Priti Patel refuses to waive visa rules for fleeing Ukrainian refugees because of ‘security advice’

Hardline home secretary shocks MPs expecting a rethink – after existing measures were attacked as ‘shameful’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 28 February 2022 20:40
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Priti Patel has refused to copy the EU by waiving visa rules for refugees fleeing Ukraine, insisting it would undermine “the strongest security advice”.

A fellow cabinet minister had hinted a rethink was on the way – after strict limits even on bringing in the family members of Ukrainians already in the UK were attacked as “shameful”.

But the home secretary ruled out waiving visas, telling MPs: “The approach we are taking is based on the strongest security advice.”

Ms Patel claimed up to 100,000 Ukrainians could still come to the UK – even though only the partners, children or sick relatives of those already here will be admitted.

The hardline stance drew strong criticism in the Commons – as well as bewilderment over what Ms Patel was announcing in highly confusing comments.

At one point, the home secretary described a “new humanitarian route”, but appeared to be ruling out any further help beyond the very tightly limited rules for some family members.

Earlier, the EU revealed it is granting asylum for up to three years, without the need for an asylum application – as hundreds of thousands of desperate people cross Ukraine’s borders.

Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, hinted similar UK action would follow and Boris Johnson’s spokesperson told journalists: “There will be further support, as you would expect, for those who are fleeing the violence.”

Senior Conservatives have written to the prime minister, demanding “decisive” action, including ex-ministers Jeremy Hunt, Robert Buckland, Greg Clark, Damian Green and Caroline Nokes.

And public opinion opposes the government’s block on refugees, some 77 per cent telling YouGov they back allowing Ukrainian refugees to come to the UK without a visa.

The government has been under fire since the immigration minister Kevin Foster suggested, on Saturday, that escaping Ukrainians could apply to be seasonal fruit pickers in the UK.

This map shows major cities in Ukraine as well as Moscow-backed separatist regions. As of early this week, rebels held only parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions highlighted

He deleted a tweet and was disowned by Downing Street – but refused to apologise for the comment when urged to in the Commons.

It comes as The Independent ‘s Refugees Welcome campaign called on the UK government to set up a resettlement scheme to give Ukrainians fleeing the invasion sanctuary in Britain.

It is urging the government to follow countries such as Ireland and Portugal, which have already said that they will accept Ukrainian refugees without requiring visas.

Rejecting lifting visa rules, Ms Patel pointed to “what Putin’s Russia is willing to do, even on our soil, as we saw through the Salisbury attack”.

“Security and biometric checks are a fundamental part of our visa approval process worldwide and will continue, as they did for the evacuation of people from Afghanistan,” she told MPs.

“That is vital to keep British citizens safe and to ensure that we are helping those in genuine need, particularly as Russian troops are now infiltrating Ukraine and merging into Ukrainian forces.”

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