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Boris Johnson admits UK could have acted faster in accepting Ukraine refugees

Boris Johnson said ‘large numbers’ of those fleeing the war are now coming to Britain (Victoria Jones/PA)
Boris Johnson said ‘large numbers’ of those fleeing the war are now coming to Britain (Victoria Jones/PA)

The Prime Minister has admitted the UK could have reacted faster in helping Ukrainian refugees amid widespread criticism that families are being delayed in reaching safety.

Boris Johnson said “large numbers” of those fleeing the war are now coming to Britain.

Pressed on why the UK is making it harder for refugees than other European countries in an interview conducted by Susanna Reid on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, he defended the Government’s current efforts.

“Well, we have done a huge amount to help Ukrainian women and children in the area but we’re now seeing large numbers come to the UK,” he said.

“So far, 86,000 visas have been issued and 27,000 are already here and I want to say, thank you – 27,000 is a lot and it’s growing fast and I want to pay tribute to all those who are helping to look after Ukrainians.

“Could we have done it faster? Yes, perhaps we could.”

Asked why the UK is not offering visa-free travel to Ukrainians, Mr Johnson said that in a wartime situation, some people might be “pretending” to be refugees.

He said: “It’s important to protect the system from those who might want to abuse it.

“It’s also important to protect the women and children from coming to somewhere where they’re not going to get the welcome that we would want, so that’s why the screening and all the work we’ve done to make sure that we match up people in the right way, and the results are starting to be really excellent, you’re seeing large numbers now.”

When it was put to him that only a fraction of those who have applied for visas have arrived in the UK, Mr Johnson responded: “Quite a big fraction.”

Earlier on the programme, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK said many refugees coming to Britain had to first wait in European towns such as the French port city of Calais as the UK “unfortunately” does not offer visa-free access.

Vadym Prystaiko said he “restarted negotiations” on the issue with the Home Secretary with the aim of suspending “this unnecessarily long, difficult bureaucratic procedure”.

It comes as would-be sponsors under the Homes for Ukraine visa scheme are threatening the Government with legal action on behalf of hundreds of Ukrainian refugees who have spent weeks waiting to come to Britain.

Figures shared with the PA news agency last week, compiled by would-be hosts, show there were at least 800 Ukrainian refugees still waiting for visas after applying within the first two weeks of the scheme opening.

Mr Prystaiko also said that Kyiv is past the point of negotiations with Moscow.

He said: “Now, these negotiations have stalled, for obvious reasons after the atrocities in Bucha. Many Ukrainians can’t even imagine how we could sit at the table of negotiations with these people now.

“The reasonable politicians will remind us that actually we have to sit at the table, because all the worst wars ended up in forms of negotiations. But, frankly speaking, many Ukrainians believe that we have to defeat them physically now.”

The Ministry of Defence said that despite Moscow’s huge increase in military spending in recent years, strategic and execution failures have resulted in a failure to “dominate” Ukraine.

In its latest intelligence update, the department said: “Russia’s military is now significantly weaker, both materially and conceptually, as a result of its invasion of Ukraine. Recovery from this will be exacerbated by sanctions. This will have a lasting impact on Russia’s ability to deploy conventional military force.”

The Prime Minister also told Good Morning Britain that any threat or attack on British diplomats in Ukraine is “totally beyond the pale” and there is “no justification for it”.

He said the UK has “led the world in helping the Ukrainians to protect themselves against wanton aggression, barbaric aggression” and later added that the UK has also “marshalled the world in delivering a very tough package of economic sanctions”.

Mr Johnson will later on Tuesday salute the resistance of Ukrainians in the face of the Russian invasion, telling them it is their country’s “finest hour” in an address to the parliament in Kyiv.

In a speech by video link to the Verkhovna Rada, the Prime Minister will echo the words of Winston Churchill as he sets out a new £300 million package of support for the Ukrainian military.

Downing Street said it will include electronic warfare equipment, a counter battery radar system, GPS jamming equipment and thousands of night vision devices, as Russia’s offensive in the Donbas region continues.

It follows Mr Johnson’s unannounced visit to the Ukrainian capital last month in a show of support and solidarity with president Volodymyr Zelensky.

“When my country faced the threat of invasion during the Second World War, our Parliament, like yours, continued to meet throughout the conflict and the British people showed such unity and resolve that we remember our time of greatest peril as our finest hour,” Mr Johnson is expected to say.

“This is Ukraine’s finest hour, an epic chapter in your national story that will be remembered and recounted for generations to come.”

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