Back on 26th February I wrote to my MP. My MP is Damian Collins, a Conservative, who has occasionally shown signs of independence, but mostly follows the Conservative party line. I have previously written to Mr Collins and the replies, whether from him or from his staff, have been, shall we say, anodyne. So I was pretty sure what response I would receive to this letter:
We watch with horror the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. We applaud Boris Johnson’s fine words about making Putin’s regime pay, and we are cheered that the colours of the Ukraine flag are used to display solidarity.
Yet the Prime Minister refuses to return contributions to the Conservative Party from Russian sources, members of the government still associate with Russian oligarchs in this country, and Jacob Rees Mogg is able to make a large profit from sale of his Russian assets. None of which seems to have anything to do with making Putin’s regime pay. Surely this government’s actions must match their words.
And now, when countries across Europe are opening their borders to Ukrainian refugees, we learn that the Home Office is actually making it harder for refugees from the Ukraine to enter Britain. This is not just an inexplicable response to a horrifying human tragedy, it is downright evil. And given the reluctance to return Russian money, it gives a very strong impression that, whatever fine words may come from Downing Street, the government is actually on the side of Russia.
This is an intolerable situation. Please make it clear to the government in the strongest possible terms that Ukrainian refugees must be welcomed in this country with open arms, and the Conservative Party must be purged of any financial connection with Russia.
I was angry when I wrote this. I am angry now. But the response I received was pretty much what I expected. On donations to the Conservative Party, his response was all bland, legalistic stuff about how anyone can donate to a political party and it is down to the Electoral Commission to ensure that donations are okay. Which did not, of course, answer my point that give the current situation any donation from people with Russian connections must be treated with suspicion. And the Conservative Party is perfectly able to return or refuse donations without having to wait for the say-so of the Electoral Commission (just as Boris Johnson could have said whether or not he attended parties at Number 10 without having to wait for the police investigation or the Gray report). When the Conservative Government is loudly trumpeting their sanctions against individuals (including some who are on the list of donors to the party), and when the government is badgering other organisations and companies to sever their financial ties with Russia, it looks highly suspicious that the Conservative party does not think this applies to them.
But what caught my eye in the response from Collins was his final paragraph, in which he said that “Given that the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of sanctioning Russia … etc, etc, etc … any suggestion that there is a ‘strong impression’ that the ‘government is actually on the side of Russia’ is most distasteful.”
It may be distasteful. I certainly find it distasteful. But to be honest this government is doing nothing to remove that foul taste.
Since this letter was written we have learned that the UK sanctions regime is weaker than any other country in Europe; that Russian individuals and organisations are being given time to get their money somewhere safe before the sanctions take effect; that Boris Johnson overrode the advice of the security services when elevating a Russian oligarch to the House of Lords, and that the House of Lords vetting committee, having first turned down the appointment, felt pressured to accept it the second time; that Boris Johnson met privately with this oligarch whilst all this was going on and refuses to release any details of what was discussed at that meeting; and that the UK response to refugees has been by far the worst in Europe, that being the only country in Europe to insist on a visa for people fleeing a war has meant that only a handful of people have been allowed into the country out of the millions who are seeking refuge, that refugees arriving at Calais are being sent away to Brussels or Paris to queue for visas, that the visa centre being opened near to Calais is actually many miles away at Lille, and that it was not in operation even as the Home Secretary was announcing that it was available in parliament, and that the consular facilities established near the Ukraine border are inadequately staffed, ill-prepared, and are leaving vulnerable refugees queueing outside in sub-zero temperatures for hours or even days. If all of this does not give the appearance of a government bending over backwards not to offend Russia, it certainly give the appearance of a government intentionally making things hard for Ukrainians.
The government’s behaviour throughout has been vile, inhumane, and perhaps downright evil. If Damian Collins MP finds this distasteful, then he could at least join the chorus of backbench Tory MPs who are decrying these failures.