20 May 2024

Deputy Foreign Secretary Andrew Mitchell opens a general debate on Ukraine in the House of Commons.

The Deputy Foreign Secretary (Mr Andrew Mitchell)

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the situation in Ukraine.

All across the House condemned Putin’s invasion in 2022. The whole House has supported Britain’s actions to back Ukraine and galvanise the international community. Today, I hope the whole House echoes the words of the Prime Minister as he pledged £3 billion in military aid for Ukraine every year until 2030, and beyond if necessary. He said that

“Ukraine is not alone, and Ukraine will never be alone.”

The war has entered its third year. In the last few months, Russia has been eking out small territorial gains in the Donbas. Now, the Kremlin is probing Ukrainian defences north of Kharkiv. It is unlikely to take Ukraine’s second largest city anytime soon, but in recent days it has taken a dozen villages, so we are at a difficult moment, which underlines the critical importance of accelerating the delivery of vital military support to Ukraine.

Across the country, Russian missiles are raining down on Ukrainian power plants and the electricity grid. Ukraine continues to strike back, including with clear success in degrading Russia’s Black sea fleet and taking out military targets inside Russia. Increases in American, UK and European military aid are now arriving at the frontline, and the costs for Russia remain extraordinarily high. Some 465,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded since February 2022, with thousands of conscripts having their lives tossed away for the sake of only modest tactical advances. Meanwhile, Russia’s military now sucks up over 40% of Government spending, over half of Russia’s national wealth fund is gone, and Gazprom has posted its first annual loss in 20 years, to the tune of $7 billion. Every rouble that the Kremlin spends on a dodgy North Korean missile or Iranian drone is money that it is not spending on improving the lives of Russian citizens, on teachers, on pensions or on medicine.

Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)

I have always been sceptical about the impact of sanctions when real warfighting breaks out, and that scepticism has recently been increased by the knowledge that so much Russian oil has been going to India to be refined there and then to be bought up by western countries that are sanctioning Russian oil. Can the Deputy Foreign Minister throw any light on this and on what we propose to do about it?

Mr Mitchell 

My right hon. Friend speaks with knowledge and authority on this matter. He will know that the imposition of sanctions is a complex matter, that we have to continually ensure that those who break them are held to account, and that that is an iterative process—I believe that is the correct jargon. I can tell him that we have sanctioned over 2,000 individuals and entities, and that without sanctions Russia would have an extra £400 billion with which to prosecute the war.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)

I concur with the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis), when he says that this is not just about oil but about sanctions being broken. What more can we do to stop UK and European companies that are quite clearly exporting their products via other countries, particularly Turkey and the Stans, to bypass those sanctions?

Mr Mitchell 

I refer the right hon. Gentleman to my answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis). This is a highly complex area and it must always be governed by law, including international law. We are working better all the time as we get better at it, and I hope he will accept my assurance that we are doing everything we can to ensure that we get better and more effective at it.

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)

I am going to make a similar point. I understood that, following Ed Conway’s reports on Sky about motor manufacturing and diversion through Azerbaijan, for example, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office was going to take action on this. Is the Minister able to update the House on precisely what actions the FCDO is taking to deal with this blatant sanctions evasion?

Mr Mitchell 

I hope the hon. Lady will forgive me if I do not give those details across the Floor of the House, but at such point as it would be helpful and we are able to do so, I will assuredly inform the House.

President Putin surely knows that this is not sustainable. He will not be able to outlast the Ukrainians, who are fighting for their very survival, or Ukraine’s supporters who have economies 25 times the size of his.

The House will be aware that the situation on the frontline is difficult. Russia has numerical advantages in men and matériel, and we are acting now to help Ukraine hold the line and get back on the front foot.

Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)

My anxiety is that all the Minister’s figures about what the Russian economy is doing indicate that Russia has put the production of ammunition and matériel on a war footing, while everything I have heard from our western allies says that we have chosen not to do that. It feels as if we give bits and pieces here, there and everywhere—all well intentioned—but it does not add up to us putting the whole of the western military armaments process on a war footing. That is surely what we need to do.

Mr Mitchell 

I say to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a very high regard, that when I have finished my speech I hope he will be reassured specifically on that point.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con)

The Deputy Foreign Secretary has talked about the numerical advantage that Russia has over Ukraine. That is why it is so important that injured troops on the frontline in Ukraine are treated, cared for and recycled back into active service as quickly as possible. In Goole, we are proud to have provided over 150 ambulances, including armoured ambulances, which are being used at the front. The Deputy Foreign Secretary spoke about military aid. Can he assure the House that we are also doing everything we can to ensure that proper medical aid and support are being provided to those brave troops?

Mr Mitchell 

Yes, and I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend’s constituents for the work that he described. Again, if he bears with me, I will be able to come directly to the point that he has made.

It is important to restate what is at stake. No one here in Britain, or indeed in the wider world, should be in any doubt: this is vital not just for Ukraine, whose determination to fight for its freedom is undimmed, but for us in Britain and beyond. This is the defining struggle of our generation. At stake in Ukraine are vital principles. These are not just words found in the United Nations charter—a charter signed by Russia but which she now flagrantly breaks and dishonours; they are essential foundations for the security and prosperity of the entire world. Sovereignty. Territorial integrity. Right, not might.

The war has brought with it the greatest atrocities on our continent in a generation: the death, rape, torture and deportation of civilians on a massive scale. We see the war’s impact spread across Europe, even to our own shores, with espionage, cyber-attacks, disinformation, suspected sabotage activity, airspace violations and GPS jamming, which impacts civil aviation. If Russia were to win in Ukraine, we would be back in a world where the most fundamental international rule—that countries must not seize land from others or resolve disputes by force—was in shreds. Success would only embolden Putin and authoritarian leaders around the world with designs on their neighbours’ territory.

The costs of supporting Ukraine now are far less than the costs we will face if it does not repel the invaders. That is why the Government have identified Russia as the most acute threat to British security, and why there has been enduring cross-party and public support in Britain for Ukraine since those little green men first appeared in 2014. It is why we have seen NATO only grow stronger since the Russian invasion, with Sweden and Finland joining an alliance dedicated solely to defending territory, not taking territory. It is why we saw the American Congress decide last month to approve $60 billion in further US support for Ukraine, and why the EU announced €50 billion in multi-year support. It is why, despite the different pressures some partners face, none but the most isolated and fanatically anti-western states seek to defend Putin’s blatant violation of the UN charter. This isolation is Moscow’s greatest weakness. Diplomatically, economically and militarily, the balance of advantage lies not with Russia but with Ukraine and her supporters, and we have to make that advantage count.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

I thank the Minister for his positive attitude; we are very much encouraged by what he has said. It is important that Ukraine gets the military aid that it needs, but it is also important that the troops are rotated. I understand that that is one of the issues, because the troops who are on the frontline and under pressure all the time need a bit of respite. What discussions has the Minister been able to have with the Ukrainian army to ensure that there is help for it militarily and in respect of respite and relaxation?

Mr Mitchell 

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and he may rest assured that British military advice in that respect, and on much else, is not lacking.

I was saying that, in regard to Moscow’s greatest weakness, we have to make the advantage count diplomatically, economically and militarily. We and our allies and partners need to out-compete, out-co-operate and out-innovate. Ukraine can and will win, provided that we support it enough, fast enough and for long enough. The key priorities are clear. Kyiv needs immediate military aid, particularly ammunition and air defence, to defend the frontline and protect its vital infrastructure. 

One month ago today, the Prime Minister announced our largest ever single package of equipment to help push the Russians back on land, sea and air. Much of this vital kit is already in Ukraine, including 1 million new rounds of ammunition. In April we sent vital spare parts to keep Ukrainian equipment in the fight, with more to follow in the coming weeks, including more than 20 mine clearance systems to defeat Russian minefields.

This year alone, Britain has given more than 1,600 strike and air defence missiles, as well as more Storm Shadow long-range precision guided missiles. We have given £245 million for artillery ammunition, a £325 million programme for drone production and procurement and £20 million of emergency funding to repair energy infra- structure. Since June 2022 we have trained 40,000 Ukrainians under Operation Interflex, and we are encouraging partners to join us in ensuring that Ukraine can counter the immediate threat.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)

I absolutely support all that the Deputy Foreign Secretary is saying about military equipment, and so on, to support Ukraine in its efforts.

Going back to the previous question, surely there needs to be a two-pronged approach, with sanctions to put economic pressure on Russia, in addition to the military pressure. It cannot be just one on its own. Should we review the effectiveness of sanctions, and potentially extend them?

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. Lady is right to say that we need to do both, and we are doing both. Sometimes it is frustrating that we are not able to talk directly to this point in the House, but she may rest assured that we are using the sanctions regime in every way we can, and that we are getting better at it as time goes by and events unfold.

As I was saying, we are encouraging partners to join us in ensuring that Ukraine can counter these threats. That means more ammunition and long-range missiles, more funding and munitions for air defence and more emergency support for energy infrastructure, but we also need to focus on the longer term, making our strength count in a prolonged war.

We will move to spending 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade, which is the biggest investment in defence in a generation. We will maintain current levels of military aid for Ukraine, £3 billion a year, until the end of the decade, or longer if needed, and we call on others to join us in this pledge. We have promised to double our investment in munitions production to £10 billion over the next 10 years, giving industry the long-term certainty it needs to build extra production capacity. We are also strengthening Ukraine’s own defence industrial base, with 29 defence businesses visiting Kyiv in April—our largest trade mission since Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Sir Chris Bryant 

The Deputy Foreign Secretary is generous in giving way. The point he has just made goes some way towards reassuring me, but I think we will still need to go considerably further on producing arms for Ukraine.

Can I ask about the long-term future of Ukraine? Ukraine needs to rebuild itself, and it is making choices between spending money on armaments and spending money on rebuilding tower blocks that have been blown up. Why have we still not managed to give Ukraine the £3 billion from the sale of Chelsea football club? And why have we still not managed to get any of the Russian state assets that are sitting in European and British banks through to Ukraine to help it rebuild?

Mr Mitchell 

On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, I very much hope that progress will be made at the G7 meeting later this week. Things are moving in the right direction, and we must hope for success by the end of the week.

The hon. Gentleman is right in what he says about the so-called Chelsea fund, and he reflects the immense frustration that many of us have felt over the last year in trying to get the fund up and running. The Foreign Secretary is absolutely determined that we will do so. It will be the second largest charity in Britain after the Wellcome Trust. Every sinew is being bent to get it to operate. It is mired in legal and technical difficulties, but the hon. Gentleman has my personal assurance that we are doing everything to try to ensure the money is used to good effect.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)

The news that my right hon. Friend has given the House this afternoon on the amount of military equipment and money going into Ukraine is greatly encouraging. Britain has courageously led the world on co-ordinating the effort against Russia’s operation in Ukraine, supported, of course, by the Americans and, to be fair, the Germans, but we three nations cannot do it all. What is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage other rich nations and allies around the world to contribute their share?

Mr Mitchell 

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to underline the importance of that. I think the position is a little better than he suggests, but he may rest assured that we are pressing everyone to give the support that Britain is giving, in whatever way they can.

We are continuing to ramp up the economic pressure on Russia and, with the US, we have taken decisive steps against the global trade in Russian metals. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East, we are bearing down on the circumvention of sanctions and, as the House knows, this was a major focus during the Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to central Asia. We are adopting new measures to target the shadow fleet that transports Russian oil.

We have also consistently said that Russia must pay the price for its illegal invasion. Ahead of the G7 summit in June, we have been leading international efforts to build consensus on a lawful route to use Russian assets to generate the maximum possible support for Ukraine. We are, again, working with our partners so that they join us in giving Ukraine the long-term support it needs to win this war by ramping up defence production, supporting Ukraine’s own industry and imposing more sanctions to undermine Russia’s military industrial complex and reduce its export revenues.

Finally, we need to invest in Ukraine’s future security and prosperity by backing it not only in the war but after it. Last year’s London recovery conference raised $60 billion for Ukraine. In January, Britain was the first to sign an agreement offering bilateral security commitments to Ukraine following the Vilnius declaration. And now we are the first to commit to multi-year military support for as long as it is needed.

We are seeing encouraging signs of many partners making similar investments. The Americans and the European Union have agreed generous funding packages. Germany will host the next Ukraine recovery conference in June, and our main NATO allies and G7 partners are now following us in signing long-term security agreements with Ukraine. In July, at the NATO summit in Washington and the European Political Community summit at Blenheim Palace, we will urge our partners to underline once again our unity in standing with Ukraine, which I hope will satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), who made a very good point.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Ind)

The Deputy Foreign Secretary lays out the plans for a war that will go on for many years. Can he explain how Ukraine, with a starting population of 41 million, which has now probably halved through emigration and people being killed in the war, will possibly succeed in a long-term war of attrition against Russia, which has a population of 144 million, without NATO boots on the ground? Is that the end game of this situation?

Mr Mitchell 

The hon. Gentleman should reflect on what I said at the beginning of my speech. The gross national income of those who are united against what Russia has done in Ukraine very greatly exceeds all of Russia’s assets.

Andrew Bridgen 


Mr Mitchell 

I am not giving way again.

Earlier this month, Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Edinburgh was the first member of the royal family to visit Ukraine since Putin’s invasion. She followed in the footsteps of Gytha of Wessex, an Anglo-Saxon princess who married the Grand Prince of Kiev. She was one of many figures in British history to have forged links with Ukraine over the centuries. Today we see a greater breadth and depth of co-operation than ever before on not only security, but areas ranging from English language training for civil servants to green technology.

David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con)

I am pleased to hear about the co-operation that my right hon. Friend is setting out and, indeed, his positive message, but he has not acknowledged the important role of the Ukrainian diaspora in the UK, both in supporting those back home and in mobilising public opinion here in support of what this country and others are doing to try to ensure that Russia does not win this war.

Mr Mitchell 

My hon. Friend is entirely right to make that point. The contribution of the Ukrainian community in Britain—those who have come here—has been immense in raising awareness. I remember with the greatest possible affection the concert that took place in Wylde Green in my constituency, where a young Ukrainian opera singer sang the national anthem. At the end of the concert, everyone who had the privilege of being there was fully aware of the dreadful suffering that Ukraine was experiencing.

During his recent visit, the Foreign Secretary launched negotiations on an enhanced 100-year partnership with Ukraine. Our friendship with Ukraine is not only enduring; it is growing stronger. We will stand with Ukraine’s people until they prevail in the war, and we are confident that they will enjoy a future that is secure, prosperous and free. Ukraine’s cause is just; it matters to Britain. The consequences of Ukraine failing are unconscionable. Our friends and enemies alike are watching to see if we have the necessary resolve to see this through to the end.

Let no one believe that if Putin succeeded in his illegal invasion and conquered Ukraine, he would stop there. He would be emboldened by victory, and the failure of the west, Europe, America and our own country would define our generation’s inability to deliver the collective security we have championed continuously since 1945. The cost to us all of that failure would be many times the financial costs we bear today in delivering the necessary military support.

The support must continue if we are to maintain that collective security, the rule of law and the international rules-based system upon which the stability and success of future generations depend. The people of Ukraine have shown extraordinary bravery and determination in resisting Putin’s vile war machine. We cannot—we must not—let them down.