Emily Thornberry Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury
Thank you for getting in touch with me about Vladimir Putin’s monstrous war on the Ukrainian people, and the devastating human toll we have seen it take in recent days. I have had many messages on the issue from constituents, and I wanted to respond to you all.
At the time of writing, Kyiv and other cities throughout Ukraine are under deadly bombardment, thousands of civilians are already feared to have died, and more than a million others have been forced to flee from their homes into neighbouring countries.
The Labour Party utterly condemns this unprovoked, immoral and barbaric assault by Putin’s forces, we stand united with countries across the globe in opposing this heinous violation of international law, and we remain steadfast in solidarity with the Ukrainian people as they strive heroically to defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, and their lives.
While we must not allow the war to escalate into a wider conflict between Russia and NATO countries, it is absolutely right that we continue working with our NATO allies to provide Ukraine with all the arms, technology and logistical support it needs to defend itself, undeterred by Putin’s desperate attempts to sow fear and division within that alliance.
We must also continue to impose the strongest possible financial and economic sanctions on Putin, on all those linked to him, and on the business arms of the Russian state. We can see the crippling impact these actions are having on Russia’s state-backed corporations, and we must keep ramping up that pressure for as long as it takes to break Putin’s power base.
For years, Labour has also been calling for action to tackle the dirty Russian money being laundered through London’s property market and target the ill-gotten wealth of Putin’s UK-based oligarch friends. The government’s action in this area is long-overdue but does not go nearly far enough, so we will continue to urge them to go further and faster this month.
Finally, I know many of my constituents share my feelings of concern and sympathy for all those Ukrainians – most of them older people, younger women and children – who have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries not knowing when they will be able to go back to their homes, or be reunited with those family members they have left behind.
The vast majority of those Ukrainians naturally wish to stay as close to their homeland as possible in the hope of a speedy return, and the UK must therefore do everything possible alongside our European partners to help countries like Poland, Moldova and Slovakia provide those Ukrainians who have crossed the border with shelter, protection and care.
But that is not enough. We must also do our bit to give sanctuary here in Britain to those who need it, just as we did when war ravaged Europe in the Second World War, and Labour has therefore proposed that the Home Office should issue emergency protection visas to all those Ukrainian people seeking help, safety and support in the UK.
By contrast, the government’s policy on this issue is a complete mess. Originally, they insisted the normal rules had to apply, even suggesting Ukrainians were welcome provided they were willing to pick fruit. Next, they agreed to widen the scope of Family Migration Visas but not far enough. And now, at the time of writing, the Home Office and Downing Street are publicly disagreeing with each other over proposals to introduce a new humanitarian visa route.
In the meantime, 1.5 million people have now fled Ukraine, yet thanks to the Home Office’s initial insistence on the usual rules being followed, the UK had only accepted 50 of those refugees after the first week, meaning just one in every 30,000 Ukrainians in need of sanctuary so far has found it in Britain. That is unacceptable and we will maintain our pressure for change.
Thank you again for getting in touch with me at this deeply harrowing and worrying moment for our world. Rest assured, I and my Labour colleagues will continue to do everything in our power to support and protect the Ukrainian people at this hour of their most urgent need. Please get back in touch with me if you would like to raise any further points.
The Rt Hon. Emily Thornberry MP
Islington South and Finsbury
Shadow Attorney General