By Bill Heaney reports from Westminster

SNP leader Ian Blackford, supported vociferously by Helensburgh MP Brendan O’Hara, took Boris Johnston to task at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons at Westminster today over the “shameful” government treatment of refugees from war-torn Ukraine.

Mr Blackford  (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP) told parliament: “We are now 14 days into Putin’s war. In that time, I have genuinely tried to work constructively with the UK Government and I will continue to seek to do that. Nobody should support the Government, however, when it comes to their response to the refugee crisis—760 visa approvals in two weeks is disgraceful.

“In that time, Poland has taken over 1.2 million refugees, Hungary has taken over 190,000 refugees, Germany has taken over 50,000 refugees, Italy has taken over 7,000 refugees and Ireland—a country of just over five million people—has given sanctuary to three times as many refugees as the United Kingdom.

“Those numbers do not lie; they tell a devastating truth. Does the Prime Minister find it acceptable that his Home Secretary [Priti Patel] has overseen one of the slowest, most bureaucratic and incompetent refugee responses in the whole of Europe?”

The Prime Minister told him: “Everybody sympathises with the plight of refugees. The Government want to do everything we can to welcome them and that is indeed what we are doing. The numbers are almost 1,000 as I speak y, and they will rise very sharply. They are uncapped and we expect those numbers to rise to in the region of hundreds of thousands.
As Vladimir Putin doubles down in his attacks, we will go further and there will be routes by which the whole country can offer a welcome to vulnerable people fleeing from Ukraine.
“We will be setting out that route in the course of the next few days. This Government have a proud, proud record. We have done more to resettle vulnerable people than any other European country since 2015.”

Ian Blackford, pictured right,  said however: “I do not think the Prime Minister understands the scale of the challenge or the urgency. These are people fleeing war crimes, torn apart from their families as their homes are shelled, and the Home Secretary is blocking them with endless paperwork. That is not just incompetence; this is ideology.

“In the face of the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since the second world war, the UK Government will not set aside the hostile environment. 
We have seen that too many times from a Tory Home Office: the Windrush scandal, the ‘Go home’ vans, and the inhumane Nationality and Borders Bill.
“The UK Home Office is raising barriers and bureaucracy when we should be offering care and compassion. I say to the Prime Minister that he should not let the history of failure repeat itself.
“Scotland stands ready to offer sanctuary and refuge, so will he join the rest of the European continent and waive the visa restrictions for refugees fleeing war in Ukraine?”
The Prime Minister told him: “This country has an unparalleled record.  Since I have been Prime Minister, look at the numbers we have taken from Afghanistan and Hong Kong. This is a Government unlike any other: the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are directly descended from refugees. We understand how much refugees have to give to this country and we understand how much this country has to gain from welcoming refugees. We will be generous and we are being generous.

“What we are doing is making sure that, in those neighbouring countries, the UK is out in front giving humanitarian assistance and we are in every capital.

“SNP Members laugh, they mock, they scoff, but this country is leading in every respect. We are also the single biggest donor of humanitarian aid to the Ukraine warzone—the single biggest donor. He should be proud of that.”

Brendan O’Hara,  Argyll and Bute, SNP, pictured left, stepped in to support his leader. He said: “People across these islands have displayed remarkable generosity, including in Argyll and Bute, where Oban Helps Ukraine has been overwhelmed by donations of money, clothes and offers of shelter.
“Sadly, the Government’s reluctance to allow fleeing women and children to come here lags far behind the desire of the people here to provide them with a roof and a bed. Does not the Prime Minister fear that, when this war is concluded, and despite whatever else they may have done, his Government will stand accused of lacking the one thing that the Ukrainian people needed most: basic humanity?”
The Prime Minister told the House: “I really do not think that that question reflects the views of people around the world. Nor does it reflect reality because this Government have done more than any other European country to support people by way of direct bilateral humanitarian aid, and we have two very generous schemes for allowing people to come to this country. This is a Government who believe in welcoming people fleeing from zones of conflict.”
Brendan O’Hara interrupted Boris Johnston at this point and animatedly indicated dissent.
But the Prime Minister scolded him: “You shake your head.  Look at our record. Look at what we have done just in the last two years. He should be proud of what we have done.
Liberal Democrat leader  Ed Davey said: “In the months before world war two, the UK took in more than 60,000 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. Over half a century ago, we took in more than 27,000 Ugandans expelled by Idi Amin. Since then, we have taken Tamils escaping civil war, Bosnians escaping genocide and Syrians escaping Assad.
“But this week, the Home Office turned away hundreds of Ukrainian refugees escaping Putin’s bombs because they did not have the right paperwork. Can the Prime Minister not see that that flies in the face of our country’s proud tradition of providing sanctuary? Since the Home Office is clearly not up to the task, will he send in armed forces personnel to speed up the process so that Ukrainian refugees can come here quickly and safely?”
The Prime Minister told him: “The whole House wants to do as much as we can as fast as possible, but what he says about the UK is, I am afraid, completely wrong, because we have visa centres open in Warsaw, Budapest, Prague, Rzeszów in Poland, Chișinău in Moldova, Bucharest and elsewhere.
“We have already got 1,000 people in under the existing scheme. That number will climb very sharply. Look at what we have done already—15,000 from Afghanistan, 104,000 applications from Hong Kong Chinese, and I think there were about 25,000 from Syria. No one has been turned away.   We want to be generous. It is important to have checks. Let me make this point to the House because I think people need to understand.
There are some people who would like to dispense with checks altogether and simply to wave people through.  I think that that is irresponsible and is not the approach that we should be taking. The Schengen countries have a different arrangement. We must be in no doubt, as I said in answer to a previous question, that the Kremlin has singled out this country for the approach that we are taking, and we know how unscrupulous Vladimir Putin can be in his methods.
“It would not be right to expose this country to unnecessary security risk and we will not do it. We are going to be as generous as we can possibly be, but we must have checks.”

Ronnie Cowan,  MP for Inverclyde, SNP, said: “I have a constituent whose elderly parents are seeking refuge in the United Kingdom from Ukraine. Her parents are both in their 80s. They have made it to Hungary. They went to the visa application centre, as instructed by the Home Office hotline, and they were told, ‘Come back on 22 March.’  Then, and only then, will their biometrics be processed. That is the harsh reality—no spin, no subterfuge. Prime Minister, when will refugees from Ukraine be welcomed into the United Kingdom?”

The Prime Minister  wrapped up the dabate by telling the man from Greenock: “We are moving heaven and earth, because we understand the value to this country of refugees. We also understand the imperative of helping people fleeing a war zone in terror.
“That is why the people of this country want to open their arms, and we are going to help them to do it with a new humanitarian route, in addition to the family reunion route that we have already set out. That family reunion route alone could bring hundreds of thousands of people here. I think the whole House understands that; we will do even more through the new humanitarian route.”
Picture: Prime Minister Boris Johnston and Defence Secretary Ben ‘Tonto’ Wallace on a visit to the Clyde Naval Base at Faslane on the Gareloch.

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