In his speech yesterday in Warsaw, Boris Johnson said:
“Many people in Britain will of course want to help Ukrainian refugees. So, we will make it easier for Ukrainians already living in the UK to bring their relatives to our country, and though the numbers are hard to calculate they could be more than 200,000.”
And in answer to a question from a journalist, he said:
“So what we’re going to do, we’re extending the family scheme so that actually very considerable numbers would be eligible as I set out earlier. You could be talking about a couple of hundred thousand, maybe more. Additionally we’re going to have a humanitarian scheme by which UK companies and citizens can sponsor individual Ukrainians to come to the UK. So we’re doing exactly what the UNHCR is asking us to do and we will be in the forefront of the humanitarian crisis.”
The Prime Minister’s tone was exactly right. Priti Patel has found it harder, as Home Secretary, to strike the right note about the admission of Ukrainian refugees to Britain. On Monday she was far from clear in the Commons about what she was proposing, and at times sounded grudging.
Yesterday she had another go, and did better, giving a clearer idea of how Ukrainians who already have family here can enter Britain, and then saying:
“Secondly, we will establish a humanitarian sponsorship pathway, which will open up a route to the UK for Ukrainians who may not have family ties with the UK, but who are able to match with individuals, charities, businesses and community groups. Those who come under this scheme will also be granted leave for an initial period of 12 months, and will be able to work and have access to public services. The Home Office will work closely with all our international partners on the ground to ensure that displaced Ukrainians in need of a home are supported.”
We shall have to see how this scheme works. As Damian Green said, if the Government get this right, the sponsorship pathway “will tap into an enormous well spring of generosity in the British public, which is exactly what is needed in this terrible crisis.”
Patel told the House:
“My colleague the Secretary of State for Levelling Up will work with the devolved Administrations to ensure that those who want to sponsor an individual or family can volunteer and be matched quickly with Ukrainians in need.”
Public confidence in the scheme would be increased by an early statement from Michael Gove about how it will work. It must not become an opportunity for officialdom to load superfluous bureaucratic burdens on volunteers and refugees.
Patel faced a large number of questions from MPs on both sides of the House about, for example, more distant family members, and whether they are eligible to come here.
She generally asked these MPs to send her the details of these cases, without in most cases indicating how they will be resolved.
If quick and humane decisions can be taken, all well and good. People in Britain see the horrendous sufferings of the Ukrainian people and want to help now, not in six months’ time.
Patel is right to say that many refugees wish to stay as close as they can to Ukraine, and should be helped to do so. She is also right to insist on security checks, to stop Putin infiltrating agents by this route.
Parliamentary scrutiny will be important. MPs will know how things are going in their constituencies. In a year’s time, will we look back with pride or with shame at our record in giving shelter to some of the refugees from this war?