Michael Gove wants to use oligarchs’ mansions to house Ukrainian refugees – but admits ‘high legal bar’

‘We’re not talking about permanent confiscation’, says minister

Adam Forrest
Sunday 13 March 2022 12:47 GMT
Michael Gove says he is considering personally taking in Ukrainian refugees

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the government wants to “explore an option” of using sanctioned oligarchs’ mansion homes in Britain to house refugees from Ukraine.

However, the levelling up minister conceded there would be a “high legal bar to cross” in using frozen assets – and suggested it could only house refugees temporarily.

Asked about reports in the Daily Mail that he wants to “seize” mansions and use them to accommodate people fleeing the war, Mr Gove told the BBC: “There’s quite a high legal bar to cross and we’re not talking about permanent confiscation.”

He told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “I want to explore an option which would allow us to use the homes and properties of sanctioned individuals – as long as they are sanctioned – for humanitarian and other purposes.”

Mr Gove added: “We are saying: ‘You’re sanctioned, you’re supporting Putin, this home is here, you have no right to use or profit from it – and more than that, while you are not using or profiting from it, if we can use it in order to help others, let’s do that’.”

When challenged by host Sophie Raworth that oligarchs can continue to live in properties that have been frozen under sanctions – which only prevent assets from being sold – Mr Gove said: “We’ve moved as rapidly as we possibly can.”

The housing minister added: “If we can use those assets for as long as someone is sanctioned, then we should.”

Mr Gove’s desire to use frozen property assets is reportedly being blocked by officials at the Treasury and the Foreign Office who believe it is “not legally workable”.

Ministers have understood to have expressed concerns that properties cannot be seized under current sanctions legislation.

The government has imposed sanctions on 20 Putin-linked oligarchs – as well as 386 members of the Russian parliament. Foreign secretary Liz Truss has said she has a long “hit list” of Russians as part of a “rolling programme” of sanctions.

Mr Gove also suggested he was personally considering offer a home to Ukrainian refugees, as he set out details of a government sponsorship route, allowing British citizens and community groups to offer up rooms and receive a “thank you” payment of £350 per month.

Asked if he would take someone fleeing the Russian forces, the cabinet minister told the BBC: “Yes.”

He explained: “I’m exploring what I can do, I know that there are others who have. Without going into my personal circumstances, there are a couple of things I need to sort out – but yes.”

Mr Gove said there are potentially “hundreds of thousands of people” in the UK willing to take Ukrainians into their homes – but had earlier conceded that he expected the route would only see “tens of thousands” welcomed in.

The housing minister also revealed that local authorities would receive £10,000 for each Ukrainian refugee it sponsors and provides support.

But government has been criticised for insisting that British sponsors go through online paperwork and security checks on behalf of a particular, “named” refugee.

Mr Gove said charities would help in the “matching process”, and said the government believed individuals and community groups would use social media to connect and fill out online paperwork together.

The Refugee Council accused the government of putting too many “bureaucratic hurdles” in the way – and said “it will inevitably be restricted to those who are known to people in the UK”.

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