Tom Tugendhat: Tory leadership candidate backed expelling all Russians from UK

Conservative leadership hopeful Tom Tugendhat has said he stands by comments in which supported the expulsion of all Russian citizens from the UK at the start of the Ukraine war.

The former solider launched his leadership campaign on Thursday, the day after Boris Johnson confirmed he would step down as prime minister.

Writing for The Telegraph, Tugendhat said the country needed a "clean start" in order to pursue "trust, service and an unrelenting focus on the cost of living crisis".

"I have served before - in the military, and now in parliament," he wrote. "Now I hope to answer the call once again as prime minister. It’s time for a clean start. It’s time for renewal."

In February, shortly after Putin announced the invasion of Ukraine, Tugendhat broke from the Conservative Party line and suggested the UK should expel all Russians.

“A hostile state has launched an act of war, we can act now," Tugendhat told MPs on 24 February.

Read more: Britain could expel all Russian citizens from the UK, senior Conservative MP says

“We can freeze Russian assets in this country, all of them.

"We can expel Russian citizens, all of them... We can make a choice to defend our interests, to defend the British people, and to defend our international partners.

"Or we can do, sadly, what we’ve done too often in the past: watch, until it’s too late, and the British people have to pay a much higher price.”

The comments were at odds with the government's view that the war was the responsibility of Putin and the Kremlin, rather than the wider Russian people.

Tom Tugendhat responds after Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave an update on the latest situation in Afghanistan to MPs in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Monday September 6, 2021.
Tom Tugendhat in February suggested that all Russians could be deported to "defend" British citizens. (PA)

Indeed, the prime minister published a video the following day in which he addressed Russians and stressed they were not to blame for their president's actions.

"I do not believe this war is in your name,” he said in Russian.

Tugendhat, however, has since told Yahoo News UK that he stands by his comments.

“My words were a warning of the risk of war with Russia,” he said on Friday.

"A warning of the consequences to people who were innocent. My own family was among many interned in WW2 and I was warning of the dangers of war.

"I’m glad that we have avoided that risk by supporting Ukraine, which is exactly what I was calling for us to do in the months before the conflict in February.”

Tugendhat is one of two Conservative MPs - alongside Attorney General Suella Braverman - to announce their intention to stand, though the final field could be as many as 12 candidates.

Attorney General Suella Braverman leaves 10 Downing Street, London following the government's weekly Cabinet meeting. Picture date: Tuesday March 15, 2022.
Suella Braverman announced her intention to stand as Tory party leader on Wednesday evening. (PA)

He has been an MP since 2015 and is the current chair of the foreign affairs select committee, but is inexperienced and has yet to serve in Cabinet, which could count against him.

But his intention is to brand himself as an outsider that isn't tainted by the recent scandals associated with the Johnson government. He said he plans to work on"fixing the Northern Ireland Protocol" as well as "strengthening Brexit".

Some of his most significant plans include reversing the National Insurance hike, reducing fuel tax, and dropping "un-conservative tariffs" that he warns will push up prices for consumers.

The leadership election process could take months though it is believed some on the party are pushing for the process to be speeded up to prevent Johnson from remaining in the post for months if he refuses to resign until a new leader is elected.

Other likely contenders include new chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, foreign secretary Liz Truss, and defence secretary Ben Wallace.

Watch: Boris Johnson resigns: Tugendhat announces bid to lead Tories - Shapps and Javid also considering running