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Boris Johnson’s Gesture Politics Won’t Help Ukrainian Refugees

The Prime Minister’s rhetoric about helping the Ukrainian people under a savage assault by Russian troops has not been backed up by action, reports Adam Bienkov

Photo: Joao Daniel Pereira / Alamy

Boris Johnson’sGesture Politics Won’t Help Ukrainian Refugees

The Prime Minister’s rhetoric about helping the Ukrainian people under a savage assault by Russian troops has not been backed up by action, reports Adam Bienkov

“I don’t believe in gestures, I believe in substance”, said Boris Johnson last year when asked whether he supported people taking the knee for Black Lives Matter.

“I believe in doing things that make a practical difference.”

Fast forward to 2022 and the Prime Minister’s distaste for gesture politics appears to have vanished.

Over the past week, Johnson’s Government has sought maximum publicity for his claims to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the Ukrainian people.

The Ukrainian flag has been draped on government buildings and used as the backdrop for official ministerial photos.

The Prime Minister also attended a Ukrainian church in London, where he told the congregation about why Jesus and the parable of the Good Samaritan showed why the UK must “help Ukraine in any way we can”.

Meanwhile, he embarked on a series of public engagements, including almost daily phone calls with the Ukrainian President.

In a speech on Tuesday for “inspiring and mobilising the world” against Russia.

Yet when it comes to doing practical things to help the lives of those Ukrainian people fleeing Putin’s assault, these professions of solidarity have somehow fallen short.

Despite other European countries opening their doors to all Ukrainian refugees for three years, the UK continues to provide support to only a limited number hoping to find refuge here.

On Sunday the Home Office sent out a press release suggesting that they would welcome “immediate family members” of Ukrainians living in the UK.

However, a quick look at the detail of the policy revealed that their definition of immediate family members excluded the following:

The list of exclusions was so long as to render the entire promise largely symbolic. Essentially the only people able to enter the country are Ukrainian spouses, the children of Ukrainians living in the UK or the parents of children living in the UK. This will inevitably only cover a limited number of people.

Pushed on Monday by some Conservative MPs to expand this list, Downing Street initially suggested that the Home Secretary Priti Patel would be announcing more in front of the House of Common.

However, when she appeared on Monday afternoon, Patel was incredibly vague on what, if any, changes she would be making.

Pushed by Labour’s Yvette Cooper on whether an elderly Ukrainian woman with children in the UK who had been turned away at the border, would now be admitted, a visibly angry Patel snapped back that “yes” they would.

However, when Byline Times approached the Home Office to confirm this, a spokesperson said that the Home Secretary had got this wrong.

There had in fact been no changes to the visa eligibility criteria, they said.

The Home Secretary’s suggestion that 100,000 additional refugees would be allowed in was also misleading. The figure referred to the total number of people who would be eligible under the criteria announced two weeks previously, and was not a new announcement or an estimate of how many would actually be allowed in.

Asked on Tuesday about Patel’s comments on elderly parents being turned away by the UK, Dominic Raab told Sky News that “I can’t comment on every potential hypothetical case”, and insisted that refugees would probably prefer to go to other closer European countries.

Raab also suggested that taking more refugees from Ukraine would be too much of a security risk.

This last line was particularly striking, given his own Government’s decision to open the UK’s borders to large numbers of Russian oligarchs and their associates over the past ten years, no matter how close they might have been to Putin’s regime.

A spokesman for Johnson on Tuesday lunchtime confirmed that eligibility would be extended in the coming days to adult parents, grandparents, children over 18 and siblings of Ukrainians in the UK, with up to 200,000 people allowed in. However, they insisted that the UK would still not match the EU’s offer to allow all Ukrainian refugees in.

Of course, rhetoric is important in war and Johnson has pushed for other governments to take a tougher line on sanctions, even while his own Government has held back from sanctioning many of the oligarchs that remain based in the UK.

However, when it comes to helping the most desperate victims of the war raging in Ukraine, Johnson’s Government has so far been very strong on gestures and nowhere near as strong on action.

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