Dear Mr Parish,
I wrote to you recently about the urgent need for Ukrainian refugees to be given safe passage and supported resettlement in the UK.
You kindly replied, and in short order, which I appreciated. Thank you.
However, the assurances you provided about the government’s response did not address my concerns about the shortcomings in the Home Office’s ability – or its will – to deal satisfactorily with the crisis.
That was over a week ago and in the meantime it has become all too clear that for whatever reason, the Home Office is not just failing the refugees but is also badly letting down the UK.
It is obvious that the government’s approach is out of step with public opinion. A majority of people in Britain want the government’s actions to match the fine words uttered by Boris Johnson and Priti Patel at the despatch box.
Three times on Monday 7 March Ms Patel gave very evasive and misleading answers to questions put by her opposition counterpart about a Visa Application Centre “en route to Calais”: so evasive and misleading that it was impossible to conclude anything other than that she was trying to conceal the facts.
The facts are that she and her department have absolutely failed even to try to manage the crisis, that there is no Visa Application Centre “en route to Calais” (or indeed anywhere near it) and that the “surge” in numbers of immigration staff which she said she has put in place has not materialised.
The strength of public indignation has been such that she has been forced gradually (and obviously grudgingly) to amend the criteria for visas for Ukrainian refugees, whilst claiming that her unwillingness to allow them freely to enter the UK is owing to concerns about our national security – which always sounds good but which in this case begs the question that if the government is so worried about our national security, why have so many in the Conservative Party been cosying up for so long to wealthy Russian donors?
It is a sad irony that, given that her family came from Uganda to make a better life in this country, Ms Patel appears to lack any capacity for empathy, and, as far as can be judged by her actions (as opposed to her words), she seems to wish only to draw up the ladder into Fortress Britain. Worse still, in the current crisis it appears that she wants to prevent anyone from benefiting from the ‘proud and honourable tradition’ which is so often referred to by this government: of Britain offering asylum to those needing safe refuge.
I am afraid to say that in light of the Home Office’s appalling incompetence, or callousness, or both, I think this government has utterly betrayed any pretensions to a proud and honourable tradition, and once again I am utterly ashamed to be British.
I trust that in the debate on Monday 14 March which will examine the question of waiving visa requirements, you will show the compassion and humanity which I know you possess. I urge you, please, to use your voice and your vote to help force the government to begin properly to help these desperate people.
[Here is a link to one of the petitions to the government about visas for Ukrainain refugees and you can watch the debate (due at 4.30pm Monday 14 March 2022) on BBC Parliament and on UK Parliament YouTube channel]
Dear Sir Geoffrey Cox
There have been several instances in the past decade when I have written to you to disagree ardently with a specific policy or the direction in which this Conservative government is leading the country. These concerns have been quite aside from the circus that has dominated our politics and news agenda for several months – from ‘party-gate’ to the sleaze scandal – all eroding the trust the general public puts in those they elect to represent their views.
Now Russia has invaded Ukraine which necessitates putting certain opinions to one side and contacting you instead about this abhorrent situation. Although the UK has moved more quickly than other nations in some very limited areas, I am disappointed by what appears to be a cold-hearted and tardy immigration policy at a time when Ukrainians are fleeing their homeland seeking security.
As one of this government’s narratives around ‘Global Britain’ is that we are seen as a ‘beacon of hope and aspiration’, the way in which we treat those fleeing a warzone in Europe is a chance to demonstrate what we mean by this. Thanks to the incredible work of journalists reporting from both inside Ukraine and on its borders, the British people have already responded to this crisis – attending demonstrations, donating millions to appeals, as well as donating food and clothing.
Generations who have gone before us made significantly greater contributions and, in some cases, paid a price for peace in Europe. In other European countries, people are opening their homes to strangers, to provide much-needed rest and security to those who have left Ukraine with only the belongings they can carry. Right now, many of us in the UK want to do more, and our government should enable those who can, to do so. The idea that we will initially only welcome Ukrainians who already have family members in this country is disgraceful, and we’re not even issuing visas for those people in a competent or speedy fashion.
What is our country’s plan over the coming weeks to help the children who will be displaced? Many of them may have been separated from family or, in the most devastating situations, have lost their families altogether in this unprovoked war. How will we help the children who live in orphanages in Ukraine? If we really want to be seen as a country that is a beacon of hope and aspiration around the world, enabling brighter futures for those who are having their childhood taken from them is exactly what we should be prioritising and urgently planning for.
Just as many in Europe have already done, let us open our homes and our hearts to the Ukrainian people and provide the shelter, security and comfort that is desperately needed. Our immigration policies and procedures need to be urgently overhauled in this crisis, and people put before numbers.
I look forward to receiving a response from you.