Boris Johnson says EU-style open door policy for Ukrainian refugees not right for UK – politics live


Powered by article titled “Boris Johnson says EU-style open door policy for Ukrainian refugees not right for UK – politics live” was written by Andrew Sparrow, for on Monday 7th March 2022 14.46 UTC

Stewart Malcolm McDonald (SNP) asks what No 10 means by the sixth point in the PM’s six-point plan for Ukraine (“a rapid campaign to strengthen security and resilience across the Euro-Atlantic area”). Does that mean reviewing the integrated security review?

Truss says Nato needs to move its response up a gear.

McDonald asks if the government would back a comprehensive defence and security agreement with the EU.

Truss does not back that idea, but she says Nato and the EU are the key players.

Keir Starmer has described the government’s response to the refugee crisis as chaotic. Speaking at King’s College London, he said:

It’s very important that we provide a route to sanctuary for those that are fleeing for their lives.

The Home Office is in a complete mess about this, they keep changing the rules, the stories of what is actually happening on the ground contradict what the Home Office say.

They have got to sort this out … there should be a simple route to sanctuary for those that are fleeing for their lives.

Bryant tells Truss that she should not be “passsing the buck” in response to questions about immigration policy. (See 2.36pm.)

Passing the buck really doesn’t work as a government minister. You are all part of the same government.

Chris Bryant (Lab) asks Truss if she is ashamed that only 50 extra visas have been issued to Ukrainians.

Truss says the Home Office is working quickly to hand out visas.

Bryant says, if the government was prepared for this (as Truss has been claiming in her evidence), it should have been ready for visa applications.

Truss says the Home Office runs the scheme.

Truss says the DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) appeal for Ukraine has already reached £100m.

She says Boris Johnson will be announcing further humanitarian aid this afternoon.


Back at the foreign affairs committee, the chair, Tom Tugendhat, asks if cutting the Foreign Office budget by 5% between 2019-20 and 2024-25 will help the UK forge international alliances.

Truss says she would always like a bigger budget. But she says staff numbers are not being cut.


These are from my colleague Dan Sabbagh on Boris Johnson’s comments on Evgeny Lebedev’s peerage. (See 1.10pm.)

Asked if she backed increasing the defence budget, Truss said it had already gone up. And, she said, without pre-empting the next Treasury spending settlement, she was clear that Nato “has not done enough”.


Back at the foreign affairs committee Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, said she thought India (which abstained in the United Nations vote condemning the invasion of Ukraine) had “some level of dependence on Russia”, in defence and other areas. She said the solution was to have a closer defence and economic relationship with India.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has said the UK is not doing “nearly enough” to take in refugees from Ukraine. She told LBC:

I think the system that is in place of having people fleeing the terror in Ukraine spending hours and hours and hours on arduous journeys then having to jump through bureaucratic hoops is unconscionable.

We only have to compare the 50 or so visas that have been granted for entry to the UK so far with more than 1,000 Ukrainians who have already managed to enter the Republic of Ireland, a country much, much smaller than the UK.

And what Ireland is doing is what the UK should be doing – it is allowing people in and then doing the paperwork once they have managed to get that refuge and sanctuary here …

I think if the UK government does not significantly change its approach here, then increasingly there are going to be people looking at the UK and concluding that on a humanitarian level it is not doing nearly enough to help those fleeing horror and terror in Ukraine.


Liz Truss gives evidence to the foreign affairs committee

Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, has just started giving evidence to the Commons foreign affairs committee.

Asked how the war in Ukraine would change foreign policy, Truss started by saying that she and the UK had been leading in the international response.

She said she had welcomed the Baltic states to the UK, had called for the end of Nord Stream 2, had been the first foreign secretary to attend the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) conference for five years and warned Russia about the consequences of an invasion.


Here are the main lines from the Downing Street lobby briefing.

  • No 10 claimed that when Priti Patel referred yesterday to a “humanitarian route” for Ukrainian refugees wanting to come to the UK (see 9.26am), she was talking about the already announced sponsorship scheme. “It’s the sponsorship route that we set out last week,” the No 10 spokesperson said, when asked to clarify what Patel was talking about. As my colleagues Rajeev Syal and Peter Walker report, Home Office sources are saying the opposite.
  • The spokesperson accepted that sanctions would have an impact on the cost of living for Britons, but said it was too early to know what the effect would be. He said:

We recognise people across the country will be thinking about the effect of sanctions, which is why we are doing everything we possibly can to protect them from the repercussions in terms of cost of living.

We think it is right that we put these measures in place to stop Putin and make sure Putin fails in his objectives.

I think it is too early to be able to set out the full impact they will have but it is obviously something we look at closely.

  • The spokesperson defended the six-month time limit set out in the economic crime bill for the new register of foreign ownership of UK property to come into force. He said six months “strikes the right balance”. Originally the bill was going to allow people 18 months to comply with the new rules, but that was cut under pressure from Labour. But Labour says people should get just 28 days to comply.


Johnson says further sanctions needed against Russia

In his pooled TV interview Boris Johnson also said that he would like to see more sanctions imposed on Russia. He said:

Now that [President Putin] is going for this really unrestrained attack on cities, now that he’s attacking civilians in the way that he is, I think we’ve got to recognise that we’ve got to do more on sanctions.

There is more we can do and more that I think we should do.

So on Swift, there’s more that the world can do. On banking, there’s more that the world can do.

And I think that there is more to be done on on sanctioning individuals. So that’s why we’re bringing in the measures under the economic crime bill today and targeting individuals as well.

Boris Johnson meeting RAF personnel at RAF Northolt this morning.
Boris Johnson meeting RAF personnel at RAF Northolt this morning.
Photograph: Henry Nicholls/AP


Johnson suggests criticism of Lebedev getting peerage makes UK look ‘anti-Russian’

The Guardian, Byline Times and the Sunday Times have now all published stories with details of how the House of Lords appointment commission (Holac) initially refused to back Boris Johnson’s proposal to give Evgeny Lebedev a peerage. Holac tried to block the appointment after being told by the intelligence agencies that Lebedev, the son of a former KGB agent turned oligarch, might pose a security risk. Holac only backed down after intervention from No 10 led to the agencies submitting a revised assessment. My colleagues Dan Sabbagh and Luke Harding have the latest on this story here.

In his pooled TV interview, Johnson denied point-blank the main thrust of the story. The first exchange went like this:

Q: Did you intervene to secure Evgeny Lebedev a peerage when you discovered the security services thought he posed a national security threat?

A: That is simply incorrect.

The interviewer later put it to Johnson again that Lebedev was deemed a risk, but that Johnson “intervened” to give him a peerage. “Well, that would obviously be extraordinary, but that’s not the case,” Johnson replied. Asked to confim that that is not what he did, Johnson replied: “No, course not.”

Many people have read these stories and concluded that what happened was indeed “extraordinary”. But Johnson seems adamant that Lebedev is not a security risk (a view that Holac eventually endorsed), which may be why his denial is so absolute. (He can’t deny intervening to give Lebedev a peerage because it was his decision to nominate Lebedev for one in the first place.)

However, Johnson did not deny having a private meeting with Lebedev in March 2020, at the height of the pandemic, two days after the first peerage proposal was turned down. What was said at this meeting remains a mystery.

Asked about this meeting, Johnson just repeated his main point and suggested that criticism of the Lebedev appointment made the UK look “anti-Russian”, which would benefit Vladimir Putin. He said:

What I can tell you is it suits Putin’s agenda to try to characterise this as a struggle between the west and Russia.

It suits his agenda to say that the UK, that we in Nato countries, are anti-Russia, [that] European countries are now anti-Russian.

It’s very, very, very important that we get the message over that we’re not anti-Russian, we’re not against Russians. Our quarrel is simply with the regime and the aggression of Vladimir Putin …

We must not play Putin’s game and somehow turn this into a witch hunt against every Russian in the UK.

It’s absolutely vital we focus on what Putin is doing and we call them out for what he’s doing.

Boris Johnson and Mark Rutte (left) speaking with RAF personnel at RAF Northolt this morning.
Boris Johnson and Mark Rutte (left) speaking with RAF personnel at RAF Northolt this morning.
Photograph: Henry Nicholls/AFP/Getty Images


Johnson says EU-style open door policy for Ukrainian refugees not right for UK

In his pooled TV interview Boris Johnson insisted that, although he wanted a “very, very generous and open” policy for Ukrainian refugees, he would not abandon controls altogether. He said that this might be appropriate for EU countries connected to Ukraine by land, but that the UK needed a different border policy.

He explained:

If you look at the the situation in the EU, they have a border-free zone, in Schengen. They can’t actually impose controls, even if they wanted to.

We have a different system. And I think it’s sensible, given what’s going on in Ukraine, to make sure that we have some basic ability to check who’s coming in and who isn’t.

But if you look at the record of this government, just since I’ve been prime minister, we’ve taken more than 15,000 people under [Operation] Pitting for Afghanistan. We’ve had 104,000 people apply from Hong Kong coming … to take advantage of the British nationals overseas scheme. We are a very, very generous country.

What we want, though, is control and we want to be able to have checks.

It sounded as if Johnson were rerunning the arguments of the Brexit campaign.


In his pooled TV interview Boris Johnson did not accept the much-quoted figure (which came from the Home Office yesterday) that only 50 visas have been issued under the Ukraine family scheme for refugees escaping the war.

However, he was unable to say how many visas have been issued under the scheme. He said:

I can’t give you the number. We’re processing thousands right now. We will continue to make sure that we have a very, very generous approach.


Johnson plays down Home Office talk of new, more open route to UK being set up for Ukrainian refugees

Boris Johnson has refused to confirm reports that the Home Office might set up a new scheme for Ukrainians seeking refuge in the UK.

In an interview with the Sun yesterday, Priti Patel signalled that she was working on a new scheme that would help Ukrainians without close relatives in the UK (who cannot use the Ukraine family scheme) and without potential sponsors (thus barred from the proposed local sponsorship scheme for Ukraine).

But, in an interview this morning, Johnson implied – without being explicit – that the government was sticking with just the two schemes already announced. However, he also said the situation was “evolving the whole time”, which suggests nothing has been ruled out:

Clearly this, this crisis, is evolving the whole time. I’ve said before that the UK will be as generous as we can possibly be and we intend to do that.

We have two very, very generous routes already – so the family reunion route, which is uncapped, which could potentially see hundreds of thousands of people come to this country, plus the humanitarian route.

Under that scheme, people can sponsor people coming from Ukraine.

Here is my colleague Peter Walker’s take on the interview.


The Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale says it is “a disgrace” that only 50 visas have been issued for Ukrainians wanting to use the Ukraine family scheme, according to the most recent government figure.

Boris Johnson with his Canadian and Dutch counterparts, Justin Trudeau and Mark Rutte, at RAF Northolt this morning.
Boris Johnson with his Canadian and Dutch counterparts, Justin Trudeau and Mark Rutte, at RAF Northolt this morning.
Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

In the Guardian today my colleagues Aubrey Allegretti and Rowena Mason say the Ukraine crisis has averted the prospect of Boris Johnson facing a leadership challenge in the immediate future.

The BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, comes to the same conclusion in an analysis published last night. It includes this quote from Rory Stewart, the Conservative former cabinet minister, which probably reflects the views of a significant minority of the public.

I think he’s a terrible human being. I think he’s a terrible prime minister, but I think he’s done OK on the Ukraine crisis.


Almost 100 Russian oligarchs and politicians have been sanctioned by the EU or US but not by Britain, the Daily Mail reports today. It says:

Many have been buying property, paying for private schools and enjoying luxury lifestyles in the UK, a joint investigation by the Daily Mail and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism can reveal.

The prime minister has insisted that Britain is leading the way in imposing sanctions on wealthy Russians linked to Vladimir Putin’s regime, but so far only 13 have been targeted since the invasion of Ukraine began.

It has sparked fears the UK is ‘trailing its allies badly’ after the EU announced a raft of sanctions on oligarchs with close ties to Britain last week. There are also concerns that delays could allow Putin’s associates to dispose of their assets.


Here is more on the uncertainty about policy towards Ukrainian refugees generated by Priti Patel’s interview with the Sun yesterday. (See 9.26am.)

From my colleague Peter Walker

From the Times’ Steven Swinford

And this is from Colin Yeo, an immigration lawyer (and author of a very good book on immigration policy), who clearly has not heard the rule about avoiding sarcasm on Twitter.


Average petrol prices have exceeded 155p per litre for the first time as oil prices continue to soar because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, PA Media reports. PA says:

Figures from data firm Experian Catalist show the average cost of a litre of petrol at UK forecourts on Sunday was 155.62p.

The price of diesel is also at a record high of 161.28p

A year ago the price per litre of petrol and diesel was 124.32p and 127.25p respectively.

The cost of filling up a typical 55-litre family car with either fuel has become more than £17 more expensive over that period.


Markets slide as soaring oil and gas prices stokes stagflation worries

For more on the soaring energy prices this morning, do read my colleague Graeme Wearden’s business live blog. Here is the current headline, which manages to combine three economic bad news stories – all triggered by the war in Ukraine – in one go.

Markets slide as soaring oil and gas prices stoke stagflation worries


Former minister Alan Duncan says sanctions could lead to ‘economic collapse’ in west if taken too far

Sir Alan Duncan, who was Boris Johnson’s deputy in the Foreign Office when Johnson was foreign secretary and who left parliament in 2019, told the Today programme that there was a risk of sanctions against Russia being taken too far if they lead to crippling energy price rises in the west.

Referring to this morning’s spike in wholesale gas prices, he said:

We’ve got to be careful not to sanctions ourselves.

There is this auction of indignation, which all of us totally understand, against anything to do with Russia.

So they ban this, ban that and ban everything, but in the end, we’re going to end up banning our own supplies.

Now, we of course want to disadvantage Russia, as an essential tool of war. But we don’t want to disadvantage ourselves so that we fall into some kind of dystopian economic collapse. We are on the edge of that.

Duncan, a successful oil trader before he became an MP, said that this morning, in the course of just three hours, the price of natural gas on the futures market almost doubled. It has since settled, he said, but he explained why this was so worrying.

What this means is that the companies which supply gas throughout Europe, won’t be able to pay their margin calls in the futures market. They risk going bankrupt within a matter of days.

And the whole process of distribution of gas across Europe, which affects all of us in every single respect, is not just a matter of price now, it’s a matter of the logistics of actually being able to supply it.

And the danger of this massive spike in futures markets is that although the volume might still be there, the corporate mechanisms, the companies needed to keep it moving, will have folded.

Asked if he was talking of the possibility of supplies of gas just not being available, Duncan replied:

Yes, I am. Price in the end you can cope with, although at the moment,we’re looking at gas which is in excess of the equivalent of $600 oil. Now, that’s the price.

But if the effect of that price is destroy the supply, then you have no gas.

And the thing about gas is you cannot substitute it in the way that you can more easily do so with oil. With oil, we can ship it from somewhere else.

Alan Duncan.
Alan Duncan.
Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images


Minister defends Lebedev getting peerage, saying his father’s KGB background not necessarily relevant

In his morning interviews James Cleverly, the Foreign Office minister, played down suggestions that the government is about to create a new, more open route for Ukrainians seeking refuge in the UK. (See 9.26am.) Here are other lines from his media appearances.

My father was a former chartered surveyor, but I’m not. So what your father did for work is, I’m not completely sure totally relevant.

(This argument may apply in Cleverly’s case, but Lebedev only became the owner of the Evening Standard because of the fortune obtained by his father, who became an oligarch after leaving the KGB.) When asked why Lebedev should be in the House of Lords, when he does not vote there, and has only spoken once, Cleverly said that his inactivity in the Lords undermined claims he had too much political influence. He said:

There are lots of members of the House of Lords who are not active members of the House of Lords. It rather flies in the face of this accusation that somehow [Lebedev] is distorting British politics if he is not voting on British laws.

  • Cleverly said reports that only 50 Ukrainians have been given a visa to come to the UK under the new Ukraine family scheme were misleading because “the process has only just started”. He said the numbers would increase “very, very quickly”.
  • He described Moscow’s announcement of limited ceasefires and the creation of humanitarian escape routes out of Ukraine as “cynical beyond words” because they will apparently only allow refugees to head to Russia and Belarus. As PA Media reports, a Russian taskforce said a ceasefire would start this morning for civilians from the capital, Kyiv, the second city, Kharkiv, the southern port of Mariupol and Sumy. But evacuation routes published by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency showed that civilians will only be able to leave to Russia and Belarus. Cleverly told the BBC:

It appears cynical beyond belief. There is a view that Vladimir Putin believed there was a widespread desire of Ukrainians to be closer to Russia, to be more Russian. I think that has been proven to be a complete nonsense by the circumstances we are seeing.

Providing evacuation routes into the arms of the country that is currently destroying yours is a nonsense.


Here is the Ministry of Defence’s latest intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine.

Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, told LBC this morning that the current visa scheme for Ukrainians wanting to come to the UK was “certainly not a success”.

Asked about reports that only 50 visas have been issued so far, Tugendhat said:

What we need to do is to make sure that we get the Home Office absolutely delivering, to make sure that we get the support for those who are most in need.

The British people are extremely generous, you and I both know that.

This isn’t some sort of, you know, illegal scam. This is, perfectly obviously, people fleeing for their lives and we need to be absolutely there to support them.


Here is my colleague Peter Walker’s story on the Whitehall confusion over the policy on Ukraininan refugees.

Patel triggers confusion in Whitehall after hinting entry rules for Ukrainian refugees to be eased further

Good morning. Although some aspects of the government’s response to the war in Ukraine have been generally praised, there has been strong criticism, including from Tories, of the attitude taken towards refugees from the conflict seeking refuge in the UK. And last night it emerged that among those disappointed by the policy adopted by Priti Patel, the home secretary, is … Patel herself. She told Harry Cole from the Sun:

In response to the desperation I saw with my own eyes at the Polish border two days ago, I’m urgently escalating our response to the growing humanitarian crisis.

I am now investigating the legal options to create a humanitarian route.

This means anyone without ties to the UK fleeing the conflict in Ukraine will have a right to come to this nation.

Cole says in his report that Patel is referring to the possibility of setting up a new route for Ukrainians wanting to come to the UK – separate from the Ukraine family scheme, which was beefed up last week, and the local sponsorship scheme for Ukraine, the details of which are yet to be announced.

Although Patel shared her thinking with the Sun, she does not appear to have told other people in government, and this has created some confusion as to what actually is being planned. These are from the BBC’s chief political correspondent, Adam Fleming, this morning.

And this is from the BBC’s home affairs editor, Mark Easton.

James Cleverly, the Foreign Office minister, has been giving interviews this morning, and he has been unable to shed much light on what is going on. He told the Today programme this morning that the two existing routes “remained the same”.

But he also stressed that there were “neither targets nor limits” to the number of Ukrainians who might be admitted. Last week the government said its two routes then in place might lead to an extra 200,000 being allowed into the country.

We will be hearing from Boris Johnson later, so perhaps No 10 might have clarified a line by then.

Here is the agenda for the day.

Morning: Boris Johnson visits an RAF base with his Canadian and Dutch counterparts, Justin Trudeau and Mark Rutte.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

1.05pm: The former head of corporate affairs at Swift, Natasha de Terán, and other financial experts give evidence to the Commons Treasury committee on sanctions against Russia.

2pm: Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, gives evidence to the Commons foreign affairs committee.

After 3.30pm: MPs begin the debate on the economic crime bill. The second reading debate can last up to four hours, and after that MPs will debate amendment and conclude the bill’s remaining stages.

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