Defending the UK’s decision – alone among European nations – to demand visas from Ukrainians fleeing war, Ms Patel said that a handful of individuals infiltrated by Vladimir Putin into the flood of innocent refugees could “wreak utter havoc” in the UK.
And with the majority of refugees made up of women and children as men stay in Ukraine to fight, she warned it would be “naïve and misguided” to think that only men were capable of unleashing terror attacks on British soil.
In a speech to the Conservative spring conference in Blackpool, Ms Patel said the security checks conducted as part of the refugee visa application process would help avoid a repeat of the Novichok nerve agent attack in Salisbury, which killed British citizen Dawn Sturgess in 2018.
Ms Patel told activists that calls for the UK to follow the EU in offering visa-free access to Ukrainians seeking sanctuary had “grown louder in recent weeks”.
But she said: “I’ve been asked why couldn’t we suspend security checks on people escaping Putin’s war?
“Times of conflict, my friends, emphasise our need to remain watchful.”
Ms Patel said that she had been warned in security and intelligence service briefings that global instability brings with it greater threats to the UK from terrorism, serious organised crime and state threats.
“Only four years ago, the Russian military intelligence services used a chemical weapon on British soil,” she said. “It happened in Salisbury, a beautiful city, whose inhabitants would have felt completely safe. Dawn Sturgess could never have imagined that she would lose her life to Novichok
“The truth is that a very small number of people can wreak utter havoc and Russia has a history of covert hostile activity.”
And she added: “I’m afraid it is naive and misguided to think that only men can be covert operatives. Or that refugee flows would not be subject to some form of exploitation.
“There are those who would come to our country – to this country – who would mean us harm and would plot to strike at our very way of life.
“The processes that we have put in place closely follow the advice of our intelligence and security services. They mean we can help Ukrainians in need without making our country less safe.
“State threats and terrorism take many forms. They also thrive on indifference and on appeasement and now we are seeing them supplemented by new types of targeted biological, chemical, cyber warfare, ransomware and online threats.
“Our duty is to safeguard our country’s interests and we will never take our eye off the ball when it comes to the safety and security of our country.”
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