The Russian attack on Ukraine is an unprovoked and anti-democratic act of aggression and I am appalled by the conduct of Putin’s expansionist regime. The situation in Ukraine remains deeply concerning so I welcome the work the Home Office has been doing over the course of recent weeks in anticipation of an invasion to stand up a comprehensive package of support for those fleeing Ukraine, and Ukrainian nationals already in the UK.
The situation is developing quickly, and so the Government has to evolve its plans to adapt. I therefore welcome the new expansive Ukrainian Family Scheme which will enable British nationals and Ukrainians already settled in the UK to bring a wider group of family members to the country, extending eligibility to parents, grandparents, adult offspring and siblings. This generous offer broadens the original package beyond immediate family members which formed part of the first phase of the Government’s humanitarian response. Those joining family in the UK will be granted leave for an initial period of 12 months and will be able to work and access public funds.
Where family members of British nationals do not meet the usual eligibility criteria – but pass security checks – UK Visas and Immigration will give them permission to enter the UK outside the rules for 12 months and is prioritising all applications. Furthermore, the Government is establishing a humanitarian sponsorship pathway, which will open up a route to the UK for Ukrainians who may not have family ties with the UK but who are able to match with individuals, charities, businesses, and community groups. Those who come under this scheme will also be granted leave for an initial period of 12 months and will be able to work and access public services.
I have been informed that security and biometrics checks, which are a fundamental part of the UK’s visa approval process at all Visa Application Centres worldwide, will continue to take place at an accelerated pace on all applications. Given the acute security challenges in Ukraine, Russian efforts to infiltrate and merge with Ukrainian forces, the presence of extremists on the ground and Putin’s willingness to use violence on British soil, it is right that the Government continues to protect the public by maintaining these vital checks. This is a policy that has been retained consistently throughout all emergency evacuations, including in Afghanistan.
The UK Visa Application Centre in Kyiv is now closed because of the security situation in the city. Family members of British Nationals resident in Ukraine who need a UK visa can still apply through the new, temporary location in Lviv staffed by remaining government officials, or through an Application Centre in a nearby country where there is surged capacity, including in Poland, Romania, Moldova, and Hungary. On 12 February, the Home Office set up a dedicated helpline on 0300 3032785 for anyone who is intending to apply under the Family Migration route to assist with making an application. This is operating on a 24/7 basis. Finally, the situation is very fluid and there is a strong feeling in Parliament, which I share, that the arrangements regarding refugees must constantly be kept under review.
Turning to sanctions and illicit Russian money in Britain. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the West has moved to impose the most severe and coordinated package of sanctions Russia has ever faced in response to Putin's illegal invasion of Ukraine.
In lockstep with allies, the UK is:
• Freezing the assets of all Russian banks with immediate effect, including VTB, Russia’s largest bank. Co-ordinated with the US this is the single biggest financial sanction in history.
• Preventing Russian companies from borrowing on the UK markets, effectively ending the ability of those companies closest to Putin to raise finance in the UK. This is in addition to banning the Russian state itself from raising funds in the UK, as previously announced.
• Alongside the US, EU, Japan and Canada, cutting Russia’s Central Bank off from our markets.
• Strengthen our trade and export controls against Russia; banning the export of a range of high-end and critical technical equipment and components in sectors including electronics, telecommunications, and aerospace.
• Sanctioning President Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
• Sanctioning over 100 companies and oligarchs at the heart of Putin’s regime, including the vast majority of the Russian defence sector.
• Sanctioning members of the Russian Duma and Federation Council.
• Banning Russia's national airline (Aeroflot) from UK airspace, and indeed any aircraft which is registered in Russia or owned, chartered or operated by a person connected with Russia from UK airspace.
• Imposing new restrictions to cut off wealthy Russians’ access to UK banks.
• Excluding many of Russia's key banks from the SWIFT financial system (and pushing for a full ban).
• Imposing sanctions on Belarus for its complicity in Putin's invasion.
On 31 January, the Foreign Secretary announced new legislation in Parliament to toughen and expand the UK’s sanctions regime in response to Russian aggression against Ukraine. Under the existing regime, the UK had only been able to sanction those linked to the destabilisation of Ukraine. Now, a much broader range of individuals and entities can be sanctioned due to their significance to the Kremlin. These powers will go further than ever before, and mean that the UK stands ready to hit the Russian state where it really hurts should it invade Ukraine.
I also strongly welcome the establishment of the Global Anti-Corruption sanctions regime which will enable the Government to target corrupt actors and their enablers. This new tool will prevent those responsible from entering the UK or laundering assets here. These sanctions will help to ensure that the UK is not a safe haven for those involved in serious corruption, including those who profit from it.
I also welcome that the Government is bringing forward the Economic Crime Bill and measures to create a register of beneficial ownership for property. I hope this information is of some interest to you.