Labour refuses to back open door policy for Ukrainian refugees

Nearly 40 Tory MPs have called for Britain to follow the EU’s lead

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Tuesday 01 March 2022 10:20 GMT
Labour’s international development spokesperson said the visa process needed to be simplified but declined to endorse an open door policy

Labour has refused to back calls for an open door policy for Ukrainian refugees, after nearly 40 Tory MPs said the UK should adopt one.

Speaking on Monday evening the opposition party's international development spokesperson was asked about demand but would only say the process for applying to come to the UK should be "simplified".

Preet Kaur Gill said the UK's visa website needed to be improved and that "only those people that have family members in the United Kingdom" wanted to come to Britain.

Jeremy Hunt, one of the 37 Tory MPs calling for Britain to follow the EU's lead on refugees from the conflict, told the BBC's Newsnight programme that Britain had a "long tradition" of helping refugees.

Asked whether he supported an "open door" policy for Ukrainian refugees mirroring the one adopted by the European Union, senior Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt said: "Yes. And I expect we will get something like that from the next couple of days from the prime minister.

"Remember, he has a track record of being very generous in his offer to people wanting to leave Hong Kong. And I know that Britain has this long tradition of being open to genuine refugees as obviously people fleeing Ukraine are."

But asked on the same programme whether Labour also wanted an "open door" policy, Labour frontbencher Preet Kaur Gill said:

"Well, look, we need a very simplified process.

"What was really clear from the House of Commons today earlier, it was a question that Yvette Cooper put to the Home Secretary was given the current scheme does it actually expand to elderly parents, for example, and she indicated that it did.

"Of course, Yvette had to make a point of order and correct her because that is not the case.

"At the moment, unless you're a partner, or you have dependents or someone to care for this scheme does not apply to you.

"Our process is so difficult. Just imagine when you go onto the website, how difficult it is to navigate, and all people need from Ukraine is to know that they're going to be able to join their loved ones.

"Many of these people are women and children. Of course, their partners are left behind. Many of the people fleeing Ukraine will want to stay in neighbouring countries.

"So only those people that have family members in the United Kingdom, they want to be able to come and join them, and we've got to enable a process that is simple that enables them to do that."

Pushed again on whether Labour supported an open door policy specifically, as endorsed by the Tory MPs and implemented by the EU, she said:

"What we're saying is we need a simplified scheme. We've already got one of the Hong Kong one it's working really well. We need to have something very similar to that."

The government’s visa concessions for Ukrainians announced over the weekend have beenwidely criticised by campaigners as insufficient – with many close family members including adult children, parents of adults, brothers and sisters not covered under the scheme.

The Independent last week launched its Refugees Welcome campaign, calling on the government to set up a resettlement scheme to grant sanctuary in the UK to Ukrainians fleeing the bloody conflict. Polls suggest a strong backing for the move.

Andrew Scattergood, co-chair of left-wing pressure group Momentum, said Labour should change its policy and bring it into line with EU states.

"The Labour leadership must urgently change position and fully commit to safe passage for every Ukrainian refugee who needs it, as the EU has done," he said.

"Even Tory MPs are recognising an open door policy is the bare minimum we should be demanding for Ukrainians."

The EU has said it will allow entry to all people fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and will not require them to apply for asylum, under its Temporary Protection Directive scheme.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said she did not know how many people would come, adding: "I think we will have to prepare for millions."

Various estimates by the UN and refugee organisations put the number of people fleeing the Russian invasion at somewhere between four and seven million people.

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