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Priti Patel Expands Ukrainian Refugee Scheme But MPs Want Government To Go Further

4 min read

Priti Patel has announced an expansion of the Ukrainian refugee scheme as the government faces growing pressure to be more generous to those fleeing Russia's attack.

The home secretary in a statement on Tuesday said adult parents, grandparents, children over 18, and siblings of Ukrainians already settled in the UK will be allowed entry. The government estimates up to 200,000 Ukrainians will be eligible to seek refuge in the UK under these measures.

The scheme will be free and will allow those joining relatives in the UK an initial period of leave lasting 12 months, during which they can work and access public funds, Patel told the House of Commons.

The government is also setting up what the home secretary described as a "humanitarian sponsorship pathway" allowing individuals, businesses, charities and community groups in the UK to sponsor individual Ukrainians, which in turn will provide them with a route to the country.

Patel said the package of measures was "very generous and expansive".

The government has been under pressure from MPs on all sides to to change its policy for Ukrainian refugees as Russia's attack on its neighbour escalates. Patel was criticised on Monday for failing to announce a more generous scheme in remarks to the House of Commons.

As things stand, the government believes waiving visa requirements is not necessary as many Ukrainians who are fleeing the conflict will prefer to settle in countries closer to Ukraine. Speaking in parliament earlier, Patel added that waiving visas poses a security risk to the UK as Putin's soldiers and "extreminists on the ground" in the region could use it to get into the country.

However, opposition parties plus dozens of Conservative MPs want ministers to go further than what the home secretary announced this afternoon.

44 Tory MPs in the party's 'One Nation' caucus of moderates have this week signed a letter to Boris Johnson urging him to make it as easy as possible for Ukrainians to seek refuge in the UK.

They wrote to the Prime Minister: "The United Kingdom cannot flag or fail, our message must be clear: Ukrainian victims of war seeking refuge are welcome". They added that the exceptional circumstances required an exceptional response, writing it cannot be "business as usual".

One of the MPs who signed the letter this morning told PoliticsHome that the Home Office had sought to see how the measures announced at the weekend could be "tweaked" when in reality UK support for Ukrainian refugees should be expanded significantly.

“The government needs to gulp and accept that it must let in people in who no connection with this country," they said, arguing that Ukrainians with no relatives in the UK should be allowed here.

They added: “The Prime Minister is in the position of saying to us ‘look, we are going to do this, but hang on boys’ but we are saying in response ‘okay, do something then’."

Another Tory MP who signed the letter told PoliticsHome: “This a call from a relatively large amount of the party saying this isn’t a migrant crisis, it’s a war crisis, and we could do more".

The latter, who is a former minister, said Patel's remarks to parliament on Monday, which Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper criticised for being unclear, were "tin-eared" and didn't address the urgent concerns of Conservative MPs who want the government to do more to help Ukrainian refugees.

Home Office minister Kevin Foster's now-deleted tweet posted at the weekend saying Ukrainians could apply to work in the UK as part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' seasonal work scheme, which allows companies to recruit fruit pickers and other workers from abroad, also went down badly with Conservative MPs, they added.

Speaking in Warsaw, Poland this morning, Johnson confirmed that the government was preparing to expand the "immediate" family members scheme so more Ukrainians can flee to the UK, telling journalists that imminent changes would allow up to 200,000 Ukirainians to seek refuge here.

"We stand ready clearly to take Ukrainian refugees in our own country, working with you [Poland], in considerable numbers as we always have done and always will," he said in a press conference.

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