Boris Johnson has defended the UK’s support for fleeing Ukrainian refugees and has said “nothing is off the table” when it comes to sanctioning Russian oligarchs.
Yesterday, the Home Office revealed that only “around 50” visas had been issued under the Ukraine Family Scheme – which allows Ukrainian refugees who have family settled in the UK to apply to come to Britain for three years.
Speaking to broadcasters today, the prime minister disputed this figure, but was unable to say how many fleeing Ukrainians have been granted visas to the UK.
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“I can’t give you the number, we’re processing thousands right now,” he said.
PM: UK govt’s approach to Ukrainian refugees ‘very, very generous’
“We will continue to make sure that we have a very, very generous approach.”
Mr Johnson continued: “Clearly 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.”
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The prime minister added that the UK government would not introduce a system whereby Ukrainian refugees can come to the UK “without any checks or any controls at all”.
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“What we won’t do, and let me be very clear, what we won’t do is have a system where people can come into the UK without any checks or any controls at all, I don’t think that is the right approach,” he told broadcasters.
“But what we will do is have a system that is very, very generous.”
Minister: Via process ‘only just started’
Earlier this morning, Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said the UK government has “made it absolutely clear we want to support Ukrainians who are seeking refuge”, adding that most of those who have left Ukraine are currently in bordering countries.
Acknowledging that “only small numbers” have come to the UK so far, Mr Cleverly told Sky News “the process has only just started”.
Meanwhile, Downing Street said a “humanitarian route” for Ukrainian refugees reportedly being examined by the Home Secretary was in fact a sponsorship scheme that had already been announced by the government.
A Downing Street spokesman told reporters: “We’ve set out the details of the two routes that we are putting in place to help those displaced Ukrainians who would like to come to the UK.
“We will set out more details this week around the sponsorship scheme, which as I say will provide a route for Ukrainians without any family ties to the UK – and there is no limit to that scheme. That will welcome as many Ukrainians as wish to come and that have matched sponsors.”
PM: ‘More to be done’ on sanctions
Mr Johnson also defended the UK’s response to the crisis, adding that the UK government “want to go as fast as we possibly can” in imposing sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s allies.
The PM’s official spokesperson later clarified that Mr Johnson will be speaking to the leaders of the US, France and Germany at 15:30.
Mr Johnson is expected to put more pressure on the international leaders to take further action to remove Russia from the SWIFT payment system, while pushing them to back his six-point plan to tackle Russian aggression.
Yesterday, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper criticised the Home Office for “completely failing” to understand the urgency of the crisis in Ukraine.
MPs to debate Economic Crime Bill
It comes as MPs prepare to fast-track the Economic Crime Bill through the Commons this afternoon.
The legislation, which has the intention of targeting money-laundering by foreign oligarchs, will mean foreign property owners will have to declare their identities rather than using companies.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said amendments to the Economic Crime Bill would “give us the chance to bring even more crippling sanctions against Putin and his regime”.
Labour is set to put pressure on ministers to further reduce the time period before foreign-owned UK property needs to be registered under new plans.