Katy Balls

Johnson under pressure on offer to Ukraine refugees

Johnson under pressure on offer to Ukraine refugees
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What help will the government offer to Ukrainians seeking shelter in the UK? While the Prime Minister has been talking up his support for the Ukrainian people, government actions on offering refuge to those fleeing the country has so far been limited. After immigration minister Kevin Foster suggested on social media that those escaping Putin's invasion could qualify for the seasonal worker scheme — which applies to jobs such as fruit picking — Boris Johnson is under pressure to go much further (Foster's tweet has now been deleted). 

On Sunday, the government announced that Ukrainian nationals settled in the UK will be able to bring their 'immediate family members' to join them. This, however, is rather limited given it only applies to spouses, unmarried partners of at least two years, children if one is under 18, or adult relatives who are also carers.

With other countries going further, calls are growing for Johnson to do the same. This includes from his own side. Thirty-seven Tory MPs, from the One Nation group of Tory MPs led by Damian Green, are calling for the government to 'share responsibility' with other European countries.

Speaking this afternoon in the chamber, Priti Patel appeared to rule this out — stating that copying the EU by waiving visa rules for refugees fleeing Ukraine would undermine 'the strongest security advice'. She insisted, however, that the government's offer would allow 100,000 more Ukrainians fleeing the war to seek sanctuary in the UK with 'immediate' family for up to 12 months (after which they will have to apply to stay longer). 

There was some confusion as to whether this marked a shift in policy – it turns out not. MPs expressed frustration that Patel made these comments as part of Home Office questions rather than offering a statement — which meant MPs were limited in their ability to ask questions. Given the Speaker has suggested Patel comes back tomorrow to give a full update and conversations behind the scene are live (see Fraser's argument in favour of a wider asylum offer here), Johnson will likely have to go further in the coming days if he is going to match UK actions with rhetoric. 

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

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