8 March 2022
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Questions

James Cleverly, Minister for Europe and North America, answers MPs’ questions to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Ukraine: Humanitarian Crisis

Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)

4. What recent discussions she has had with international partners on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. (905923)

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab)

14. What recent discussions she has had with international partners on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. (905935)

Bell Ribeiro-Addy (Streatham) (Lab)

17. What recent discussions she has had with international partners on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. (905938)

Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central) (Lab)

23. What diplomatic steps she is taking to help ensure the protection of civilians in Ukraine. (905944)

The Minister for Europe and North America (James Cleverly)

Russia’s assault on Ukraine is unprovoked, premeditated, barbaric and an assault on a sovereign democracy. The UK has committed £220 million of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and the region. We are in regular contact with our allies across the world, as well as international agencies such as the UN and other humanitarian partners and donors, to assess the needs on the ground and to ensure an internationally co-ordinated response. We call on Russia to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law.

Liz Twist 

It is absolutely vital that the humanitarian corridors remain open to facilitate the safe passage of refugees from Ukraine as well as the safe passage of humanitarian aid into the country, so what steps has the Minister taken, in conjunction with NATO allies, to ensure that that happens?

James Cleverly 

We note Russia’s claim of creating humanitarian corridors. These are just not credible. The current humanitarian corridors that Russia has highlighted lead into Russia, and it is an obscene and offensive gesture to the Ukrainian people to invite them to take refuge in the arms of the country currently seeking to destroy theirs. It is not credible and we call upon Russia to allow proper, meaningful humanitarian access.

Jessica Morden 

Constituents trying to help their elderly and disabled relatives out of Ukraine describe their arduous 19-hour journey from the south to Lviv for biometric enrolment due to the lack of safe routes in the south. They are now awaiting appointments in Poland, but who knows how long that will take? They need to know, as others have asked today, what more the Foreign Office will do with the Home Office to make this process quicker and more effective.

James Cleverly 

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, the Home Office has established a forward presence, including just over the Ukrainian border into Poland, in order to facilitate cases like the one that the hon. Lady has raised. We continue working closely with the Home Office to ensure that its work on receiving Ukrainian refugees is as quick, effective and efficient as possible.

Mr Speaker 

I call Bell Ribeiro-Addy. She is not here.

Dan Jarvis 

Mariupol has been described as a living hell by those who have been subject to the vicious bombardment in the city. What are the Government doing to get people who are under siege, including brave HALO Trust staff, rescued into some safety?

James Cleverly 

The hon. and gallant Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. Our ability to project influence into Ukraine is understandably heavily curtailed. We will continue working to ensure that potential human rights abuses are catalogued and put forward for subsequent trials in the International Criminal Court and other places, if relevant. I take the point about what more can be done to help the brave people who have stayed behind to do great work in Ukraine and what we can do to help them to evacuate the country. I cannot give him details at the moment but his point is well made.

Dame Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con)

The Foreign Secretary has spoken about the work ongoing with the Home Office to process applications of refugees coming over the border into Poland, but people are also flooding over the borders into Romania, Hungary, Moldova and other neighbouring countries. What more can we do on the ground in those countries to help to swiftly get people to our shores?

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. As we have said, the Home Office has established a forward presence in Poland, but also in the other countries bordering Ukraine, to facilitate the forward passage for those wishing to come to the UK. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have made it clear that we intend to have a generous offer to the Ukrainian people of a refuge to those seeking that, and we will continue co-ordinating with the Home Office in its work to establish routes to the UK.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)

Apart from humanitarian reasons, there are siren voices suggesting that we should commit to a no-fly zone in Ukraine, notwithstanding our existing support to the country and our commitment to article 5 and to NATO. Will the Minister assure the House once again that there is no intention to intervene directly militarily in this war, for a host of reasons, including the fact that it would lead to a wider conflict?

James Cleverly 

The UK should be rightly proud of the support that we gave to the Ukrainian armed forces over a number of years through Operation Orbital and through the early deployment of NLAWs, or next generation light anti-tank weapons—the anti-tank missile systems that have proven so effective—and we will continue to provide support to the Ukrainians in their self-defence. The Secretary-General of NATO has made it very clear that it would be wrong for NATO to engage directly in the conflict with Russia that is the inevitable by-product of a no-fly zone. Putin is desperately trying to paint this as western aggression against Russia. We must not do anything that will allow him to perpetrate that perverse distortion of reality.

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con)

Is my right hon. Friend having conversations about contingency plans for what will happen if, God forbid, Russian forces start to deliberately attack nuclear facilities near the western borders? Those plans would need to lead to a mass movement of the refugees already in that area. Would he also agree that that would pretty much constitute an attack on NATO allies?

James Cleverly 

We take attacks, or the threat of attacks, against nuclear facilities very seriously. Nuclear safeguarding remains a priority for this Government. I will not be drawn on the conditions of what might be defined as an attack on NATO, but nevertheless we have made it absolutely clear that NATO is a defensive organisation. It has never expanded by force or coercion. Our support to the Ukrainians is steadfast, but there is a clear dividing line between an attack on one of our good friends—Ukraine—and an attack on a NATO member state.

Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab/Co-op)

This International Women’s Day, hundreds of thousands of women are massed in the freezing cold at the borders of Ukraine, traumatised children in their arms, as they flee from Putin’s bloody, unprovoked war. Families have been separated, thousands of homes have been destroyed, and whole cities have been cut off from water, food, healthcare and other basic services. This is an evolving humanitarian situation, and the pace and scale of displacement is unlike anything we have seen in Europe for a generation. Some 2 million refugees have already fled the country, and millions more may cross the borders in the coming days and weeks.

Can the Minister tell us how much of the £220 million announced for humanitarian aid is actually in Ukraine or helping those who have fled its borders, and will he agree to provide us with a monthly breakdown of pledges against what has been disbursed? We have to act swiftly and we need to know what has been disbursed to date, so will the Minister tell us?

James Cleverly 

As the hon. Lady says, this is a rapidly evolving situation. We have made recent announcements of humanitarian support, which are very significant—the largest in the world at this stage. We are more than happy to keep the House up to date with the disbursal of that humanitarian aid, and will do so through the normal means.


European Security

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)

7. What recent discussions she has had with her G7 counterparts on strengthening European security. (905926)

The Minister for Europe and North America (James Cleverly)

The UK is working closely with our G7 partners to make clear our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that we will not accept Russia’s campaign to subvert its democratic neighbours. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is working extensively with her G7 counterparts, and met with them in Brussels on 4 March to co-ordinate our response to Russian aggression, including robust economic measures and financial sanctions.

Andrew Jones 

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the situation in Ukraine matters not just for European security, but for the whole world, and therefore we need a global response? Our global allies must join us in taking a tough stance on sanctions and strongly supporting the people of Ukraine. This attack on a democratic nation may have taken place on our continent, but it has significant global implications.

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed our potential sanctions response with G7 partners in Liverpool late last year, and he is absolutely right that the eyes of the world are watching our response on this, and the message we must send is clear: that the G7 and the wider international community, including countries in the far east, many miles from this conflict, are resolute in standing up against this kind of aggressive behaviour, and we will maintain that position.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)

I welcome what the Minister has said about co-ordination with the G7 on Ukraine, but does he agree that Putin seeks to create instability and insecurity elsewhere in Europe at the same time, including in the western Balkans, Moldova and the Caucasus. Can he tell us what he has been doing with G7 counterparts and our partners in the EU to address those attempts to create instability across the rest of Europe?

James Cleverly 

The Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met the Prime Ministers and representatives of the western Balkans just last week. The hon. Member is absolutely right that we must not allow the situation in Ukraine to have a destabilising effect on other parts of the continent or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) said, other parts of the world. We will continue our close engagement with partners in the region and beyond to ensure that we deal with the situation in Ukraine and do not allow it to have a destabilising effect more broadly.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)

Now that the world has woken up to the reality of the cold-hearted ruthlessness of Putin’s police state, does the Minister agree that the most important thing that members of the G7 that are also members of NATO can do to secure European security is to raise their defence budgets to levels that we used to spend when faced with this sort of confrontational approach from Russia?

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. The UK is rightly proud of the fact that we have consistently met out 2% of GDP target for NATO expenditure. We warmly welcome the recent commitment of the German Government in what is a politically bold and incredibly important move to increase their defence spending. This situation in Ukraine is a reminder that peace comes at a price, and we have to be willing to pay that price to maintain peace.


Topical Questions

Felicity Buchan (Kensington) (Con)

T2. Putin’s Russia has been making aggressive statements towards Sweden and Finland. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK should be very supportive of their application to NATO, and we should look to expedite that, should they decide to apply? (905947)

The Minister for Europe and North America (James Cleverly)

NATO has a strong partnership with Sweden and Finland. I assure my hon. Friend that our close co-ordination will continue. Our relationship with Sweden and Finland extends to our valued partnership in security and defence bilaterally and through regional groups, such as the joint expeditionary force and the northern group. I note closely what she said about future applications to join NATO from those states.


Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab)

Vladimir Putin’s decision to severely restrict the BBC World Service in Russia is, I am sure all hon. Members agree, an attack on freedom of speech and on accurate, trustworthy, excellent journalism. The BBC has provided reliable information to the Russian people as Putin wages an illegal and unprovoked war, which he claims to do in their name. Will the Minister tell us what steps he is taking to ensure that the BBC World Service is not targeted further in Russia and across the rest of the world?

James Cleverly 

The Government are firm in their defence of media freedom. The conflict in Ukraine has reminded us, if we needed reminding, how important the job of independent, honest journalism is internationally. The BBC World Service is a jewel in the British crown and the Russian language output that it provides is incredibly important in allowing Russians to understand what is being done perversely in their name.


Stephen Flynn (Aberdeen South) (SNP)

T3. It was reported today that the UK Government regard Ukrainian refugees entering Ireland—women and bairns fleeing Putin’s bombs—as a security threat. When will the Government cut the hyperbole and the bureaucracy and give those poor souls sanctuary in this country? (905949)

James Cleverly 

The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary have made it absolutely clear that we will open our arms to Ukrainian refugees. The Home Office is working to ensure that that is done promptly and we will continue to support the Home Office in its work in that area.


Douglas Ross (Moray)  (Con)

T7.   Earlier, Ministers mentioned humanitarian corridors. What is being done to ensure that they are safe, secure and appropriate? What are the UK Government doing to uphold international humanitarian laws? (905953)

James Cleverly 

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. As I said in response to an earlier question, Russia’s farcical claim that it is opening humanitarian corridors eastwards is, of course, a nonsense. The Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion are typically doing so westwards into the countries bordering Ukraine. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made the point that, in support of those people, the best thing the British people can do, wherever in the UK they are, is to make cash donations rather than donations in kind. We will ensure that that humanitarian support reaches the people it needs to, and we will continue supporting, both at the borders and here in the UK, those Ukrainian refugees as they flee conflict.


Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

What representations has the Minister made to our counterparts in Kazakhstan on the security forces’ use of force on people protesting against living standards and on the oppression of peaceful protest?

James Cleverly 

Following the outbreak of violence in Kazakhstan, my noble Friend Lord Ahmad met senior representatives of the Kazakh Government, including President Tokayev’s special representative. In those contacts, he underlined the need to ensure that law enforcement responses are proportionate and in accordance with Kazakhstan’s international obligations. He also stressed the importance of conducting the investigation into the unrest urgently, transparently and effectively.