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Senior Tory Says UK's Ukrainian Refugee Policy “Doesn’t Cut It” As Crisis Escalates

Former deputy prime minister Damian Green called on the UK government to be more generous in it's policy on Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion (Alamy)

3 min read

Exclusive: Priti Patel needs to publish plans to allow Ukrainians without family ties in the UK to come here now as the existing policy “doesn't cut it”, former deputy Prime Minister Damian Green has told PoliticsHome.

Green has pledged that alongside a group of influential backbench Tory MPs he will continue to push for the “bureaucracy” of the current visa system to be waived after the UN estimated more than a million people have already fled Ukraine since Russia's invasion a week ago.

Speaking to PoliticsHome’s new podcast The Rundown, the former-Cabinet minister said “we need to be able to play our part in helping refugees who may have had no previous connection with this country”.

While the UK has this week softened its policy on granting visas to Ukrainians wishing to settle in the UK, it only applies to those with some close family ties to the country, with an estimated 200,000 people likely to be eligible. The EU has waived visa requirements for Ukrainians entirely for three years. 

Green called the past week “the most dramatic, and dramatically awful, week in international politics since 9/11”, as Vladimir Putin’s troops have begun shelling civilian targets and laying siege to Ukraine’s largest cities.

He helped organise a letter signed by dozens of Tories from the ‘One Nation’ wing of the party to the Prime Minister this week, calling for more to be done to help those travelling westwards away from Russian attacks, following criticism the initial Home Office response had not been generous enough.

A day later the government expanded the scheme to make more people eligible through family ties, but Patel rejected the call to fully waive visa rules.

The home secretary has since announced a humanitarian sponsorship pathway will be introduced, which could allow UK companies and citizens to sponsor individual Ukrainians to come here, but the details have not yet been published.

Green said he is “eagerly awaiting what this amounts to”, and said it must "not only allow us to take in more refugees, but also reacts to what is the habitual characteristic generosity of spirit of the British people when faced with a crisis elsewhere in the world”.

He added: “If all you do is try and tweak the current immigration rules, then you will only end up letting people in who've got some kind of existing connection with Britain, whether through family or some other means.

“That doesn't cut it with the scale of this refugee crisis.”

The senior MP said the 40 Tories who signed the letter to Boris Johnson will “keep this going”, but added that so far it didn’t seem like they would need to start a rebellion to force through the changes they want.

“It was gratifying that within 24 hours of sending a letter that we saw some action on behalf of the government, and I get the impression that we're pushing at a relatively open door, that this is not something where it requires parliamentary drama,” he said.

“I think the cross-party consensus that has been established on the wider Ukraine issue, as well as on the issue of refugees, does extend to ministers as well.

"So it's a question of getting it right rather than actually having to change the direction of travel.”

Green also called on the Foreign Office to go further, and act faster on sanctioning those oligarchs linked to the Putin regime, amid criticism the UK is falling behind other Western countries.

“There's a feeling out there that Britain has been quite slow at getting hold of these assets,” he said.

“The argument is that it's legally very difficult to do so, and I'm not quite sure why that should be.”

  • The full interview, along with more analysis on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, can be heard on The Rundown podcast from PoliticsHome, out Friday wherever you get your podcasts.

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