UK government may legalise using Russian oligarchs homes for Ukrainian refugees

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 14 March 2022 13:36
Comments
Brit flying to Poland to offer his home directly to a Ukrainian refugee

The government is “looking at” the possibility of legislating to allow the UK homes of sanctioned Russian oligarchs to be used to house Ukrainian refugees, Downing Street has said.

The confirmation from Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson came after communities secretary Michael Gove said he wanted to “explore” the possible use of the luxury properties for humanitarian purposes after Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine prompted millions to flee.

But the spokesperson indicated that Mr Johnson would not himself be taking in a Ukrainian refugee - as cabinet colleague Grant Shapps has offered to - because of the security complications of housing someone at No 10.

Downing Street also poured cold water on Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s offer for the Scottish government to act as a “super-sponsor”, taking in and accommodating 3,000 Ukrainians while places are found for them on a new refugee scheme, being launched today, by Mr Gove.

Mr Johnson’s spokesperson said that, for Ukrainians without family links in the UK, the government’s approach required them to be matched with a host in Britain before coming to the country, adding: “We are not planning to change that.”

He did not rule out Chelsea Football Club’s hotel being used to house Ukrainian refugees while club owner Roman Abramovich remains under sanction, but said that “by and large” it was expected that the vast majority of Ukrainians coming to the UK would be housed in private homes through the family or sponsorship routes.

Asked whether hotel rooms at the club’s west London ground could be used, the spokesperson said: “We would certainly want to see wherever is possible, we are open to all options. There are some challenges around the special licence that has been created in relation to the sanctions.”

The spokesperson said the Stamford Bridge club had not yet applied for a variation to its strict special licence in order to allow a sale.

Downing Street condemned the “completely inappropriate” behaviour of Chelsea fans who chanted Abramovich’s name during matches.

This map shows the extent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

The spokesperson said: “We recognise the strength of feeling around people’s clubs but that does not excuse behaviour which is completely inappropriate at this time.

“I think people can show passion and support for their club without resorting to that sort of stuff.”

At present, it is not possible legally for the government simply to take control of the oligarchs’ homes, as their assets have been frozen rather than seized by the state. The billionaire Putin associates are barred from selling, renting, visiting or repairing the homes - believe to be valued at a total of hundreds of millions of pounds - but they have not been stripped of their ownership.

But the PM’s spokesperson made clear that legislation to enable it was being considered, telling reporters: “Certainly that’s something we are looking at.”

He added: “The secretary of state (Mr Gove) has talked about exploring options that would allow the government to use the homes and properties of sanctioned individuals for as long as they are sanctioned.

“Those powers don’t exist currently. I believe it would need new powers of some sort.”

A group of squatters have occupied a £2m London townhouse apparently owned by Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire industrialist with close links with the British political establishment, who was targeted by government sanctions last week.

But Mr Johnson’s spokesperson made clear the PM does not approve of this kind of action, telling reporters: “Squatting in residential buildings is illegal.

“But we are working to identify the appropriate use for seized properties while owners are subject to sanctions.”

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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