I have received hundreds of daily emails about the war in Ukraine. Unfortunately, I am unable to answer all individual inquiries directly, however, I have addressed the vast majority in the response below. This includes my views on the Home Office’s approach to refugees and similar visa issues. I have also included answers to common questions, along with my previous update from late last week for information at the end of this email. Thank you for understanding.
Following a difficult week for the people of Ukraine, I am writing to update you on the rapidly evolving situation.
The first thing to note, is that so far it looks like the Russian campaign is not achieving its objectives although they are shelling large cities and have taken control of territory in the south of Ukraine. There has been no swift overthrow of Ukraine’s government as they predicted. Western intelligence has noticed that the Russian government and forces have been caught off guard by the scale of resistance by both the Ukrainian forces and the wider population. They have also been caught off guard by the united international response. A UK sponsored resolution at the UN yesterday to condemn Russia was won with only 5 countries voting against it.
This is undeniably good news, but it is important to keep in mind that this could be a long and bloody conflict. However, although the Russian campaign is not achieving its objectives on its original time scale, it has seized its first major Ukrainian city. This is an alarming step, but as of typing this email, the vast majority of Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, remain free.
I was encouraged to see our NATO allies dealing with Russian aggression, with their most forceful actions yet. After Keir Starmer had been calling last week for Russia to be removed from SWIFT, I am happy to confirm that this has been arranged by the UK, EU and other partners to the Swift system. This is a dramatic but necessary step. There can be no equivocation about Putin’s actions and they deserve the harshest of punishments as quickly as possible to try and bring an end to this invasion. The rouble has plummeted to its lowest level in over 20 years and the Russian state is beginning to feel the impacts of these economic sanctions, however it is yet to be seen how Putin and his oligarchs react to this pariah status they have given themselves.
Of course, as much as this action is welcome, there is still more we can do in this regard. My front bench Labour colleagues, Rachel Reeves MP, David Lammy MP and Nicholas Thomas-Symonds MP, have written a letter to Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. I will link this letter below if you wish to read it. It highlights Labour’s calls to:
Cut Russia out of our financial system completely
Implement major restrictions on Russian trade and investment
Tackle illicit finance once and for all
Here is the link: https://twitter.com/RachelReevesMP/status/1497854402748583945
The steps announced by the German Chancellor on Sunday were also hugely significant. Germany has committed to spending 2% of its GDP on defence, firmly achieving the target proscribed by NATO. They will also create two new LNG terminals, a supplementary coal and gas reserves and accelerate renewables roll-out. This is an unprecedented announcement from the German government and goes a long way to illustrate just how seriously Russia’s actions are being viewed by European neighbours.
Of course, while there are obvious positive developments, there have been those that have shrank from their responsibility.
Economic sanctions must be debilitating for Russia but we should also be using other avenues to both undermine Putin and also get a message to the Russian people. I was ashamed to see the announcement of football world governing body, FIFA, that the Russian team would still be allowed to play in the World Cup qualifiers as long as they didn’t use their national colours, or anthem. This is a complete cop out from FIFA and is a disgrace to the game. The corruption that gave Russia the last World Cup is obviously still ripe at FIFA HQ. Russia should not be allowed to participate in the World Cup following their unprovoked and illegal invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine. I am glad FIFA reconsidered this matter after initially ducking it.
It is crucial that Vladimir Putin’s barbaric regime feels the full weight of both economic and cultural sanctions. They must be completely barred from playing no ifs, no buts. I am glad some teams have committed to boycotting any World Cup that involves Russia. The Scottish FA has joined the English and Welsh FAs in making clear that it will not play any matches against Russia. Poland, who are due to play Russia on a World Cup playoff later this month, led the charge that they would not turn up for the game.
The government are putting in place a severe sanctions regime but it is too slow and not harsh enough. We were delighted to hear the PM backtrack on delaying the economic crime bill until after the summer and bring this to the House of Commons on Monday next week. It will get through as we will all support it but we will also look to strengthen it. For example, the draft bill gives Russians 18 months to sell their properties. We need to not be allowing them to sell them at all and freeze all their assets and wealth. It is a major hole in the legislation. We also want to see a tougher Companies House, Scottish Limited partnerships loopholes closed, and for the government to go after those facilitators of Russian money like the lawyers and accountants who are trying to get their clients out of the sanctions regime etc.
Of course, away from the economic and political retribution, there is a rapidly escalating parallel crisis, the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding as Ukrainian refugees flee a warzone. Ever since Russia stationed troops on the border, it was well known that a consequence of war would be a large humanitarian crisis. Unfortunately, this tragic event has begun to unfold on a massive scale. The UN estimates that over 800,000 people have fled Ukraine and that may rise to 4 million.
I am glad to see that the EU has unanimously agreed to allow Ukrainian refugees in, for 3 years without needing to apply for asylum. It is vital that Ukrainian refugees are welcomed with open arms.
Ukraine is under fire. People are fleeing war. Yet the Home Office are still applying normal visa restrictions such as on salaries, English language, and only close relatives. And government Ministers are telling refugees to apply for visas designed from fruit-pickers. This isn’t solidarity with Ukraine, it is immoral. The Government must urgently provide a simple sanctuary route to UK for all who need it.
Unfortunately, the UK government has ducked their responsibility on this issue. Despite the Prime Minister and government’s rhetoric, the UK has only committed to allowing refugees with UK citizenship to bring their immediate family to the UK. This is both unfair and immoral. We cannot allow elderly parents, or grandparents or brothers and sisters to be left behind in a war zone. When our European neighbours are uniting to provide unprecedented asylum support, I can’t believe the UK government haggled over what family members they deem legitimate enough to grant residency.
The UK Immigration Minister tweeted, before hastily deleting, that Ukrainian refugees should apply for fruit picking visas. This is a completely offensive and unhelpful intervention. I am glad he has deleted this but it should not have been said in the first place.
My colleague and Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, has been firm in asserting that the government must commit to a much more humane and liberal policy towards Ukrainian refugees. As Yvette has highlighted, the critical issue is that the Home Office is restricting Ukrainian refugees to current visas with steep conditions for acquisition and long delays. We require all family members and extended family members to be allowed in and we are demanding the government bring forward a scheme to allow a safe passage for all Ukrainian refugees.
I am glad the government has begun to soften their stance and expanded criteria, however there are still a multitude of delays and other issues that need sorted out ASAP. We need a simple commitment from the Home Office that family members fleeing war in Europe are all welcome here in the UK and that they won’t be turned away just because their relative here is on a work or study visa rather than having permanent leave to remain, or if their relative is an aunt or uncle rather than a parent. There also needs to be a fast way for those who are not family members to be able to get sanctuary here without waiting for the community sponsorship scheme, which has previously been slow and small in scale
In my view, visas should simply be waived for the time being for all Ukrainians.
With such a tragedy unfolding only a couple thousand km away, this is not the time to fall back on classic Home Office tactics of putting up unnecessary bureaucracy when people are fleeing in their hundreds of thousands. As many of my constituents know, I feel passionately about ensuring that refugees are treated humanely and fairly upon entering the UK. I promise I will continue to push the UK government to ensure this happens for Ukrainians.
I have had many constituents write into me with an array of questions. I have provided answers to some of the most common questions below.
Will the UK continue to provide military assistance to Ukraine? What kind of support will this be?
The Government has had Labour’s full support in helping Ukraine to defend itself. It is right that this should continue – and the Government has our full support on this.
The UK has sent defensive assistance to the country – and this has included anti weapons systems, body armour, helmets and boots. We should respond to specific requests from the Ukrainian Government for assistance – which has been the basis for our previous support, as well as support from our allies.
But support for Ukraine should go beyond military assistance, and should include political and financial support as well.
How would Labour go further on sanctions?
There is more we can do to cut Putin’s rogue regime out of our financial system.
We are urging the government to widen export controls to include luxury goods, widen the number of banks prevented from accessing sterling, sanction an expanded list of oligarchs and cronies and increase the pace at which individuals and entities are designated, expand sectoral sanctions to cover insurance and further limit the supply of goods, services and technology to the energy sector and other strategic sectors of the Russian economy, apply sanctions to wealth held under the name of family members.
Will this end with UK or NATO troops being sent to Ukraine?
UK or NATO troops will not be deployed to Ukraine. NATO’s Secretary General has been clear about that and said there are no NATO forces in Ukraine. Ukraine is not a NATO member and is not covered by Article 5’s mutual security guarantee.
The government, along with other NATO allies, has ruled out introducing a no-fly zone. I know many constituents believe strongly we should intervene militarily, however NATO has decided that engaging in a full-scale act of war with a nuclear power is too risky an escalation to be considered. If you put in a no-fly zone you have to be prepared to shoot down aircraft that use the no-fly zone and that would spark a full scale war with Russia.
But we should be absolutely clear about our commitment to the security of NATO allies, many of whom feel threatened by Russia, and we should bolster and reinforce our NATO allies, especially on the Eastern Flank. The Government has our full support to do that. It is also right that Britain continues to provide assistance to help Ukraine defend itself.
What is Labour saying needs to happen to assist in the humanitarian crisis?
The government must urgently prepare humanitarian support for Ukraine, and for neighbours and partners on its borders.
Estimates suggest there are already 2.9 million people in need and this number is likely to rise fast as more areas are targeted. There is a risk of large-scale displacement of people and flows of refugees out of the country fleeing the conflict.
We need the government to urgently provide details on the scale of aid it is providing to support the Ukrainian people at their hour of need.
Russia must grant full and unfettered humanitarian access to the International Red Cross, as it is required to under the Geneva Conventions and abide by the laws of armed conflict.
Does Labour support the government’s new sanctions?
Labour wants to see the strongest possible sanctions as fast as possible to effectively freeze the Russian regime out of our economic system. It’s important that there is unity across our allies and partners in hitting Putin incredibly hard.
A lot of the new sanctions measures that the government announced are good in principle, but the rhetoric must match the reality as we scrutinise the detail and we think the government can go further. Labour strongly welcomes the ban on trading sovereign debts and limiting access to financial markets, which we had been calling for. But the asset freeze designations seem incredibly slow. We would like the government to be moving faster than this and we hope they will in the coming days.
Although, it is a little bit like closing the door after the horse has bolted. There have been many reports in the last few years of Russian money in London and the city being used as a “laundromat” for Russian oligarchs. The government has done nothing to respond to these serious reports and now the chickens are coming home to roost.
Hasn’t the west been weak in allowing this to happen in the first place?
These are the actions of an unhinged tyrant who has a total disregard for the health and wealth of the people of Russia and Ukraine.
We’re all saddened by this act of war, but we aren’t shocked. Putin has been responsible for conflict in regions of Ukraine since 2014, and he has been propping up authoritarians in the region for longer. Clearly it is a huge tragedy that he diplomatic process of the Minsk agreements have failed. Putin has reached the conclusion that the benefits of invasion have outweighed the costs.
We must work with our Allies across Europe, Nato and beyond to reach new security arrangements that ensure he will never make that calculation in the future.
What should we be doing to resettle Ukrainian refugees?
Britain must stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine who are being subjected to the most appalling onslaught from Russian forces. The Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary must coordinate urgently with our allies, with the UN and with neighbouring countries to offer urgent assistance to those crossing the border, and to ensure they can leave as safely as possible.
Alongside countries across Europe and across the world we need to make all the necessary preparations to ensure that those who are fleeing conflict can find safety and sanctuary.
It is unacceptable that the Home Office is continuing to impose stringent visa requirements on those fleeing war, including the families of British citizens. A safe sanctuary route should be established immediately.
With energy prices already up, will sanctions against Russia hurt the pockets of us at home?
Thankfully Britain is less exposed to this problem than our European neighbours.
Energy security is vital. We must work with our European allies to handle any disruption in the supply of energy and raw materials.
It is true that we are uniquely exposed to the global gas crisis because of a decade of Tory mismanagement. Gas storage has been cut and we’re reliant on imports. Homes are not insulated; and they’ve been slow on renewables and nuclear.
Is Labour committed to fundamental reform of our energy system?
Yes. That means reducing Britain’s reliance on imported gas by accelerating home-grown renewables and new nuclear.
Making sure 19 million homes are warm and well-insulated, saving households an average of £400 a year on their bills.
And regulating the market better, with a pledge to never again let energy companies play fast and loose with the rules.
Is this a breach of international law?
As NATO and the UN has said, this attack is a grave violation of international law, including the UN Charter, and is wholly contradictory to Russia’s commitments in the Helsinki Final Act, the Charter of Paris, the Budapest Memorandum and the NATO-Russia Founding Act.
It constitutes an act of aggression against an independent peaceful country.
You can read my original update on my website here: https://www.ianmurraymp.com/westminster/2022/03/01/ukraine-update-25-02-22/