Newcastle North MP, Catherine McKinnell, led a debate calling on the Government to provide greater and swifter support to those fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Catherine led the debate as Chair of the Petitions Committee, after nearly a quarter of a million petitioners called on the Government to do more to support Ukrainian refugees. The debate coincided with the statement from the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.

Opening the debate, Catherine highlighted how slow the UK Government response was, highlighting that “Many of us believe that being on Ukraine’s side must mean, at the very least, allowing Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s bombs and tanks to come to the UK for sanctuary, but the shameful reality is that we have put up barriers at every step of the way and we have turned away desperate, frightened people in their hour of greatest need.

“We should have been prepared for this: we had known for months that Russian troops were massing at the Ukrainian border; and with his record of atrocities in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria and Ukraine itself, we had no illusions as to what President Putin was capable of.”

The Newcastle North MP also contrasted the UK Government response, settling 4,000 Ukrainian refugees to date, to those elsewhere, outlining that “Poland has already welcomed about 1.2 million people…Moldova has accepted 83,000 Ukrainians, which equates to 3% of its own population… as of Tuesday, about 10,000 Ukrainians had arrived in France and 30,000 in Italy; Germany, which is closer to Ukraine, has more than 120,000”.

Catherine also highlighted comments from constituents in Newcastle North who said that they were “ashamed at the way this current government is treating Ukrainian refugees”, “hugely disappointed by our Government’s slowness to provide a safe haven for Ukrainian people” and that they “weep when seeing elderly people queuing in sub-zero temperatures”.

Concluding, Catherine stated “This country has offered sanctuary to those fleeing war on the European continent in generations past. Ukrainians who came here after the second world war have become an integral part of many local communities up and down the country, and many are doing what they can to help their fellow Ukrainians in this moment of unprecedented crisis.

“As we look to be entering a new era in world politics, exemplified by President Zelensky’s historic address to this House, it is time for us to genuinely and open-heartedly offer that sanctuary again.”

Following the debate, Catherine commented:

“The British people have stepped up in unprecedented numbers to support the Ukrainian people, whether through donations to the Disaster Emergency Committee, food and clothes drives, and shows of solidarity.

“Our Government have been out of step with the public with a slow response to this crisis. In just over a week nearly a quarter of a million people signed petitions calling for the Government to provider greater support for those fleeing the unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine.

“If the Government is truly on Ukraine’s side, it must get its act together and support Ukrainians in their greatest hour of need.”

You can read the full debate on Hansard here