25 May 2022
James Cleverly responds to House of Commons debate on Ukraine

James Cleverly, Minister for Europe and North America, responds to a House of Commons debate on Ukraine.

The Minister for Europe and North America (James Cleverly)

I am grateful to hon. and right hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions to the debate. In response to the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and to other Opposition Members, let me put on record that the Government recognise and value the unanimity of voice with which we speak on these issues. There is, of course, always the opportunity here to engage in partisan and party political attacks. That is a part of the job that we do, and there is nothing wrong with it, but there are also times when we come together and stand shoulder to shoulder in defence of values that we all share. We have seen in this afternoon’s debate a strong demonstration of this House speaking largely with one voice. Members are highlighting concerns, issues and problems when they arise, but are fundamentally standing shoulder to shoulder with each other, as is right.

The stoicism, courage and determination shown by President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people in the face of this onslaught is an inspiration to us all. If we are to realise a world where peaceful, sovereign nations are free to choose their path, and to prosper without fear of invasion, then Ukraine must win. We are working intensively with our allies and international partners to support our friends in Ukraine. The Prime Minister is in regular contact with President Zelensky. They spoke last Thursday and again on Sunday. The Prime Minister has spoken recently to the G7, European leaders, NATO and the UN Secretary-General. Last week, he was in Sweden and Finland to agree increased co-operation on security, and to discuss their application to join NATO. Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary was in Germany to attend the G7—as was I, attending the G7 Development Ministers’ meeting. The Foreign Secretary was also at the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meetings, where she galvanised work with allies to help win the battle for Ukraine. As mentioned earlier by the Minister for Defence Procurement, the Defence Secretary met his US counterpart at the Pentagon two weeks ago. They spoke about the joint UK-US efforts to support Ukraine, including through the supply of military aid and the co-ordination of donations from other partners. The Defence Secretary is in Madrid for similar discussions with the Spanish Defence Minister.

The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) asked about replenishing the equipment we have donated and, by extension, NATO countries flushing Soviet-era equipment through the system, and replacing it with NATO-standard equipment. As he was speaking, I discussed that quietly on the Government Front Bench with the Minister for Defence Procurement, who assures me that we are in active dialogue with the defence manufacturing industry on those issues. I am not able to go into more detail at the Dispatch Box at the moment, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that his concerns are being thought about by the Government. We are discussing those issues to ensure that we can defend ourselves and our partners, not just in the here and now, but in the future.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) raised a number of incredibly important points about how we progress towards, hopefully, the end state of this conflict. I reassure him that we will be guided by the Ukrainian people on any negotiated settlement that comes about. We would not countenance their being forced into a conclusion to the conflict that they are not comfortable with. That would be counterproductive to the long-term peace and security of the continent, and for Ukraine. The UK is consistently pushing at the front of the pack in its support for Ukraine.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East mentioned relevance to the integrated review, and mentioned China’s posture on the conflict. He highlighted conversations between the Russian and Chinese leaders; because of those conversations, the integrated review rightly places great focus on the Indo-Pacific region. The integrated review highlighted Russia as a major state threat actor to the UK—to our interests and the security of our friends and allies. I understand the points made by my right hon. Friend and a number of other Members about ensuring the IR is fit for purpose, and we will of course always keep our defence and security thinking up to date in light of what is happening in Ukraine, but the IR remains a strong foundation on which to build our defence, security, diplomatic and development policy for the period set out in it.

A number of Members spoke about sanctions. They are an important part of our response, but they are not the complete picture. The hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) highlighted the importance of sanctions; we will continue to push them forward in order to hamper Vladimir Putin’s ability to fund his aggression, and to isolate him and the cabal around him. I again put on record the Government’s recognition of the work done by Opposition Members in meetings on sanctions-related statutory instruments. I have always found their views to be thoughtful; they are sometimes critical, but always ultimately have a desire to ensure that our sanctions packages are robust and effective, and that any attempt to circumvent them is curtailed.

Geraint Davies 

That being said, does the Minister accept that each day that the war goes on comes at an enormous economic and humanitarian cost to the world that dwarfs the investment put in to help Ukraine defend itself and push back the Russians? Is there not therefore a compelling military, humanitarian and economic case for investing more sooner, so that we get this war ended and won sooner?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Gentleman makes a strong point about the need to bring this conflict to a successful conclusion, with Ukraine winning. I was struck by the point my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) made about rushing to a ceasefire that might counterproductive for the Ukrainian people and an asset to the Russians. We will of course do everything we can to help Ukraine defend itself and expel Russia from its territory, but I urge caution to those in the Chamber and those listening to the debate: this conflict needs to be won, and won properly, if we are to ensure that we do not revisit these conversations for months and perhaps years to come.

The hon. Member for Swansea West raised the issue of circumvention and the overseas territories. I assure him that the UK sanctions regime applies in all UK Crown dependencies and overseas territories, either through legislation in those jurisdictions, or through Orders in Council. We of course work with our international partners to ensure that we prevent, as far as we can, circumvention and evasion of the international sanctions.

The hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) was absolutely right to raise a point about international co-operation. I have no doubt that the collective response to Russia’s invasion has been a huge disappointment to Vladimir Putin. Where he sought division and conflict, he sees instead solidarity, unity and resolve.

The hon. Gentleman asked specifically about the Black sea, and that plays into a number of points that right hon. and hon. Members made about food security. I was in Romania at the beginning of this week. Several issues that were triggered by the conflict on the Black sea coast because of Russia’s attack towards Odesa were very much topics that I discussed directly with the Romanians and in other meetings, including the G7 Development Ministers meeting last week, when we talked about grain exports, food security and the ability to move the grain in ships through the Black sea. Sadly, I cannot give him the reassurance that he and others desire, but I assure him that that remains very much at the top of the agenda.

I think the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport made the point, as others have, that food insecurity is being used as a wider weapon of war. The message—this was reflected in his speech—that I would pass to countries around the world that are suffering from food price inflation, food shortage and food insecurity is that that is a direct result of Putin’s invasion, and is not, as Putin would have them believe, any kind of response to sanctions. There are no sanctions on food or food movements. The shortages are a direct result of his aggression and nothing else. That said, we will continue to work with our international friends to do what we can to find export routes for that grain from Ukraine, whether that is by sea or land.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) spoke with huge clarity and great accuracy, sadly, about the warnings that were missed and the lessons that were not learned. I remember that, long before it was fashionable, he spoke and wrote about global insecurity, our need to defend ourselves against aggression and the importance of the UK thinking about these global trends. He still speaks with great authority on these issues. He made some important points on sanctions and said that we must learn the lessons of what is happening now to ensure that we do not see aggression such as this again.

A number of Members raised the issue of sexual violence and rape as a weapon of war, including the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth. The evidence that we have seen is truly horrific and barbaric. Last month, the Foreign Secretary announced a £10 million fund that will help expert civil society organisations to work with victims of conflict-related violence. Earlier this month, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General visited Ukraine for talks with its prosecutor general as part of our support for Ukraine’s investigations into Russian atrocities. I assure the House that, in response to the barbaric tactics of Putin’s forces—from levelling residential buildings in cities such as Mariupol to the slaughter, rape and torture of innocent civilians in towns such as Bucha—we will work with international partners so that those who have perpetrated or ordered such atrocities will be held to account by the international community.

We have led efforts to refer Russia’s actions in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court. Those efforts have now secured support from 42 other countries. We have committed to providing the Court with the resources necessary to secure evidence and conduct prosecutions, starting with a contribution of £1 million.

Several hon. Members highlighted one of the by-products of Russia’s aggression: Finland and Sweden’s applications to join NATO. I make no apology for repeating my point about the unanimity of voice on the Opposition Benches with respect to the UK’s support for NATO and our welcome for Finland and Sweden’s applications to join. We need to bolster NATO’s eastern flank. The Government welcome and support Finland and Sweden’s applications; I do not want to do too much crystal ball gazing about this House’s appetites, but I think it a relatively safe bet that whatever process it needs to take to facilitate their membership will happen quickly and with little disagreement.

Stephen Doughty 

Can the Minister say whether he has spoken to his Turkish counterparts about the objections that they have raised?

James Cleverly 

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that whatever conversations are necessary to ensure that Finland and Sweden successfully join NATO will happen. We enjoy a very strong bilateral relationship with our NATO ally Turkey; we will listen to whatever concerns it has and do whatever we can to address them, but I have no doubt that the UK Government will take whatever actions are necessary to facilitate Finland and Sweden’s membership.

Hon. Members across the House have rightly raised the subject of Moldova, which is very much in our thinking. The partnership between the UK and Moldova is flourishing, thanks to the strong links between our peoples and Governments. Our bilateral agreement on strategic partnership, trade and co-operation provides a solid basis for developing that relationship. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that we will work to help Moldova to protect itself; indeed, at bilateral meetings in Romania this week I discussed our desire to support its self-defence.

Wider humanitarian need is a subject that concerns us all. Almost a third of Ukrainians have fled Putin’s invading forces, and nearly 16 million are in need of humanitarian support. The UK will continue to provide humanitarian support to people in and outside Ukraine, and to countries that are supporting Ukrainian refugees. Hon. Members raised the situation with regard to the sale of Chelsea football club; we will ensure that any receipts from that sale are used to provide humanitarian support for those who need it, in Ukraine and more broadly.

I can assure the House that my hon. Friends in the Home Office have taken particular note of the individual cases that were raised. Hon. Members will understand if I do not speculate too much on those cases, but I assure them that notes were taken. If they feel the need to provide details that they were not able to furnish in the House—I understand that it is not always right to go into too much detail in what is a public forum—the Home Office will be more than willing to listen to their concerns.

The invasion of Ukraine helps to illustrate the power of free nations and the weakness of autocrats. Russia’s assault on Ukraine was unprovoked, premeditated and barbaric, and as long as Russia continues to pursue its military objectives, it cannot be seen as willing to negotiate in good faith. While this is the case, the UK and our partners will continue to provide military, economic and humanitarian support to Ukraine, apply sanctions and increase international pressure on Russia. The UK and the international community stand against this naked aggression, and for freedom, democracy and the sovereignty of nations around the world. The UK and our allies will support Ukraine’s effort to secure a settlement that delivers sustainable peace and security.

Putin has used his iron grip on Russian television to present to his people an alternative reality and fundamental lies about the motivations for his invasion, but the truth and the facts are clear. Putin thought that the Ukrainian people would roll over. They did not. Putin thought that we and the international community would lack the resolve to face him down. We did not. Putin has united Europe and NATO, and he has reinforced our shared resolve that Ukraine and the Ukrainians must win. With our continued support, I have certainty that they will.