Harrogate MP keeps up pressure to help Ukranian refugees as Government is criticised again

As the conflict in Ukraine intensifies on a daily basis, Harrogate and Knaresborough’s MP has again criticised the Government’s handling of the refugees crisis.

By Graham Chalmers
Friday, 11th March 2022, 10:55 am
Harrogate & Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones said: "I look forward to seeing the promised schemes on family visas and community support for refugees without UK connections ramped up significantly.”
Harrogate & Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones said: "I look forward to seeing the promised schemes on family visas and community support for refugees without UK connections ramped up significantly.”

Having last week questioned Prime Minister Boris Johnston’s support for refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Andrew Jones MP said it was still “not good enough”.

Although not regarded as a regular critic of the Government, reports from the Home Office earlier in the week that the UK had granted visas to only 300 refugees so far, appear to have triggered Mr Jones’ latest comments.

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“The UK has done well in terms of supplying military and political support to Ukraine and I know this is appreciated,” he said. “The UK has stiffened the resolve of countries around the world in applying sanctions against both individuals and companies at scale and pace.

“We have changed legislation here, bringing in new laws to speed things up. The largest set of sanctions we have ever made are in place.”

But, while praising the Government’s overall reaction to Russian aggression in Ukraine, Mr Jones said it was letting itself down on how it was handling the refugees.

“There has been significant support given to neighbouring countries to cope with the immediate influx of refugees.” said Mr Jones.

“In the early stages of the crisis that was the priority as that was where the most pressing issue was.

“That situation is changing rapidly and our policy response needs to change rapidly, too.

“So far that has not happened in a way that is as active and urgent as it should have been.

“I do not think our response to the growing refugee crisis is good enough yet.”

The Harrogate and Knaresborough MP's remarks come as The Times reported today, Friday that six in ten people believe that Britain is not doing enough to help Ukrainian refugees, a poll has found.

Only seven per cent of those surveyed said they thought Home Secretary Priti Patel wanted to help Ukrainians come to the UK, according to a new YouGov poll commissioned by The Times.

The UN is now reporting that more than two million people have now fled the war in Ukraine - most of them to Poland - and that figure is still rising.

Much of British national media focus this week has been on the reported 600 refugees looking to cross The Channel to Britain who are stuck in Calais.

Amid claims that many of these were being turned away for lack of paperwork, French officials claimed that 286 Ukrainian refugees had been turned away by UK authorities so far.

With political pressure on the Home Office to reduce bureaucratic obstacles facing those fleeing the Russian invasion and offer real help to refugees, the Harrogate and Knaresborough MP said he wanted to see Britain live up to its commitment to help.

“The Home Secretary has told MPs that the response on refugees is being radically stepped up but, while I acknowledge that it is improving, it is way off the required pace,” said Mr Jones. “Change and improvement this week is, therefore, critical.

“The Government understands that and I look forward to seeing the promised schemes on family visas and community support for refugees without UK connections ramped up significantly.”

Mr Jones is not alone in his concerns.

A string of Conservative MPs have joined opposition politicians from Labour and the Lib Dems in demanding more action from the Government in helping Ukrainian refugees enter the UK.

Former Harrogate councillor Julian Sturdy, who has been Tory MP for the York Outer constituency since 2010, has also added to the pressure on the Government over the refugees crisis.

Speaking in Parliament this week, Mr Sturdy said: “I call for the Home Office to speed up the United Kingdom’s efforts to welcome refugees from war torn Ukraine by abandoning the bureaucracy that has led to a backlog of applications.”

The Home Office says staff have been “surged” at British appointment centres in Europe - including Poland, Romania, Hungary, Moldova and the Czech Republic.

Home Office minister Kevin Foster claimed a new visa processing centre was being established in the northern French city of Lille and that officials were looking at setting up transport from Calais to the new offices. But claims of British efforts to help refugees from Ukraine ran into trouble again in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Senior Tory MP Sir Roger Gale criticised the Home Secretary for what he said was a misleading statement about British visa centres in France. The MP for North Thanet said Priti Patel had told the House of Commons that a visa application centre for Ukraine refugees had been set up en-route to Calais. But officials had since confirmed that was not the case and, in fact, the facility for Ukrainian refugees in Lille had not yet been set up.

Sir Roger claimed Ms Patel misled MPs and “under any normal administration” such an error would be a resignation matter.

This week also saw Ukrainian President Zelensky make a historic address to the House of Commons as he spoke directly to British MPs via a video link from war-torn Kyiv.

In an emotional speech, Mr Zelensky took the opportunity to invoke Winston Churchill with lines such as “we will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets”.

Ripon MP Julian Smith, who last week called on the Government to ‘rip up the usual bureaucracy’ and offer a ‘welcoming and warm hearted commitment of sanctuary’ to refugees, tweeted his admiration for the Ukranian leader saying: “Thank you to @ZelenskyyUa for an inspiring speech to @UKParliament. Incredible leadership and resilience.”

Wetherby MP Alec Shelbrooke has hit out angrily at his own Government for what he slammed as its lack of swift action for Ukranian refugees

The Tory MP for Elmet and Rothwell, who is leader of the UK delegation to the NATO parliamentary assembly, is full of praise for much of Britain’s response.

In many ways, he says it has led the world, but he adds, its performance on the refugee crisis has been unimpressive.

He said: “The UK proudly stands as the largest bilateral humanitarian donor to Ukraine.

“Yet, despite these rapid measures, I’ve been angered by the reticence of the Home Office this week. It’s simply not good enough to have emerging plans for refugees.

"They need to put plans into action now. They need to get a grip on the ground - and in Whitehall - and speed up the processing of visa applications.

“I understand the need for security checks, but we need officials surged into Calais so checks can be completed as quickly as possible.”