Foreign Secretary James Cleverly makes a statement to the House of Commons on the missile explosions in eastern Poland.
With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will make a statement about the missile strike in Poland overnight.
At approximately 7 pm local time last night, there were missile explosions in a village in eastern Poland, approximately four miles from the border with Ukraine, killing two civilians and wounding four, during an extended Russian bombardment of Ukrainian territory.
As soon as I received the report, I contacted my Polish counterpart to express the sympathy and solidarity of the United Kingdom—I am sure the whole House will share that sentiment—and to offer our practical support. I then spoke to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in a trilateral call with my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary, while the Prime Minister was attending the G20 summit in Indonesia.
The Prime Minister immediately called President Duda of Poland to convey the UK’s condolences for the tragic loss of civilian life and to assure him of our unwavering support to a steadfast NATO ally. My right hon. Friend then spoke to President Zelensky about the latest situation and also attended an ad hoc meeting of G7 leaders called by President Biden to discuss the evolving situation.
This morning, I spoke to the Polish Foreign Minister and I commended Poland’s decisive, determined, but calm and professional response to the situation. It is wise to advise the House that, at this point, the full details of the incident are not complete, but, earlier today, Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary-General, said there was
“no indication that this was the result of a deliberate attack”.
He added that the incident was
“likely caused by a Ukrainian air defence missile fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks.”
Poland will lead the investigation to establish exactly what happened, and the UK stands ready to provide any practical or technical assistance. In the meantime, we will not rush to judgment; our response will always be led by the facts.
The House should be in no doubt that the only reason why missiles are flying through European skies and exploding in European villages is Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine. Secretary-General Stoltenberg was absolutely right when he said today that what occurred in Poland is “not Ukraine’s fault” and that “Russia bears ultimate responsibility”.
Yesterday, Putin launched one of the heaviest attacks since the war began, firing wave upon wave of more than 80 missiles at Ukrainian cities, obliterating the homes of ordinary families, destroying critical national infrastructure and depriving millions of Ukrainians of power and heat just as the winter sets in. This brutal air campaign is Putin’s revenge for Ukraine’s successes on the battlefield, where Russian forces have been expelled from thousands of square miles of territory. Now he is trying to terrorise the people of Ukraine and break their will by leaving them shivering in cold and darkness. I have no doubt that he will be unsuccessful in that endeavour, but this is why Britain is helping Ukraine to strengthen its air defences, and we have provided more than 1,000 surface-to-air missiles thus far. I know that the House will be united in our support for Ukraine’s right to defend her territory and her people.
On Monday, I signed a memorandum of understanding as part of our £10 million commitment to help Ukraine rebuild its critical energy infrastructure. The tragic incident in Poland last night is ultimately the result of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. That is the only reason why it has happened, and it would not have happened otherwise. That is why the UK and our allies stand in solidarity with Poland, and that is why we are determined to support the people of Ukraine until they prevail and their country is once again free. Madam Deputy Speaker, I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement. I am grateful for the direct communications that we had on this matter on Privy Council terms last night.
This was a serious incident that led to a tragic loss of life. I join the whole House in sending condolences to the families of those killed, and I expressed them directly to the Polish ambassador last night.
Poland and NATO allies deserve praise for taking the correct steps to assess this incident carefully and avoid escalation. It is right that we continue to proceed with cool heads to determine exactly what has taken place and work in lockstep with Poland and our NATO allies.
As my right hon. Friend the shadow Defence Secretary and I restated on our visits to NATO headquarters in Brussels last week, Labour’s commitment to NATO is unshakeable. We also note, as the Foreign Secretary did, the NATO Secretary-General’s words earlier today. He said:
“Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine.”
This incident highlights the sheer recklessness of Putin’s war and the ongoing need to guard against miscalculation and deter aggression. Yesterday saw one of the largest barrages of missiles against Ukraine since the war began, cruelly targeting civilian infrastructure as the winter approaches. Ukraine will continue to have our total support and complete solidarity in its brave fight against Russian aggression. It is right that we play our full part in strengthening Ukraine’s air defence capacity.
As the world gathered in Bali with an agenda to address common problems, one leader did not show, instead hiding from scrutiny and condemnation. Putin’s warmongering is being met with ever greater isolation. On Monday, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution calling for Russia to be held accountable for invading Ukraine, and recognising the need for
“an international mechanism for reparation for damage, loss or injury”
caused by Putin’s wrongful acts. Labour stands with the international community in demanding that Russia is held accountable. Her actions are bringing death and destruction in Ukraine, and economic pain for the whole world. The numbers in the latest UN vote are proof that more needs to be done to build and sustain global opposition to Putin’s barbaric war. What strategy have the Government put in place to strengthen opposition to the invasion, particularly across the global south?
The result of this war will depend on who has more endurance: Putin’s Russia, or Ukraine and its supporters around the world. Labour stands fully committed to work in support of Ukraine until it wins its freedom—that is what must happen.
I find myself in complete agreement with the shadow Foreign Secretary. It is absolutely right that we stand in solidarity with our allies—our formal allies in NATO, and also the Ukrainian people as they defend themselves. He speaks about endurance; I have spoken in the past about the need for strategic endurance, recognising that we must send the message to not just Vladimir Putin, but every other potential aggressor around the world, that we will defend the UN charter, international humanitarian law and the right of territorial integrity until the job is done. We must maintain that strategic endurance.
The shadow Foreign Secretary is absolutely right to ask about support for the international coalition that has condemned Russia’s actions. Some 141 countries voted for the resolution at the UN General Assembly at the start of the conflict, and 143 voted to condemn the illegal annexation of the eastern and southern oblasts in Ukraine. However, that coalition needs to be supported. I and the Ministers and officials within the Department regularly engage with countries in the global south that are worried about food security, fuel security and the availability of fertiliser. We have worked in conjunction with our international allies, particularly Turkey, to ensure that the Black sea grain initiative is supported. We hope that that initiative will be extended, and we are lobbying for that extension to occur so that Vladimir Putin cannot use hunger or the fear of hunger as leverage to support his illegal attempted invasion of Ukraine.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s remarks about strategic endurance. From our point of view, that must surely involve the continued supply of the munitions that have enabled Ukraine to resist so effectively so far. Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that he and the Defence Secretary have made appropriate representations to the Chancellor and the Prime Minister that tomorrow, we must not send a signal of weakness in respect of how much we are prepared to invest in defence?
My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point about the need to send an important message to the world, and indeed to our Ukrainian friends, that we are in it for the long haul—that we do have that strategic endurance, and we will support them until the job is done. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary and I have discussed this issue on a number of occasions; indeed, we will have high-level representation at the Ramstein donor conference, which is occurring as we speak, to ensure that we listen to the needs of Ukraine, and that both the scale and nature of our support are co-ordinated with Ukraine so that it can defend itself against the evolving threats it sees from Russia.
I also thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement, and commend him for its welcome, measured tone. Speaking for the SNP, I also express our total solidarity with, and condolences to, the people of Poland, and commend them for their restraint overnight—I think a lot of us did not get much sleep last night, as we were contemplating what might be the consequences of this incident. If this was a tragic accident, it was a tragic accident, but as the Foreign Secretary rightly says, it is the Ukrainians who are on the frontline, and have been for many months. The responsibility for the fact that rockets are flying at all sits entirely at the door of Vladimir Putin, and the SNP stands four-square as part of the global coalition in Ukraine’s defence.
Sadly, the Kremlin’s tactics in Syria surely tell us that this is going to continue, if not get worse: as we see land advances by the Ukrainian forces, we will see more indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure by air. As such, what assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of the need for further air support, not just for Ukraine but for neighbouring countries? I appreciate that 1,000 or so missiles have already been given, but what more do we need, and is it now time to be talking about a no-fly zone over Ukraine and neighbouring countries to deter—to the extent we can—further Russian aggression?
I would also like to put on record my recognition of the fact that right across the House, including from the SNP Benches, we have had a unanimity of voice on the world stage. If Vladimir Putin felt that his aggression in Ukraine could in any way drive wedges between people who are like-minded on these issues, he was wrong. That is true in this House, and it is true on the international stage.
I thank the hon. Member for the points he has made. He has made an incredibly important point about the evolving threat. As I said in my response to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), it is now clear that as Russia sees failures on the battlefield, it is moving to attacks from the air. We have provided surface-to-air defence missile systems and AMRAAM air-to-air defence missile systems. We will be looking at further air defence donations that can come from the international community and also, importantly, making sure there is integration in the air defence cover that Ukraine is able to provide. We know what Putin intends to do—as I have said, he intends to starve and freeze the Ukrainians into submission—and we have to stand shoulder to shoulder with them in order to prevent him from doing so.
I presume that the Foreign Secretary agrees with me that article 5 of the NATO treaty is just as relevant now as it has ever been—in other words, that an attack against any member of NATO is an attack against all of us—and that we should make it absolutely clear to Russia that that remains the case.
My right hon. and gallant Friend makes an incredibly important point about the importance of our collective defence. I remind the House that the NATO Secretary-General’s assessment is that this was not a deliberate attack, so in this instance, article 5 would not be the most appropriate response. Again, I commend the Polish Government on their swift and decisive, but calm and measured, response to this incident.
I had a conversation this morning with our permanent representative at NATO in Brussels; NATO also acted swiftly and calmly by discussing this incident, and the response will be calibrated to the facts on the ground. However, as I say, my right hon. and gallant Friend is right that our collective defence is a cornerstone of our safety.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. We all, obviously and correctly, totally condemn the Russian invasion, the war against Ukraine and the illegal occupation, as we condemn illegal occupations everywhere else. Possibly more than 200,000 people have already died in this conflict, and with the current trajectory, tragically, there are going to be many more deaths of Ukrainians and, indeed, Russian conscripts. There are going to be devastated families all around.
I hear everything that the Foreign Secretary has said, but he did not say anything about the possible role of the United Nations or any other world body in trying to bring about a process that could at least halt this conflict, restore the status quo in terms of land areas, and try to bring about an early end to this war. Otherwise, we are going to have hundreds of thousands more dead as a result of what is, of course, the totally wrong occupation of Ukraine.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that calls for halting the war were not emanating from Moscow when the Russians felt that they were on the front foot. They were not calling to halt the war when those tanks were surrounding Kyiv; nor were they calling to halt the war when they thought that President Zelensky’s Government would collapse. I find it interesting that calls to halt the war are coming from certain places now that Russia is on the back foot and losing territory in the east and south of Ukraine.
It is important to make the point that ceasing a conflict is not in itself a neutral act. The Ukrainians have been attacked and murdered, their cities damaged, and their critical national infrastructure put beyond use. It is incredibly important that the message is sent—both to President Putin and to other potential aggressors around the world—that those who start conflicts such as this have to be prepared for the consequences of the nation defending itself and its friends around the world helping it to do so.
Ultimately, of course, we want this war to come to an end. We would prefer for it to come to an end quickly, but it has to come to an end on terms that are acceptable to the Ukrainian people, and only the Ukrainian people can decide when that time is.
May I add my voice to the condolences to the people of Poland? President Duda is a very thoughtful man, and we should all be deeply thankful for his calm and rational approach in recent hours.
Putin is using military missiles to destroy Ukrainian infrastructure. He is doing so because he wants innocent Ukrainians to freeze and starve to death this winter. There can be nothing more evil than that. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that we and our allies will continue to provide Ukraine with the support that it needs to take down those missiles before they land?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in her assessment of what Vladimir Putin is attempting to do. I remind the House that the rocket attacks we saw overnight were targeting locations deep to the west of Ukraine, hundreds of miles away from the line of contact—specifically, they were targeting critical national infrastructure. At the start of the conflict, it was our anti-tank missiles—the NLAW missile systems—that helped the Ukrainians to defend themselves. Now, they need air defence and energy generation, and we will continue to supply them with what they need until they prevail in this conflict.
A swift and measured response is absolutely the right call. I thank the Foreign Secretary for the tone of his statement, which was spot on. I am very aware of how, across the House, we have pulled together and, at every moment, spoken with one voice. Through the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 and the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, we have tried to put in place as many measures as possible to punish Putin and his cronies. One area is largely missing from the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, however: golden visas.
We have still not seen the Home Office’s report on the visa scheme. The Government could this afternoon accept the amendments to the National Security Bill, which would compel them to publish that report within two weeks. Will the Foreign Secretary look at that? We in this House must strain every sinew to hold Putin and his cronies to account.
I remind the hon. Lady that that scheme is closed and has been for some time. Obviously, visas are a matter for the Home Office rather than the Foreign Office, but I remind her that, in a number of instances, people come to this country because they are fleeing persecution in the countries of their birth. I know that, for a number of British nationals of Russian heritage, that was very much the case.
I am very proud that the UK was one of the first countries to bring in sanctions specifically to target the money people around Vladimir Putin and to choke off the supply of funds that helped him to prosecute this conflict. We will continue to work in conjunction and co-ordination with our international allies to do likewise.
I thank my right hon. Friend for making it so clear that it is irrelevant whose missile it was and that the state of affairs is the responsibility of the aggressor: Putin’s Russia. In that context, can he use this incident to amplify to our allies in Europe, and to some of our colleagues in the Government, that Putin’s Russia is not just at war in Ukraine, but at war with us? His hybrid campaign—cyber-attacks, assassinations, sabotage of critical national infrastructure in European countries and, of course, the energy war—is against us. Unless we defeat Russia in the war in Ukraine, it will be a defeat for the west. Therefore, we must galvanise ourselves and put ourselves on the right footing and in the right frame of mind to ensure that the Ukrainian people prevail.
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point about the multiple things that are at stake in this conflict. We have seen military lives lost, civilian lives lost and, sadly, in ground that has been ceded by the Russian military, what appears to be evidence of widespread and systematic human rights abuses. Those are the things that we are defending against, but in addition, we are defending the UN charter and the concept of adherence to international law. As he rightly said, we in the UK have been the recipients of cyber-attacks and attacks on our homeland that we have attributed to Vladimir Putin and the Russian regime. All those things are at stake all at once. We have to defend ourselves against the full range of threats, and he is absolutely right to highlight that.
Russia must bear the responsibility for all the consequences of its illegal war. It is clear that Putin’s strategy is to use energy as a weapon by attacking energy infrastructure in Ukraine and seeking to hold Europe to ransom with spiralling energy costs. I am glad to hear that we are supporting Ukraine in rebuilding its infrastructure. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that we must never again be subject to the whims of fossil-fuel autocrats, and that we instead need clean, secure and homegrown energy?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. Her words echo those of the Prime Minister and mine on the international stage. What we have seen, through Vladimir Putin’s attempt to use energy supply to blackmail countries that are supporting Ukraine in its self-defence, is a warning that we have to wean ourselves off hydrocarbons—particularly those through which we are reliant on autocratic states such as Russia.
That incentivises us to work at renewable energy generation and storage here in the UK, and to work with our international friends and partners to wean the world off hydrocarbons, which is exactly what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I did when we went to Sharm El Sheikh for COP27. It is one of the points that he is discussing with the membership of the G20 in Indonesia at the moment. We have been at the forefront of many of the green energy generation technologies. We are absolutely committed to making sure that we help the Ukrainians to defend themselves in the here and now, and that we all defend each other through a greener and more sustainable energy mix in future.
In this unfortunate incident, two facts seem to be clear. First, the strategy of the Russians is to hold a military line across the south and the east and to destroy Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure; we probably agree on that. I understand fully the great work the Government are doing, which is generally fantastic, and the fact that we are the largest donor in Europe by some distance. However, there is a simple fact that we cannot get around. The Ukrainians have been saying for months that they do not have the air defence equipment to protect the cities and the infrastructure and the water supplies and the electricity and their own troops. Despite the fantastic work that the Secretary of State and his team are doing, the Ukrainians do not have enough air defence kit, and this is becoming critical to the survival of the Ukrainian state and its people’s morale in the coming months.
My hon. and gallant Friend, who has made a career, both in uniform and out, of analysing these things, is absolutely right in his assessment of the immediate tactics that the Russians are endeavouring to use. By extension, he is also right about the need to help the Ukrainians with their air defence systems. I am assured by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister for Armed Forces that exactly that issue will be discussed at Ramstein, at military-to-military level and at Foreign Minister-to-Foreign Minister level. The equipment and the integration of that equipment are key, and will remain an absolute priority for us.
I know the whole House agrees that this is a time of great tension and uncertainty, and this incident demonstrates the dangers posed by Putin’s warmongering, but it is critical that clear channels of communication remain open on all sides. Will the Foreign Secretary set out what steps the Government have taken to establish contact with his Russian counterparts having learned of the incident in Poland, in order to prevent escalation?
The hon. Lady will understand that we maintain lines of communication wherever possible and practical. The House will remember my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary updating the House a number of weeks ago on a conversation that he had had with the Russian Government’s Defence Minister Shoigu. She and the House will understand why at this stage I am not willing to go into the details of all the lines of communication, but I assure them that we maintain our desire to avoid miscalculation and unnecessary escalation, and to give the opportunity for more sensible decisions to be made in the Kremlin.
Earlier this year, when I and other members of the Foreign Affairs Committee visited Ukraine and Poland, it was clear that in the border area there are significant flows of civilians and efforts to get humanitarian support to them, so yesterday evening’s incident is deeply troubling. Regardless of the missile’s origin, it is Putin’s Russia’s fault that the incident occurred. Will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary assure me that this country will continue to provide the Ukrainians with air defence systems, such as the lightweight multi-role missile produced by Thales here in the UK?
I can assure my hon. Friend that we are looking at the systems produced in the UK that are used by the British armed forces, but we are also working with our international partners to procure these systems from wherever in the world they are available, because the Ukrainians need them. They need the numbers and they need them now.
My thoughts and those of my constituents are with all the people killed or injured in the strike and their families. We are grateful for the measured tone of the response from Poland, NATO and the Foreign Secretary. In his annual threat update, the head of MI5 said that the Kremlin is actively attempting to rebuild its espionage network, following the expulsion of spies from Europe at the start of the war. How is the Foreign Secretary working with international allies to prevent this?
The hon. Lady will understand the long-standing convention that we do not discuss intelligence matters on the Floor of the House. I can none the less assure her that the threats and the risks that the heads of our security and intelligence agencies have put in the public domain are absolutely understood by the UK Government and our allies, and we continue to work very, very closely with our defence and security partners around the world on precisely the issue she highlights.
The Prime Minister was right to say at the G20 summit that Putin’s casual disregard for human life will ripple around the world for years to come. Can my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary update the House on conversations that the Prime Minister has had with our global allies at the G20 to convince Russia to withdraw from Ukraine?
I am not able to give a full update because the meetings in Indonesia are still going on, but I spoke with our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister late last night and I can assure my hon. Friend and the House that this is very much in the thoughts of leaders at the G20. Obviously, the conversations at the G20 cannot just be about Russia and Ukraine, but the implications for the global south and for many member countries of the G20 are very much at the forefront of our thinking, particularly for energy security and food supplies and the need to ensure that the hungry people of the world are not made more hungry as Vladimir Putin uses their hunger and their need for energy as leverage in his brutal war of aggression against the Ukrainians.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that whatever the outcome of the investigation under way into exactly what took place in Poland yesterday, responsibility for the deaths in Poland is 100%—not just mainly, but 100%—Russia’s? The Russians are the aggressors; they are the ones who commenced this military action and they are the ones who should be held responsible for those deaths.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Ukraine has the right to defend itself against aggression. The Ukrainians enjoy our enduring support as they defend themselves against aggression. The only reason the missile systems are being engaged in the border area between eastern Poland and western Ukraine is Russia’s attacks on targets in western Ukraine. This is the fault of Russia; the deaths are the result of Russia’s action. It is Vladimir Putin who has blood on his hands because of his illegal invasion of Ukraine.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the world-leading response by this Government to support the Ukrainian people in the face of Putin’s barbaric assault on their nation. Will he confirm that we will redouble our efforts to provide vital food and humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine, and that we will help the Ukrainians with energy equipment and the means to repair the infrastructure to keep the lights on and the heating working this winter?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. In addition to the military and economic support, we have provided and will continue to provide humanitarian support to Ukraine. Just yesterday, I signed a memorandum of understanding on support valued at £10 million to help the Ukrainians to rebuild the energy infrastructure being targeted and damaged by Russian attacks, and we will continue to provide that support.
The Foreign Secretary is absolutely right to be led by the facts, and hopefully those facts will become clearer, given reports that a NATO E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system was on station at the time. One thing is clear now, however: that Putin’s evil regime is targeting the civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. My right hon. Friend has just described the support we are giving to maintain lighting and heating systems. Will he emphasise once again that we are giving that aid so that the brave Ukrainian people have the lighting, the heating and the food they need, especially as winter approaches?
My hon. and gallant Friend makes the incredibly important point that the Ukrainians are the ones who are defending themselves. It is the Ukrainian people who are putting their lives at risk on the frontline in the conflict against the Russian invasion, and it is the Ukrainian people, right across Ukraine and, indeed, beyond its borders, whose strength, perseverance and incredible bravery is enabling the pushing back of the Russian military out of eastern and southern Ukraine. We must ensure that we help the Ukrainian people to maintain the morale they need to persevere in the defence of their homeland.
On Friday night, I and a small group of my friends made the 2,000-mile trip to Ukraine. We crossed the Polish border and the Ukrainian border, then entered Lviv to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid to suffering families. That was not the only precious cargo on board, because we took with us, after 222 days of their living with my family, the mother and little boy who have been living at home with me in North Norfolk, and reunited them, together, in what were the most remarkable, humbling and emotional scenes I will probably ever see.
Of the aid delivered, the generators that the people of North Norfolk were able to get on to the van were incredibly well received. Those generators are not available in Poland any more, so may we have some sort of national push to try to get generators to the people of Ukraine? To bring it home, Secretary of State, last night the father of the little boy whom my wife and family are looking after spent the night in Lviv after missile strikes with no energy, no water and no heating. This is affecting civilians and people I can now proudly say are part of my family.
First, I commend my hon. Friend for the generosity he has displayed in hosting a Ukrainian family in wonderful North Norfolk, which is a part of the country I know well. It is a privilege to serve alongside him on these green Benches. I know that a number of Members from all parties have done likewise, and that is to their credit.
My hon. Friend’s story is incredibly moving and he is absolutely right that behind the statistics, facts and numbers are people. We have to ensure that, on their behalf, we stick with it and maintain our willingness to do what is right. Even though we in the UK will go through difficult times this winter domestically, our difficulties pale into insignificance compared with the difficulties faced by people right across Ukraine, not just in the east and south where the land conflict is ongoing. We of course have a duty to help and support people who are here in the UK, but while doing so we also have a duty to help and support the brave people of Ukraine as they defend themselves against the brutal, illegal and unjustified invasion of their homeland by Russia.