which surely has to be about the British Army. Over 12 years we have seen a systematic reduction in the size of the British Army and there is a sense that the Government do not really have an idea of what they want the British Army to do. Can we expect a statement from the Government on stopping current plans for further reducing the size of the British Army and instead having a strategic approach which recognises that, alongside the cyber and terrorist threats, we need to be ready to face major state threats? That cannot be done overnight, because a huge amount of skill and experience has already been lost from the British Army. We need that investment and a strategic plan from the Government. Will there be a statement to say that we will get that?
I point out to the hon. Gentleman that Operation Orbital, which was led by the United Kingdom and has trained up 20,000 Ukrainian troops, has been a very important part of the success of the Ukrainian forces in being able to resist. I pay huge tribute to the bravery of the Ukrainian forces. The UK has led on supplying that sort of support and training.
Of course we need a comprehensive offer. That is what we are doing: we are modernising our armed forces under the leadership of the Defence Secretary, but we are also supplying more direct support into the eastern flank of NATO to make sure that we are protecting European security at this vital time.
Evil human trafficking gangs are now operating in the countries bordering Ukraine. They prey on young women and older girls and promise them safe passage and a new home, but then move them hundreds of miles away and force them into prostitution. Let us imagine fleeing a war zone in Ukraine, reaching a safe country and then being locked in a room hundreds of miles away and repeatedly raped, day in, day out. May I ask the Foreign Secretary what the Government and NATO are doing about it?
My hon. Friend has a strong record of standing up against the appalling actions of human traffickers. He is absolutely right that there is a real risk at the border and that people are being threatened—women and girls are being threatened—with these appalling activities. A core part of what our humanitarian aid is supporting is the international agencies protecting against those activities, which of course are also subject to war crimes investigations. We are seeing appalling rape accusations in Ukrainian cities as well. The UK is leading on prevention of violence against women and girls and on tackling sexual violence as a red line in war, and we will continue to do so.
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, has just issued a very strong appeal for an urgent and immediate ceasefire. What are the British Government doing to support his call before there is more bombing, more deaths and more people driven into refugee status? Could the UN be the medium for a longer-term peace conference that will bring about some degree—hopefully a real degree—of peace and security for people in the area? Will the Foreign Secretary say something about the very brave peace activists in Russia who have risked a great deal to speak out against this war?
Of course we completely support the UN call for a ceasefire. We have worked at the UN General Assembly to secure the votes of 140 countries against Russia’s appalling aggressive action. It is down to Putin and the Russian Government, who have pursued this aggression against an innocent nation that had done absolutely nothing to provoke it. I applaud those in Russia who are prepared to stand up against the Government and protest against this appalling war. Ultimately, it is for the Russian Government to stop their appalling aggression in Ukraine and withdraw their troops. That has to be the precursor to any peaceful resolution of this crisis.
We have seen the incredible determination and bravery of Ukrainian forces defending their territory with many weapons sourced from the UK. I am delighted by the announcement that we are to send 6,000 more missiles. Defending Ukraine’s airspace is crucial—we hear pleas from Ukraine every day—so I am delighted about the Starstreak missiles that we are providing. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that in her upcoming meetings with our allies, she will encourage them to provide similar defences to enable airspace defence?
The weapons that we are providing, including the NLAWs and now the Starstreaks, are having a real impact in Ukraine. Those weapons are produced across the United Kingdom—the NLAWs, for instance, are produced in Belfast—so this is contributing to jobs and growth across the UK, and represents a very important export for us.
As for what more we can do, the Defence Secretary has already held a donor conference to encourage other countries to supply weapons, and we have seen many countries, including Germany, now come forward, supplying weapons into Ukraine. We are also working to supply logistics. We are co-ordinating the delivery of those weapons to Ukraine. As I said earlier in respect of humanitarian aid, the difficulty often lies in the final mile, getting the equipment in, and the UK has been leading the way in that regard.
I am glad that the Foreign Secretary mentioned food security. It is apparently only 10 days until the planting season starts in Ukraine. That poses obvious problems, on which we need not expand here.
The Foreign Secretary talked about the need to go further and do more, but when it comes to refugees, unfortunately, the UK Government have gone almost nowhere and have done the least. Leading charities called today for the scrapping of the visa requirements, and it was reported at the weekend that a Conservative councillor had resigned from the party owing to the “hostile” and “xenophobic” policy on refugees. Surely now is the time to change that. It emerged this morning that Ireland has taken in 13,500 refugees. How many has the UK taken in, and will the Government go further and do more for refugees? Will they behave like normal humanitarian countries on this issue?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that so far more than 20,000 individuals have been approved for the Ukraine family scheme. As I have said, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will be giving an update on the Homes for Ukraine scheme later this week, but we already have 150,000 people registered. Progress is being made, and we are seeing more Ukrainians come to the United Kingdom.
We have recently seen an incursion into the NATO zone by a drone, albeit an ancient drone, 30 years old, and with no markings on it. Given the conferences that will take place in the next few weeks, would it not be pertinent to start asking for a safe-to-fly zone so that we can protect our air zone on the borders of Ukraine and Moldova, and all the way up into the Baltics?
What we are doing is maximising the support that we are giving under the UN charter, which allows us to supply Ukraine in its own self-defence. That is effective: we are seeing the effectiveness of the NLAWs, and we are now putting in the Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles. That is the way in which we will support the Ukrainians in defeating Vladimir Putin and ensuring that he loses in Ukraine. A no-fly zone would mean direct NATO involvement in Ukraine, which is a very different matter from the defence that we are supplying under the UN charter.
At the United Nations General Assembly, we have seen some key votes in which the vast majority of the world has come together to stand with Ukraine, but we have also seen first 37 and then 38 countries remain neutral, either actively or passively, by abstaining. What work is the Department doing to help those countries to move into a safer place, whether in the context of energy, food dependency or, indeed, their security?
The hon. Lady is correct. Many countries have been dependent on Russia, sometimes for defence support, sometimes for food, and sometimes for trade. What we need to do—and what we are doing, with our allies—is work to increase our trade links, our economic links and our defence links, as well as engaging with those countries to encourage them to see Russia’s actions for what they are.
If we live in a world where a sovereign state can simply be invaded with impunity, what does that mean for the future of those countries? That is the point that we are putting to all of them. At the same time, however, we recognise that there are genuine dependencies, so we have to help them to find alternative sources of trade, food and indeed defence support in order to encourage them not to side with Russia.
Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd), can my right hon. Friend update the House on what conversations she had with our G7 and NATO allies when she and the Prime Minister visited Brussels regarding what we can do to bolster other vulnerable countries in the region such as Moldova?
We had thorough discussions with our NATO and G7 allies on how we can help Moldova in terms of direct humanitarian support, support with refugees and also defensive support. We have seen that Putin’s ambitions are not just about Ukraine; they are about creating a greater Russia. That threat is of course very severe in Ukraine but it is not limited to Ukraine. As well as bolstering Ukraine and its defences, we want to help countries such as Moldova as well.
The Foreign Secretary made an excellent point earlier about food security. There is a prospect of this evil invasion of Ukraine impacting on the global humanitarian situation and also affecting us domestically when it comes to food supply. Would she consider two urgent actions in that case? Is now not the right time to restore the amount of aid we give to 0.7% of GDP? Is it not also right to halt the foolish progressive reduction in the basic payment scheme for our farmers, so that we can maintain our ability to feed ourselves?
There are many things we can do to improve food supply. I am certainly seeing what we can do through our aid budget, and we are looking at our aid strategy at the moment. I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is a real issue. It is recognised by our friends globally as a real issue and we are working on it together, but we also need to look at what we can do to support countries in areas such as trade. Increasing trade with like-minded countries is another way of making sure that food supplies are able to flow, and that is something we are also looking at.
I want to place on record my thanks to the people of Warwick and Leamington for their phenomenal response to this crisis, and in particular to members of the Polish community and to Dawid Kozlowski, who has set up a warehouse one and a half times the size of this Chamber for all the contributions that have been received. Can I ask the Secretary of State to elaborate on the point raised by the right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) about humanitarian aid going from the UK not just into Ukraine but into neighbouring countries, and on how that is being channelled?
Humanitarian aid is going directly into Ukraine—some of it is being delivered by the UN agency and by international Red Cross, and some by the Ukrainian Government themselves. In terms of the aid that is supporting in neighbouring countries, we are working through the UN but we are also working directly with the Government of Poland and other neighbouring Governments who have an effective system to be able to deliver that aid. So a lot of the aid we are putting in is going to those Governments so that they can distribute it. We are also acting as a deliverer of logistics for third-party Governments. For example, the Australians have contributed donations and we are doing the logistics to get that Australian aid into the neighbouring nations and also directly into Ukraine.
My constituent Gareth Roberts is currently in Prague with his Ukrainian wife Nataliia and her daughter and granddaughter, awaiting news of their family visa application. Like many others caught up in this Kafkaesque dystopia of excessive bureaucracy and insufficient capacity, they are beginning to run out of funds. Granddaughter Albina has scoliosis, which means she has to wear a brace for 23 hours every day. Comfortable accommodation is not a luxury for them; it is a necessity—so much so that the family are contemplating applying for refugee status in the Czech Republic. I trust that the Minister speaks regularly to her Home Office colleagues, so can she confirm that people who are forced to apply for refugee status in other countries due to slow UK bureaucracy will not then be made ineligible for family visas here in the UK?
Like the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), I am concerned about the mass movement of women and children from Ukraine opening up opportunities for human trafficking and particularly sex trafficking. At the weekend, it was reported that, according to a number of charities, the Homes for Ukraine scheme risks operating as Tinder for sex traffickers. What does the Foreign Secretary have to say about that?
Criminal justice checks are done on all those participating in the Homes for Ukraine scheme, to ensure that there is proper safeguarding. I agree with the right hon. Lady about the very concerning issue of human trafficking at the border. We have more than 300 staff in the region working with the international agencies to prevent that from happening, but she is right to say that it is a real risk, and we take it extremely seriously.
Communities across the UK, such as Newport in my constituency, which is twinned with Zolotarevo in Ukraine, have offered accommodation to Ukrainian refugees. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), the Foreign Secretary said that there were some transport options for Ukrainian refugees coming to the UK, but can she advise whether additional financial support will be available, and whether Disasters Emergency Committee resources might be used for that?
I can tell the hon. Lady that this support is being put through the UNHCR and the Governments in countries such as Poland with whom we are working closely. There is direct financial support being provided, but also Wizz Air has opened free flights from Warsaw to the UK and, as I have said, Eurostar is offering similar support. There are a number of routes people can use. The key point is that when those refugees cross the border into Poland they are provided with that information by the Polish Government so that they can access those resources.
I pay tribute to the Ukrainian armed forces, to the resistance fighters and to ordinary citizens for the fortitude they have shown in the face of Russian aggression. It is a human reaction: I cannot help feeling that there is more that we can and should be doing to help them at this time. The Foreign Secretary will have seen media reports that Russia’s plan B is to carve the country into two distinct territorial units politically. In her statement, she said:
“We will work to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
I agree with her, but what does she mean by this?
First, any media reports about what the Russians are planning to do should not be taken at face value. What we know is that Putin is not succeeding in his plan, that he is desperate and that he could go to any measures. I think we need to be clear about that. I agree with what President Zelensky has said, which is that he wants to see the entirety of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty restored, and that is what we are supporting him to do.
The UN’s World Food Programme is warning that the war is creating a shockwave through the international food markets, further inflating prices and disrupting supply, which will lead to dire consequences for global hunger. Will the Foreign Secretary reassure the House that supporting international efforts to alleviate suffering in famine-ravaged countries is a priority for the British Government?
The Foreign Secretary gave us the figure for the number of Ukrainian refugees who have been approved to come to the UK, but she did not give us the figure for the number of refugees who have arrived here. Is that because she does not know that figure? Perhaps she can tell us why she is giving us one figure but not the other. Is not the logic of what she said about the need for changes to the Homes for Ukraine scheme that the Government should introduce a humanitarian visa so that people can come here without all the bureaucracy and the difficulties we have heard about from hon. Members this afternoon?
My right hon. Friend says she thinks President Putin is increasingly desperate and could try anything. In that case, how much credibility does she attach to the possibility that he could stage an attack against his own people to garner further domestic support for his invasion of Ukraine?
I am afraid to say that what we have seen from President Putin is an attempt to create all kinds of false flag operations. The UK has been working with the United States to highlight the intelligence we have that demonstrates his playbook. We did that for his claims of a chemical weapon attack, and we have done it for his attempt to establish a puppet regime. We will continue to call out his appalling activities.
I think the Foreign Secretary’s comments on the economic and jobs advantages of our lethal aid to Ukraine were, I am sure unintentionally, a little crass and insensitive. She may want to reflect and clarify those remarks after looking at Hansard.
People in my constituency and across the country with connections to Ukrainians who are applying for refuge in this country are being met with absurd bureaucratic delays. What changes are now being made? Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), why did the Chancellor not award the Home Office any further funding to do more and to do it quicker?
Can the Foreign Secretary shed light on reports that civil servants working on Afghan resettlement are now being redeployed to Ukraine issues? Can she reassure us that, while we still have ongoing moral obligations and casework in Afghanistan, there is bandwidth for both?
My constituent Jibran Masud got out of Ukraine, and he was due to sit finals at Dnipro Medical Institute in May. Will the Foreign Secretary find something equivalent for him and the apparently dozens like him so that they can do their finals here and benefit our NHS as doctors? They are all British nationals.
I welcome the statement and commend the Foreign Secretary for her strong leadership. This morning my constituent, a humanitarian doctor on the border of Ukraine, told me she is struggling after seeing children horrifically scarred with third-degree burns. Those children face an uncertain and very painful future, as they need plastic surgery and other interventions. I assured this young doctor and her family that I will be praying for her, but what more will we do to provide specific medical support for those children and, importantly, to provide the vital support that is needed to stop the bombings that are causing this devastation?
The hon. Gentleman is right that these devasting injuries are being caused by President Putin’s appalling aggressive actions in Ukraine. We are helping people with medical emergencies, and we are flying people into the United Kingdom for treatment for some of these horrific injuries.