15 March 2022
James Cleverly responds to the debate on Ukraine

James Cleverly, Minister for Europe and North America, responds to the Parliamentary debate on Ukraine.

The Minister for Europe and North America (James Cleverly)

With the leave of the House, I would like to conclude this debate on behalf of my hon. and gallant Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, who was unfortunately detained in his Department at the opening of this debate. He has apologised to the Chair, and he has asked me to put on record his apologies to the House.

Earlier I outlined the Government’s main objective in this conflict, which is for President Putin to fail in Ukraine, and I set out the means we are employing to ensure that this is the case. With the addition of 360 people sanctioned today, the United Kingdom has now taken action against over 1,000 Russian individuals and entities. The new powers afforded to the Government under the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 have been put to use and will continue to be used over the coming weeks and months. Bank assets worth over £350 billion have been frozen. We have cut off key sectors of the Russian economy, including those essential to the Russian war machine, and we have rallied allies to remove Russia from the SWIFT banking system.

These sanctions are already biting. The Russian stock market has not opened since the start of the conflict, which I understand is the most prolonged closure of the Russian stock market since the Bolshevik revolution. The Kremlin is desperately trying to hold back capital flight, even from its sovereign wealth fund. Putin’s economy is now desperately exposed, and the elites around him feel the pain. They must tell him to stop the war, because the international consensus that now threatens their wealth will not be broken. This conflict stops when Putin decides it stops, and he should realise that it should stop now.

The international community has also moved to ostracise Russia from international sporting and cultural events. Russian and Belarusian athletes have been blocked from the Paralympics, and they are out of the World cup. Major western corporations are ceasing business in Russia, and the Bolshoi ballet will not be coming on its planned tour of the UK. Russian sports fans are left without international games to watch. The artists, athletes and performers blocked from performing overseas and the hundreds of people queuing in recent days for their last McDonald’s must be dismal signals to all Russians that Putin is damaging their country.

In his desperate attempts to control the news, Putin has inflicted on his own people the blocking of western social media platforms, and the highly connected and often influential Russian influencers must be devastated. As trivial as their tears may seem in the face of the suffering in Sumy or Kharkiv, their tears reflect the anger of a generation of young Russian people whom Putin does not understand and does not represent. They do not want the digital and cultural isolation from the west that he is now inflicting on them, and they should follow the brave example of Marina Ovsyannikova in challenging the repression of free speech and access to the world of online information. Putin is inflicting on this generation of millennial Russians a complete and total change of their way of life, and I have no doubt that they will want to push back.

Chris Bryant 

I am full of praise for the Government for now being able to sanction 1,000 individuals, but will the Minister confirm two things? First, can he confirm that a large number of them can be sanctioned for only 56 days under our rules, because it depends on the Act that we passed yesterday? Secondly, can he confirm that we will proceed with many more sanctions? The tiny number of people around Putin may not be moved by all of this, but the people who have £750,000 tucked away here as their possible bolthole are terrified of what may happen, and we need to get to them as well.

James Cleverly 

I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that we will continue applying sanctions to the Russians to continue the pressure on Vladimir Putin and to choke off the supply of money to his war machine.

The Government have announced nearly £400 million in both humanitarian and economic support to Ukraine. We are providing medical supplies, generators and other essentials. We are bringing Ukrainian children to the UK to continue their cancer treatment, and we have made the offer that the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine and other UK military medical facilities will be made available to injured Ukrainian service personnel. We will also welcome here Ukrainians fleeing from the conflict. We have put no cap on that number, and we have already seen that over 100,000 British families have offered to make their homes available to the refugees.

Sir Bernard Jenkin 

I appreciate that there might be difficulties with this, but would the Minister consider whether our offer should be open to injured Russian military personnel as well? If they are captured on the battlefield and they are injured, we should show them the humanity that we are obliged to under the Geneva conventions.

James Cleverly 

I will listen to what my hon. Friend has said. As with all military conflict this is based on medical need, but I will take the point he has made.

I feel that a number of Labour Members sought to create a grievance where I do not think there should be one. It is important that people recognise that the £350 some hon. Members have mentioned will go to the householder, but more than £10,000 of support will be made available to local councils for those being homed in the UK. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) made an incredibly important point—I am glad it was recognised by those on the shadow Front Bench—about the risk of people traffickers taking advantage of those who have been displaced by this conflict. We know that bad people take advantage of good people in times of difficulty, and that is why it is so important that we remain observant and vigilant, and that we prevent those evil people from prospering through the hurt of others.

The shadow Secretary of State for Defence was assiduous in reflecting the comments made to the House today, and rather than repeat the names of the right hon. and hon. Members he mentioned, I wish to put on record my thanks for their contributions. We heard from Opposition Members a commitment to the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and a commitment to collective defence. It is great, once again, to see Her Majesty’s Opposition being the true heirs of Attlee. It is incredibly important that at times such as this, although we may have differences, which have been aired today, the message sent out to our friends and adversaries alike is that we stand united as a House, and we stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

We recognise that Ukrainians do not want to be refugees. They want to get home and back to the country that they love and are defending with such passion. We are keen to help them do so, which is why we will continue to provide the military aid they need. At the international donor conference, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary two weeks ago, there was a commitment of 4,241 next-generation light anti-tank weapons—NLAWS—which have been delivered. Other countries will also make donations. Thousands of sets of body armour and helmets, and a huge volume of small arms ammunition, rations, and communications equipment have been flown forward and moved onwards into Ukraine.

The shadow Secretary of State asked specifically about the provision of Starstreak high velocity anti-aircraft missiles. Those are being delivered, but he will understand that we wish to keep the timing, location and nature of that discreet. I assure him that we will help the Ukrainians to defend themselves against attacks from the air. The donor community grows because of the intervention of the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary, and others.

Bob Stewart 

May I press the Minister on MiG-29s, and trying to get them to Ukraine? They could be picked up by Ukrainian pilots and flown in.

James Cleverly 

My right hon. Friend is running ahead—he can clearly see the next page of my speech.

Through the work of the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and others, the donor community grows all the time, and a further donor conference will be convened by the Defence Secretary in the near future. We will push for more, just as the Prime Minister did with member states of the joint expeditionary force, a meeting of which he hosted this morning at Lancaster House. Countries that have not had appropriate weapons in their stockpiles have sent cash; others have provided transport planes to work alongside the RAF in making deliveries. All of that is co-ordinated thorough the fantastic work of the international donor co-ordination centre led by the UK’s 104 Theatre Sustainment Brigade, who are now established in Stuttgart alongside the US European Command.

Many colleagues on both sides of the House asked for more support for the Ukrainian armed forces and for more complex weapons to be made available. We speak regularly—every day—with our friends in Ukraine and are working day and night to deliver on the requests that they make of us. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) asked in particular, as others have done, about the delivery of MiG-29s from Poland and other western countries who operate those jets. The delivery of those jets to Ukraine is a matter for those donor countries, each of which will need to make its calculations about the risk of donating weapons, as we do when we donate ours. Whatever they decide to do, we will of course support them.

Many colleagues also focused on the work of our armed forces. Yes, I am biased, but we know, because the Ukrainians tell us, that both the equipment and training support that the UK armed forces have provided them over a number of years through Operation Orbital has been incredibly useful to them. We should all be proud of our armed forces personnel’s work in support of the Ukrainians. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary and others are all determined that the UK’s foreign and security policy reflects the threat that we face in the world today and that we have the opportunity to project UK influence. Despite the Opposition’s habitual narrative—I understand that Oppositions have to oppose—I assure the House that the UK is still a significant influencer on the world stage and a force for good in the world.

We are determined to support the Ukrainians. A number of right hon. and hon. Members spoke passionately—they were right to do so—about the bravery and resilience of the Ukrainians that we have seen, both in the military and civilians who have taken up arms in defence of their homeland. We are also witnessing incredible bravery from protestors in Russia. That brave resistance to Putin and the elites around him inspires us all. The UK and the world stand with Ukraine.

But for all the hubris in Putin’s planning, for all the incompetence in the execution and for all the lies told about the losses suffered, the Russian army remains a formidable foe. We must therefore recognise and, I am afraid, prepare ourselves for the potential of worse than what we have already seen. But the Ukrainian people must not give up hope. They are fighting heroically and holding back an invading armoured army.

Putin may feel that he has overwhelming power at his disposal, and he may feel that a decisive victory is still in his gift, but the Ukrainians are proving him wrong. He has already failed in his strategic objective. The international community has pulled together. The Ukrainians have pulled together and have fought like tigers. The international community and the Ukrainian people have seen him for what he is, and increasingly the Russian people are seeing it, too.