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War in Ukraine

Volume 738: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2023

Since I last updated the House in my opening remarks in the debate on Ukraine on 11 September, the situation on the ground has remained largely unchanged. Slow and steady progress is being made by the Ukrainian armed forces, which continue to grind their way through the main Russian defensive position. Defence Intelligence estimates that the number of Russian permanent casualties —in other words, those who are dead or so seriously wounded that they cannot return to action—now stands at between 150,000 and 190,000 troops. Total casualties are estimated to number up to 290,000.

A limited Russian offensive is under way at Avdiivka on the outskirts of Donetsk city. Fighting has been fierce, and we assess that the average casualty rate for the Russian army was around 800 per day in the first week of the offensive. As ever, Putin and his generals show no more regard for the lives of their own troops than they do for the people of Ukraine.

However, even this ex-soldier can admit that wars are not only about the fight on the land. Since the last debate on Ukraine, the Ukrainians have opened up a new front in the Black sea, destroying a Kilo-class submarine and two amphibious ships, as well as making a successful strike on the Russian Black sea fleet headquarters. The consequence, as President Zelensky has rightly said, is that the Russian Black sea fleet is no longer capable of resistance in the western Black sea. As we move beyond day 600—it is day 608, to be precise—of Putin’s “three-day” illegal war, he has still not achieved any of his initial strategic aims, and he has now ceded sea control in the western Black sea to a nation without a navy.

The UK continues to donate significant amounts of ammunition and matériel, paid for from the £2.3 billion commitment for this financial year. That follows the same amount being given the year before, and that is an important point. Our gifting is about more than headline-making capabilities such as Challenger 2 or Storm Shadow. It is the delivery, month after month, of tens of thousands of artillery rounds, air defence missiles and other small but necessary items of equipment that positions the UK as one of the biggest and most influential of Ukraine’s donors. The UK is also the only country to have trained soldiers, sailors, aviators and Marines in support of the Ukrainian effort; we have now trained over 50,000 soldiers, sailors, aviators and Marines since 2014.

Events in the middle east have dominated the headlines, but in the Ministry of Defence and across the UK Government—and, clearly, in His Majesty’s Opposition, as they brought forward this urgent question—Ukraine remains a focus. I think that seeing this very timely question will matter enormously to our friends and colleagues in Kyiv. I remain every bit as confident today as I have been on all my previous visits to the Dispatch Box over the last two years that Ukraine can and will prevail.

Members from across the House, and people across the world, are rightly focused on the middle east after Hamas’s horrific attacks. That terrorism must be condemned, civilians must be protected, humanitarian corridors must be opened, international law must be followed, and escalation risks must be managed. I welcome the Defence Secretary’s Gulf visit later this week, and I hope that he will report back to us in the House. I also welcome President Biden’s oval office address, in which he said:

“Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: they both want to completely annihilate a neighbouring democracy”.

Today lets President Putin know that the UK remains focused on, and united in, solidarity with Ukraine.

Last week, as the Minister said, we passed the grim 600-day milestone since Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. War still rages, cities are still bombed, and civilians are still raped and killed. Ukraine has made important gains in recent days on the Dnipro river. Will the Minister update the House on that? I am proud of the UK leadership on Ukraine, but we must work to maintain that leadership and accelerate support. I fear that UK momentum is flagging. There has been no statement on Ukraine to Parliament from the new Defence Secretary since his appointment in August, and no statement from any Defence Secretary in this House since May.

Labour backs the recent announcements on UK military aid, the new British Army training to protect critical infrastructure, and the £100 million, raised with allies, that will come from the International Fund for Ukraine, but Ukrainians are asking for winter support, air defence, and more ammunition—and where is the UK’s planned response? No new money for military aid for Ukraine has been committed by this Prime Minister. The £2.3 billion for this year was pledged by his predecessor, and the £2.3 billion for last year was pledged by her predecessor. This year’s money runs out in March. Seven months after announcing £2 billion for UK stockpiles in the spring Budget, not a penny has been spent and not a single contract signed. Why? Putin must be defeated, just as Hamas must be defeated. We must not step back. We must stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes to win.

I echo the right hon. Gentleman’s words about the despicable attack from Hamas and the absolute right of Israel to defend itself. As I said, I believe strongly that it is important that Putin does not see this as a moment of opportunity to sow more chaos, and does not think that the western donor community is distracted or has a preference for supporting Israel over Ukraine. He must know that our resolve is to support both.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly noted that the Secretary of State will be in the Gulf later this week. I am sure that he will want to talk about what he hears there, but I suspect that he will also want to keep some of that counsel private, as we seek to calibrate how we posture ourselves in the region in order to reassure our allies and deter those who might seek to make a bad situation even worse. The Secretary of State was in Washington last week, and has had a number of calls with other partners around the region. So too have the Chief of the Defence Staff and I, as part of a Ministry of Defence-wide effort to ensure that we constantly calibrate our response alongside that of those who we traditionally work with in the region, and we make sure that nothing we do is misinterpreted.

The right hon. Gentleman and I are, I think, friends, so there is some dismay that he dismisses all my efforts at the Dispatch Box to keep the House updated on the war in Ukraine. I stood here as recently as 11 September to lead an excellent debate on the subject, and have given a number of statements on behalf of the Secretary of State. I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman is so rank-conscious as to deem my efforts unworthy, but I have done my best.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to point to the fact that the excellent financial contribution made over the two previous financial years is, as yet, unconfirmed for the next financial year. It will not surprise him to know that that has already been the subject of conversation across Government. It is not for me to make that announcement in an urgent question today, but a major fiscal event is forthcoming, and I know that he will not have to wait too long. That does not mean that our plans are uncertain. In fact, I push back strongly on the suggestion that they are. For a long time over the past two years, there has been a sort of misunderstanding that the UK’s capacity to gift is entirely either from our own stockpiles or from our indigenous industrial capacity. The vast majority of what the UK gifts is what we are able to buy internationally, often from countries that Putin would prefer were not providing us with that stuff. However, we have been able to get our hands on it and get it to the Ukrainians with some haste. That is exactly the sort of thing that the right hon. Gentleman asked about.

It is about the small but necessary things, such as winterisation equipment, small arms ammunition, artillery ammunition and air defence ammunition, and our ability to buy that while in parallel stimulating UK industry. I reject what the right hon. Gentleman said about contracts having not been placed; substantial contracts have been placed directly to replenish UK stockpiles of NLAWs, Starstreak, lightweight multi-role missiles, Javelin, Brimstone, 155 mm shells and 5.56 mm rifle rounds. As far as I can see, there is a steady state contribution to the Ukrainians that amounts to tens of thousands of rounds per month, plus air defence missiles, plus all the small stuff, alongside the replenishment of our own stockpiles, which can only happen at the pace at which industry can generate it, but none the less it is happening.

My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the situation in the Black sea with sea mines and how they are breaking loose. Our allies in Turkey are doing an incredible job in maintaining the Montreux convention and trying to keep those sea lanes safe. Is he having any conversations with our Turkish allies about any support they may need in no matter what way to try to ensure that those sea lanes are safe—if we can get the grain deal up and running again and get grain out through maritime? We are aware that sea mines are breaking free.

My right hon. Friend is an expert on these matters, and I commend him for the work that he and colleagues across the House do as part of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly to ensure that Parliaments across NATO stand united in our support for Ukraine. He rightly notes the importance of the Montreux convention in keeping non-home ported ships out of the Black sea, and the Turks have applied that scrupulously. Turkey is entirely confident and comfortable in its ability to continue to enforce the convention. Clearly, for other Black sea nations, such as Romania and Bulgaria, de-mining is already a concern and they are getting on with that. I met my Romanian counterpart at the Warsaw security forum only two weeks ago to discuss exactly that.

We cannot forget this autumn that we are seeing a broader escalation of the conflict in Ukraine into the frontiers of our Euro-Atlantic homeland. I speak in particular about the recent announcements by the Governments of Sweden, Finland and Estonia that undersea assets linking those countries have been intentionally damaged by third parties. I should declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Estonia.

My primary concern, which I am sure the Minister shares, is closer to home. Events in the eastern Mediterranean and the Baltics demonstrate the diffuse nature of the threats we need to face, but they also demonstrate the importance of keeping a singular focus on the areas that the Government can best hope to influence. While supporting the heroic and excellent bilateral support for the people of Ukraine as they continue their fight, on the day that the Defence Committee publishes a report into the Government’s Indo-Pacific tilt, can I ask the Minister to reiterate his Government’s commitment to Euro-Atlantic security as a central strategic concern of these islands of the north Atlantic that we inhabit together, and critically, to update the House on the security of our North sea oil and gas infrastructure?

It is fantastic to hear the SNP’s epiphany on the strategic importance of North sea oil and gas. We take seriously the requirement to protect our subsea infrastructure, whether oil and gas, fibre-optic cables or energy interconnectors. The Royal Navy has ships permanently at high readiness to ensure that our national economic zone is secure.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point. Is a time of growing instability in the Euro-Atlantic and the near east one also to be committing more military resource to the far east and the Indo-Pacific? Every defence review—the original integrated review and its refresh—has been clear that the absolute foundation of all our military effort is around security in the Euro-Atlantic, but if our principal ally in the United States is ever-more concerned, as it is, about its competition with China and the challenge in the Indo-Pacific, it is surely necessary to show our willingness to contribute to Indo-Pacific security alongside the United States, so that the United States remains engaged in Euro-Atlantic security, too.

Before I ask my question, may I quote the former Defence Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace)? In an important article in The Daily Telegraph at the beginning of October, he said:

“Before I left office, I asked the PM to match or increase the £2.3 billion for Ukraine to add to the £4.6 billion we have spent already. The UK is no longer the biggest European donor to Ukraine—Germany is.”

Does the Minister agree that this is a helpful exchange of views, because it will enable him and his team to go to the Treasury and express how united the House is on the need to continue this important—indeed, decisive—level of contribution to Ukraine’s fight for freedom?

The previous Defence Secretary never needed any help from me in making his case to Prime Ministers. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the UK has won a position in leading the global donor community, because we have resourced that commitment and have been willing to go through capability thresholds before anybody else, but our position as a leader internationally depends on our continued willingness to be so. The previous Secretary of State, the current Secretary of State and indeed the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are all on the same page about the importance of maintaining that UK position.

I completely agree with the comments made and concerns raised by the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey). Part of the reason we want the Secretary of State in the Chamber is that we really need to up the game, in convincing the British people why it is essential that we continue our massive ongoing support for Ukraine, and of the importance of defeating Russia. It is clear that Ukraine needs more resources—equipment, ammunition, armaments and so on—so we need to step up further. Will the Minister go back to the Secretary of State and his Cabinet colleagues and say that we really do need to put more resources into supporting Ukraine?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we should not take for granted the cross-party and national consensus that has existed on support for Ukraine. All of us in the House continue to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian armed forces, and I think we set the tone that the media and the nation follow, but it involves a significant amount of money at a time when everybody else around the Cabinet table will also be seeking resource for their Departments, so we must make that case, as he said. As far as I can tell, though, the case is a completely compelling one.

What the Ukrainians are doing is standing up to our main adversary—the nation that challenges security in the Euro-Atlantic most profoundly—and it is through our support for them that we are making a clear stand about how we want the Euro-Atlantic to be and, in so doing, reassuring all our NATO allies along NATO’s eastern frontier of our resolve to stand up to Russian aggression with them, under the terms of NATO’s treaties.

I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s clarity about how critical it is for the security of the world and the rules-based international order that there is a successful outcome for Ukraine in this conflict. Will he do everything he can to ensure that the critical longer-range missiles and air defence systems, which are having a very detrimental effect on the Russian armed forces, continue to get through? May I add my voice to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis)? We take it as read that extra money will be announced in the autumn statement—at least as much as before, if not more—to help sustain Ukraine in this dreadful conflict.

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend about the need to maintain our support for the Ukrainian armed forces. A number of step-change capabilities will come into Ukrainian hands over the next 12 months or so—most obviously combat air. While the UK is not an F-16 nation, it is part of the F-16 coalition and does basic pilot training before the aircraft go on to F-16 nations for conversion. I know that the Prime Minister agrees with all in the House who make the case for the need for us to continue to support Ukraine into the next financial year.

In recent days, there has quite rightly been a lot of interest about the law of armed conflict: a subject about which the Minister knows from his own time serving in the armed forces. While the conflict in Israel and Gaza has rightly made us reflect on the protection of innocent civilians, in the last couple of years we have seen a war in Ukraine in which Russia has shown little regard for civilians. What does the Minister understand by the term “proportionality” in the context of the war in Ukraine?

I think that some of the false equivalence that Lavrov and others from the Russian Government have sought to create is deeply misguided. The point of proportionality is not an eye for an eye or a numerical thing; it is about military necessity to achieve legitimate and proportionate military aims. It is clear in the way that Putin has prosecuted his war, most obviously in places such as Mariupol as well as in how he has systematically targeted civilian infrastructure, not as part of the initial shaping of a legitimate military operation but as part of a deliberate sustained campaign to terrorise the Ukrainian people, that there is no equivalence between what is happening in Gaza at the moment and what has been happening in Ukraine. We must stand up every time that Lavrov or his cronies try to make the opposing point, and be clear on the difference in international humanitarian law.

It cannot be extraordinary that on the same day the Russians assaulted Avdiivka, Iranian-backed Hamas decided to commit their murderous assault on Israel. We cannot fight Hamas, but we can do so much more to crush their Russian allies.

It is important that I do not suggest that we have any evidence that somehow the Kremlin and Hamas were co-ordinating in the awful events that happened two Saturdays ago. What we have seen is that the Kremlin is incredibly effective at spotting opportunities presented to it that would further subvert and destabilise. We have seen that in coups across western Africa and in how Putin quickly moved to contribute to a challenging narrative to the west over what happened in Israel two Saturdays ago.

I know it is difficult to get exact numbers, but the calculations so far of wounded Ukrainian troops are anything between 100,000 and 120,000, as well as about 18,000 civilians. What support is being provided to Ukraine’s health services to help them cope with the wounded and injured? What support is being given with regard to specialist service link-ups between the UK and Ukraine, also to provide the best support that we can?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there are significant casualties on the Ukrainian side, though it is important to note that they are less than those suffered on the Russian side. Those are both military and civilian. On the military side, there is a coalition of nations, just as there is with all other types of capability to provide military aid. There are UK medics based in Lviv as part of that. When I was Rzeszów in Poland just two weeks ago, my plane pulled up alongside a Swedish air force plane that was about to evacuate Ukrainian troops back to Sweden. In addition, the UK is rehabilitating some troops injured on the Ukrainian side to our rehabilitation facilities here. In addition to that, as part of the wider support that the UK Government provide to Ukraine, we are of course always looking for opportunities to support the wider humanitarian and civilian medical services, too.

May I return to stockpiles and supply chains? The Minister is right that the UK has provided a great deal of matériel, but we need a steady supply of orders to restock our own cupboards and to supply the Ukrainians. Will he outline what he is doing to make sure that we have supply chain resilience? Could he reassure me that he will keep a laser-like focus on the logistics capacity needed to get kit from here to there?

My hon. Friend is right on both counts. First, the industrial capacity needs to be re-established not just to replenish our supply chain, which is an important point. The Department is not seeking simply to make a single order to replace whatever has been gifted to the Ukrainians. Instead, we are looking to create orders that run on and on so that the industrial capacity can be maintained. Those contracts are being placed as the industrial capacity comes online. In the meantime, other contracts are being placed that allow more like-for-like replacement from stockpiles elsewhere in the world. He is right that having all the industrial capacity and the fighting echelon works only if we have the logistic enablers to match it all up. We are making investment in that, as was set out in the defence Command Paper refresh.

We must not forget Ukraine and we must continue to stand with Ukraine, but the war efforts there rely on a strong supply chain here in the UK. A crucial part of that supply chain are the GMB members at Defence Equipment and Support, who assemble and transport missiles to the frontline, but they have had to take weeks of industrial action over unfair pay. Ukrainian politicians and trade unions have urged a resolution to the dispute, because they know how valuable those workers are. Will the Minister join me in doing the same?

I am unfamiliar with the issue of which the hon. Lady speaks and I would not want to comment on the fly. Clearly, those who work within our excellent defence industry do very important work. In my experience, many of them see themselves as contributing to a national endeavour and are motivated by patriotism every bit as much as by money. I hope that they will continue to work as hard as they have so that we can support our own armed forces as well as those of Ukraine.

Given that precision, remotely piloted and autonomous weapon systems, not to mention close air support, could be decisive to an attritional land campaign, will the Minister please update the House on the delivery of air power to Ukraine?

In response to an earlier question, I mentioned the F-16 coalition, which is a combination of both gifting the jets and munitions and pilot training. I have nothing to add beyond what I said earlier, other than that it is expected that those capabilities will arrive with the Ukrainians within the next 12 months. Clearly, everyone is working as quickly as possible.

If the news is to be believed this morning, we are about to see another German U-turn—this time on providing Taurus missiles—just as we saw a U-turn on Leopards and the F-16s. Indeed, right across the Ukraine contact group, we keep seeing the same pattern of countries dragging their heels on a certain capability, only to finally give in. Admittedly, that does not include the Minister and the Government, but why does it keep happening in the contact group? Will he say a bit more about how the training of F-16 pilots is going?

I am minded to be much more charitable to nations who have again and again challenged themselves to go through a capability threshold—often one that the UK has demonstrably gone through first. If we consider the position that the Germans have traditionally taken and where they are now post-Zeitenwende, the level of gifting that they are providing is extraordinary. It would be invidious of me to be in any way critical; in fact, I will go the other way and say how full of admiration I am for the way that German policy has shifted so completely over the last two years.

They say that infantry wins battles but logistics wins wars. With western stockpiles diminished, what conversations has the Minister had with the defence sector about supporting Ukraine to produce its own munitions?

As keener followers of defence affairs will have spotted, the chief executive of BAE Systems was in Kyiv at the back end of the summer. BAE has already announced its intention to manufacture in Ukraine. Clearly, the British Government support that. We will look at how the wider UK industry can not only support the UK MOD’s support for Ukraine but increasingly manufacture directly in support of the Ukrainians.

Due to Putin’s illegal invasion of a sovereign neighbouring nation, Ukraine is now the most heavily mined country on earth, leading to countless deaths of innocent civilians. As the Ukrainians continue making progress with their counter-offensive, what steps is the Defence Minister taking to significantly expand our support in providing mine-clearing equipment to Ukraine?

With the exception of the northern Kharkiv oblast, which was recovered at some pace last autumn, I am not sure that the frontline has moved anywhere near enough to start to talk about a civilian de-mining effort in the defensive belts that have been laid over the last year or so. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman’s gesticulation seems to be suggesting that the progress made over the last four or five months is such that the 30 km defensive belt that was well-seeded with mines by the Russians is still very much within artillery range and a part of the defensive action by Ukraine. He is absolutely right, however, that the use of mines—even anti-armour mines, not just anti-personnel mines—is an appalling reality of modern warfare. There must be some urgency in clearing up the battlefield thereafter, but I gently suggest that the military facts do not lend themselves to any such effort right now.

With the world rightly focusing on the middle east, I welcome this question as an opportunity to show our solidarity with Ukraine once again. I welcome Labour Front Benchers likening Hamas and Putin as barbaric bedfellows in trying to annihilate neighbouring democracies. At the recent NATO Parliamentary Assembly summit, we had a briefing from Colonel Maksym Suprun, commander of the 66th mechanised brigade of the Ukrainian armed forces. He talked about the urgent need for more anti-tank weaponry, unmanned aerial systems, electronic warfare capability and, of course, ammunition. How is the Minister making sure that we can deliver the munitions and military capabilities that the Ukrainian armed forces need on the frontline to so bravely defend their democracy?

For more than two years, the UK MOD, alongside the US Department of Defence, has had an incredibly strong relationship with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence. Those political and military relationships and the connections between our defence procurement agencies allow us to have a close understanding of the Ukrainian requirement for the fight not just right now but in six months’ time. We will continue to maintain those relationships. We will continue to invest in the resources that are needed. Quite obviously, we are guided by what the Ukrainians need to stay in the fight tonight and tomorrow and, eventually, to prevail. Everything that we set out to procure on their behalf is with those plans in mind.

We all stand with Ukraine, but there is considerable concern about the likely length of the war. Earlier this month, I attended the Pentlands Ukrainian support group for the Ukrainian refugees in Edinburgh South West, which is supported by the Currie Balerno rotary club in my constituency. Many of the women there asked me what will become of them if the war continues and their three-year visas are up. Has the Minister had any discussions with the Home Office about the need to extend humanitarian visas to Ukrainians or to look at giving them indefinite leave to remain?

Those are not conversations I have had, but since the hon. and learned Lady mentions them I will undertake to have them. First, I commend her local rotary club for leading the support of the Ukrainian community in her constituency. It is really uncomfortable that, while all I want to say to her constituents and the Ukrainians living in my constituency is, “Don’t worry, this will be over soon; you’ll be home soon,” the reality is that it will probably take a while longer yet. It is important that when we stand up in this House, we show Putin our resolve to support the Ukrainians for as long as it takes, with whatever it takes, even if that takes years, because Putin must not think the west will lose patience.

Depriving Russia of the revenue from oil sales is a central platform of the west’s response to its invasion of Ukraine. Twelve months ago, significant efforts were made which had a significant effect. However, at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly a few weeks ago, we heard evidence that all the blockades have now been circumvented and that Russia’s oil revenue has increased. What action is my right hon. Friend taking to work with international allies to see what else can be done in this dynamic environment?

Clearly, it is a cause of enormous concern when international sanctions regimes are not working as intended. If I may, I will follow up with my right hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Parliamentary Assembly to understand exactly what it was that they heard. I will then speak to colleagues in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office about it, and perhaps write to him and his Parliamentary Assembly colleagues with a Government response.

At the end of last month, the Defence Secretary suggested that the UK training of Ukrainian troops could be moved in-country into Ukraine. He also suggested that there might be a possibility of UK warships on the Black sea. Can the Minister say whether those plans still stand?

I heard a slightly different statement, and one that I think is self-evidently true. In a post-war Ukraine, the UK will absolutely seek to demonstrably support Ukrainian security on land, at sea and in the air, but obviously that is not something that we would do while a conflict is still live, for very obvious reasons.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to Ukraine and I am proud that Stevenage-based MBDA supplies Storm Shadow and Brimstone missiles, but we know from a recent report by the Royal United Services Institute’s open-source intelligence and analysis team that North Korea is now massively supplying Russia. Are there any plans to work with international partners to try to disrupt that supply or increase our supplies?

There are a number of outcomes that one might say reflect strategic defeat for Putin: Finland and Sweden joining NATO; growing distrust of Russia throughout its near abroad; and more recently its having to go to countries such as North Korea cap in hand to seek weapons because it is unable to sustain its own arms industry. That is not to mention the rapidly changing dynamic between Russia and China. Of course, the UK and our allies look at ways of disrupting Russian supply chains, but that would not necessarily be a matter we would discuss any further in public.

The Minister will have heard concern raised in a number of places about the potential for a loss of focus or a lack of resolve, given the pivot of interest and attention to the middle east and the harrowing scenes over the last fortnight. He has robustly responded to those concerns. A second element of concern—he invoked the spectre of our main ally, the United States—is the political turmoil and turbulence that appears to be going on in the US Congress and the dissolution of the resolve that was rightly there for Ukraine in certain political circles. I am not asking the Minister to solve that as a problem, but is he concerned by it and can he assure the House that, from the engagement he has had with his counterparts in the United States, in the Executive tier their resolve is undiminished and they will find the resource to continue their support for Ukraine?

The Secretary of State was in Washington last week. Indeed, his meeting was the third he has had with Secretary Austin since he was appointed. Within the Executive, there is absolutely no change in approach whatsoever. Furthermore, although what we see in the news might suggest that there is a growing impatience or a lack of resolve in Congress, that is definitely not what we are hearing in our engagements with colleagues in Congress. America has a very strong sense of what its role in the world is and what this moment of challenge is. Despite whatever domestic politics may or may not be playing out, the resolve of Congress to stand firm on the side of freedom is as strong as it has always been.

Earlier, the Minister highlighted developments in the Black sea. Clearly, they are so important for grain and feeding the world. Will he update the House on the Government’s position on the Black sea grain initiative and how we can ensure that grain is getting out to feed the world?

The Government continue to be affronted by the idea that grain to feed the world should be traded as part of some deal. The Turks have shown admirable leadership in seeking to facilitate the movement of grain out of the Black sea and the UK continues to support those initiatives. If I may, I will write to my hon. Friend with a more fulsome response on the Black sea grain initiative specifically.

I recently met Ukrainian refugees in my constituency and they are really worried about the war lasting a lot longer than was originally anticipated. What they really want is the security to know that they can remain safe here in the UK for as long as this appalling war continues, past 31 December 2024. What conversations has the Secretary of State had with the Home Office about ensuring that Ukrainian refugees can continue to remain here in safety for as long as they need to?

The hon. Lady might have been momentarily distracted, but that exact same question came up 10 minutes or so ago. I will add her name to that of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) in my conversations with Home Office Ministers.

Providing matériel support and logistical cover is crucial to pushing back the Russian aggression in Ukraine, but so is a strong sanctions regime. Earlier today, a worrying report surfaced stating that while the UK has banned Russian copper, aluminium and nickel, the EU has not done the same, as it deems them to be critical minerals. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what the Government are doing to ensure that we present a united front in our battle against Russia?

When it comes to EU sanctions on Russian critical minerals, my hon. Friend has exposed a significant flaw in my knowledge. I will need to write to him.

As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Ukraine, I would like to thank the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), for calling this urgent question and the Minister for his update. The Minister spoke about the new and particularly important phase of the war regarding the Black sea and Crimea. Ukraine will not be free until every Russian soldier has left Crimea. The Ministry of Defence has trained Sea King pilots and, I understand, delivered three Sea Kings, but they are for search and rescue. What naval aid is the UK supplying to Ukraine for this next vital phase of the war?

The UK has provided a number of capabilities that have been used by the Ukrainians in their effort in the Black sea. None of those is explicitly naval, but the challenge with the Montreux convention is that, for example, the two minesweepers the Royal Navy has transferred to the nascent Ukrainian navy cannot enter the Black sea while the convention is in place. That, of course, constrains our ability to generate a genuine naval capability until the convention is lifted.

When Putin launched his attack on Ukraine, he not only expected to conquer a neighbouring democracy but to split the international community. Instead, he united it because people cannot remain neutral when they see that type of behaviour. The biggest rebuff to him would be a strengthened and enlarged NATO, so what conversations is the Minister having, in particular with his Turkish and Hungarian counterparts, on ensuring that the ratification of Sweden’s membership proceeds forthwith?

It remains our firm expectation that Sweden will accede to NATO, and we continue to press all allies to ensure that that happens sooner rather than later. It is also of note—there has been a great deal of discussion about this in the Swedish media—that it is increasingly in Putin’s interests to style out some of the activities that have been happening in Sweden precisely to affront the sensibilities of some other NATO allies. It is important for all our eyes to be open to that possibility.

That concludes proceedings on the urgent question. I will now pause for a moment to allow a change of dramatis personae before the statement.