Home Office slammed by Tory MPs over help given to Ukrainian refugees
Conservative MPs have joined the opposition in launching a furious attack on the Home Office’s slow response in allowing Ukrainian refugees to enter the UK.
Priti Patel also faced calls to resign as Home Secretary for telling MPs that a visa application centre had been set up en route to Calais while staff were in the French port city.
Sir Roger Gale, Conservative MP for North Thanet, told the Commons: “That was untrue and under any normal administration that in itself would be a resignation (issue).
“There is no visa centre at Lille yet, in spite of the fact that the Foreign Secretary earlier this morning said that there was.”
This is a disgrace. When the minister leaves the despatch box I ask him to go back to the Home Office and tell them to get a grip
Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke
Home Office minister Kevin Foster argued Ms Patel had “clarified her remarks” on Monday before dismissing calls to grant a visa waiver for all Ukrainians due to the need for “key security checks”.
He also confirmed 500 visas have been issued and the Ukraine family scheme visa has received more than 10,000 applications since its launch on Friday.
But Conservative former immigration minister Mark Harper said the Government needs to “grip the pace of this” while Andrew Murrison, another ex-Tory minister, asked why the Republic of Ireland has welcomed more than 2,000 refugees from Ukraine but the UK has “come nowhere even close to that”.
Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) said: “We don’t want to stand in this House and listen to plans and processes, we want dates, we want action and the Home Office must react far more quickly than it’s doing and get to the point of hubs of people, get them processed and get them in.
“This is a disgrace. When the minister leaves the despatch box I ask him to go back to the Home Office and tell them to get a grip.”
Siobhan Baillie, Conservative MP for Stroud, added: “Stroud people want to understand what the chuff is going on.”
Conservative MP Julian Sturdy said his York Outer constituents are ready and willing to offer help, adding: “The only barrier to their support seems to be Home Office bureaucracy. Now is not the time for box ticking and red tape, now is the time to do everything we can; no more excuses, we have to move the process forward, we have to speed it up.”
Jason McCartney highlighted the “vibrant” Ukrainian community in his Colne Valley constituency, with the Tory MP adding: “We’ve done so much on sanctions, on humanitarian aid and on military aid so why are we dragging our feet with all this bureaucracy?”
He said the visa centres “need to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all the helplines need to be manned 24 hours a day”, adding: “Can he assure me that by the weekend thousands and thousands more desperate Ukrainian refugees will be safe here in the UK with their family and friends?”
Mr Foster said staff numbers are being boosted, adding: “We’re certainly looking to expand where we can the visa application capacity.”
Conservative former minister Steve Brine said the UK needs to “deliver a generous scheme” for Ukrainian refugees with first steps in place by Wednesday.
He said: “All of this is far too robotic and, to take up the point made on the other side, there is very little Christian compassion being shown at the moment.”
Conservative former minister Damian Green told the minister: “I take his point about security and the need for biometric checks. I don’t understand why those biometric checks can’t be done in this country when we have got people safe and sound.”
Mr Foster replied: “Those who are applying to this are actually in safe countries as we speak.
“There’s no requirement for people … to stay in Ukraine to make an application, in fact there is no need at all if they can safely make their way across the border to one of the safe and democratic countries next door that we are supporting to provide support to those that are crossing the border.”
For Labour, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Two million refugees have left Ukraine. Other countries are supporting hundreds and thousands of people. The Home Office is currently issuing just around 250 family scheme visas a day.
“Most want to stay close to home but some want to come here to join family or friends, and we should be helping them. Instead most people are still being held up by our Home Office bureaucracy or being turned away.”