Johnson’s government bows to pressure by relaxing visa rules for more Ukrainians

Putin could seek to reduce Kyiv to rubble, says British prime minister

Boris Johnson's government has bowed to pressure at Westminster by relaxing visa rules to allow more Ukrainian citizens to join family members settled in Britain. Home secretary Priti Patel said Ukrainians living in Britain would now be allowed to bring parents, siblings, grandparents and adult sons and daughters to join them.

Temporary workers from Ukraine whose visas are expiring will be allowed to remain in the country until at least the end of this year, and a new scheme will offer a route for some Ukrainians without family members in Britain. But Ms Patel rejected calls for Britain to follow European Union member-states by waiving visa requirements for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict.

“Russian troops are seeking to infiltrate and merge with Ukrainian forces. Extremists are on the ground in the region too,” she told MPs.

"Given that, and also Putin's willingness to do violence on British soil – and in keeping with our approach which we have retained consistently throughout all emergency evacuations, including that of Afghanistan – we cannot suspend any security or biometric checks on the people whom we welcome to our country."

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Labour's shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper welcomed the easing of the rules, which until now limited reunion to immediate family members and did not include grandparents or adult sons and daughters. But she called for further flexibility and warned against subjecting those fleeing Ukraine to a bureaucratic box-ticking exercise that would make their passage more difficult.

"We have a huge responsibility to work alongside other European countries to provide sanctuary to those who are fleeing war in Europe, but we must ensure that that actually happens in practice and that bureaucratic hurdles, delays and obstacles do not get in the way of people across the country showing their support for those who have fled the appalling fighting in Ukraine. We have all made pledges to stand by Ukraine, and we must do that by providing sanctuary now," she said.

Rubble

Speaking during a visit to Poland, Mr Johnson said the war could produce millions of refugees from Ukraine, with more than 200,000 coming to Britain. He said later Vladimir Putin could seek to reduce Kyiv to rubble, just as he did in the Chechen capital of Grozny in 2003.

“I think that he’s gone into a cul-de-sac and it’s very difficult for him to back out, and that’s the problem we’ve got,” Mr Johnson told ITV News.

“And if you’re sitting where he is, his only instinct is going to be to double down and to try and ‘Grozny-fy’ Kyiv, if you know what I mean. And to reduce it to [rubble], and I think that that would be an unalterable moral humanitarian catastrophe and I hope he doesn’t do that.

“I hope he has the wisdom to see that there must be a better way forward but what he’s got to do is to disengage, with the column of tanks, 40km-long, going towards Kyiv, he needs to put those tanks into reverse or turn them round and that is the number one thing.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times