Ukraine conflict: Boris Johnson to hold talks with world leaders on further sanctions as government challenged over support for refugees

Boris Johnson is to hold talks with foreign leaders to build a united front against Vladimir Putin, beginning with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at Downing Street today.

Monday, 7th March 2022, 8:19 am

It comes as ministers scramble to go “faster and harder” with sanctions levelled against the Kremlin.

Mr Johnson is expected to put more pressure on international leaders to take further action to remove Russia from the Swift payment system, while pushing them to back his six-point plan to tackle Russian aggression.

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said amendments to the Economic Crime Bill would “give us the chance to bring even more crippling sanctions against Putin and his regime”.

In Ukraine, a second temporary ceasefire designed to allow citizens to escape two cities failed to hold, as fresh photographs showed the desperation of those trying to escape the war.

The Home Office revealed on Sunday that only “around 50” visas had been granted under the Ukraine Family Scheme as of 10am on Sunday.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly was challenged over the UK’s support for refugees fleeing Ukraine after it was revealed only “around 50” visas had been granted under the Ukraine Family Scheme as of 10am on Sunday.

Mr Cleverly told Sky News: “We have made it absolutely clear we want to support Ukrainians who are seeking refuge, both those who have family connections here in the UK and, indeed, those who don’t.

Boris Johnson is set to begin a week of intense diplomatic efforts with foreign leaders to build a united front against Vladimir Putin, beginning with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at Downing Street today.

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“Over the last 10 days or so we have seen huge numbers of people leaving Ukraine, fleeing from the conflict, we will support them in the places that they currently are – which is typically in countries bordering Ukraine.

“But we will, of course, also welcome Ukrainians here to the UK.”

Mr Cleverly acknowledged that “only small numbers have come so far” but “the process has only just started”.

He added the Government was working on a cross-party basis to get the legislation through,

“The ultimate goal is to make sure that the sanctions that we’ve already put in place, which are incredibly effective, and have had a real impact on Russian oligarchs, and indeed the Russian economy, are made even stronger still, and we welcome cross-party support in that.”

In response to criticism over the numbers of individual oligarchs targeted by sanctions, Mr Cleverly said: “We’ve had a very wide-ranging number, over 200 individuals and entities over £250 billion worth of Russian economic activity curtailed, over three million Russian companies no longer able to raise finance on the London market.

“So, the fact that Vladimir Putin singled us out for criticism is a badge of honour.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper tweeted: “This is too slow. Too many hoops for desperate families to have to jump through. Home Office completely failing to understand urgency of crisis.”

The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee has said the Home Office’s rate of visas for Ukrainian refugees “is certainly not a success”.

LBC’s Nick Ferrari asked Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat if the Home Office had failed by granting just 50 Ukrainian refugees visas so far.

He said: “Well, it’s certainly not a success is it?

“What we need to do is to make sure that we get the Home Office absolutely delivering, to make sure that we get the support for those who are most in need.

“The British people are extremely generous, you and I both know that.

“This isn’t some sort of, you know, illegal scam. This is, perfectly obviously, people fleeing for their lives and we need to be absolutely there to support them.”

Priti Patel said the UK was “doing everything possible” to speed up efforts to grant visas to Ukrainians fleeing the conflict, and told The Sun she was examining a “humanitarian route” to allow all Ukrainian refugees who want to come to the UK to do so.

On Sunday, Tiktok blocked its Russian users from posting new videos and Netflix said it was suspending its service in Russia.

American Express said it would suspend services in the country.

The UK Government said it would pump an extra £74 million into Ukraine to support the country’s “indomitable people” through the humanitarian crisis being faced on the ground.

The aid, provided through the World Bank, could go towards supporting public sector salaries, allowing vital state functions to keep operating, or supporting social safety nets and pensions for the Ukrainian people.

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Priti Patel wrote to Interpol requesting the suspension of Russia’s access to its systems.

Mr Johnson said: “While only Putin can fully end the suffering in Ukraine, today’s new funding will continue to help those facing the deteriorating humanitarian situation.”

In Parliament, Labour is set to put pressure on ministers to further reduce the time period before foreign-owned UK property needs to be registered under new plans.

The party said Russian oligarchs still had a “get out of London free” card even though the grace period under the measures designed to tackle so-called “dirty money” have been cut from 18 months to six, the opposition was calling for this to be reduced further to just 28 days.

Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said: “The invasion of Ukraine and continued Russian aggression demands action now, not in six months’ time.”

But the Foreign Office insisted the new scheme would “allow the Government to move faster and harder when sanctioning oligarchs and businesses associated with the Russian Government”.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has suggested Russia was deliberately targeting Ukraine’s communications facilities.

The latest defence intelligence update published by the MoD said Moscow was “probably targeting Ukraine’s communications infrastructure in order to reduce Ukrainian citizens’ access to reliable news and information”.

There were reports of a strike on a TV tower in Kharkiv on Sunday, following a similar attack in Kyiv on March 1.