UK politics: Blair calls for push for peace deal but says Nato should not rule out


18:01

Early evening summary

 UK imposes sanctions on 350 Russian individuals and entities linked to Russia  – video
UK imposes sanctions on 350 Russian individuals and entities linked to Russia – video

  • Tony Blair, the former Labour prime minister, has said the west should not give up on the possibility of negotiating a peace deal with Putin. But, in a long essay posted on his thinktank’s website, he also it was said a mistake for Nato to be as specific as it has been about not getting involved in the war. (See 4.17pm.)
  • Theresa May, the former Conservative prime minister, has urged the government to act to protect Ukrainian refugees from human traffickers. Speaking in a Commons debate on Ukraine, she said:

It’s a sad reflection on human nature that the very point where these women and children are fleeing Ukraine for their safety to find refuge elsewhere, the criminal gangs have moved in to make money from the trafficking of what they consider to be yet another commodity, that is human beings, and they are attempting to make money out of this human distress and vulnerability …

There are many unaccompanied children coming over, not necessarily orphans, but children who may not just have their family with them when they come in.

Some of those children don’t have papers. The Polish authorities, I understand, are making valiant efforts to look for papers, to find papers, to photograph children, to find some sort of record of the children, to identify them.

What we know is that there is no database, there is no real means of that identification and tracking of what is happening to those children.

My first ask for ministers is whether they will now work urgently with UN agencies, the European Commission and the tech companies to find a resolution to this issue, to put in place a system that means that there can be no unidentified children left to the mercy of the traffickers.

Europol and Interpol almost certainly need to be involved here, as do the various police and law enforcement agencies across Europe.

There’ll be an absolutely key role for our National Crime Agency. I believe they should be taking the lead in this.

That is all from me for today. But our Ukraine coverage continues on our global live blog. It’s here.

17:57

In the Commons debate on Ukraine Carol Monaghan, the SNP’s armed forces spokesperson, said journalists should stop asking MPs if they will be willing to house Ukrainian refugees themselves. She said:

I find it disturbing and I am directing these comments particularly at journalists, because some of us have now been asked by journalists whether we are offering our own homes for refugees. Can I say that this is not appropriate?

I don’t put anybody on the spot – constituents, family members, members on the benches opposite – to ask them what they can do to support refugees. Some sort of kindness test. And nor should journalists.

I don’t know the personal circumstances of all of the members here.

I don’t know if they live in a mansion or a studio flat, I don’t know if they have got children or caring responsibilities that would make things different. I don’t know anything.

It is none of my businesses and, frankly, it is none of the business of journalists either.

So, while I might find myself on a different page in terms of the humanitarian response to some of the members on the benches opposite, I won’t be asking anyone that question.

My colleague George Monbiot also criticised the idea that anyone commenting on government immigration policy should be judged by their willingness, or not, to host refugees themselves in a very good Twitter thread yesterday. It starts here.

17:34

Intelligence and security committee says more action needed to stop UK being ‘safe haven’ for oligarchs

Parliament’s intelligence and security committee has issued a statement saying it is glad the Economic Crime Act has become law, but that further measures are needed to stop Britain being a “safe haven” for oligarchs. It says:

We welcome today the long-awaited legislation on economic crimes.

As the intelligence and security committee made very clear in its ‘Russia’ report, the UK has been welcoming Russian money for many years with few questions – if any – being asked about the provenance of this considerable wealth. When we sent our report, together with a detailed classified annex, to the prime minister over two years ago, we highlighted then that there was an urgent need for the UK government to disrupt this illicit financial activity, and questioned the efficacy of the measures which were in place.

It is hoped now that this new legislation is at least the first step toward giving the authorities – and in particular the National Crime Agency which leads this effort – the necessary clout and greater powers to ensure the UK is no longer a safe haven for the oligarchy and their enablers.

The committee is chaired by a Tory, Julian Lewis, and it has a Conservative majority. But Lewis became chair against the wishes of Downing Street, and the committee was unhappy about Boris Johnson’s decision to delay the publication of its Russia report for months, with the result that it did not appear until after the 2019 election. The report was damning about the government’s failure to fully investigate Russia’s attempts to interfere in British politics, including in the Brexit referendum.

17:05

Brexit has made tackling fraud ‘more difficult’, CPS tells MPs

Brexit has made tackling fraud “more difficult”, the director of legal services at the Crown Prosecution Service said. As PA Media reports, Gregor McGuill told the parliamentary justice committee that leaving the EU had created problems for police pursuing fraudsters overseas. PA says:

The committee heard that about 25% of fraud cases involved only defendants from the UK, with the number of cases involving “foreign” defendants being “considerably more”. It was also told that the number of computer-related fraud offences was “enormous”.

McGuill told the committee:

It’s still possible to do the work but when you are outside the EU it’s hard because you have to go through treaties and you have to build up local relationships and local engagement to get done what was a matter of course when we were part of the EU, so it doesn’t stop us doing it but it slows us down and makes it more difficult.

And Mark Fenhalls QC, chairman of the Bar Association, told the committee:

There’s an analogy with the lorries waiting to get their paperwork done, trying to cross the Channel.

The fact is it hasn’t made us more agile, what is has meant is that we’ve had to rebuild and start relationships afresh with people who no longer trust us in the same way.

16:56

The cumulative impact of sanctions on individuals and entities are “really biting on the Russian economy” and associates of Vladimir Putin, a UK official has said. According to PA Media, the official also insisted that further sanctions might follow. The official said:

We’ve always been clear that this is essentially a rolling process and I think what you find over time is the cumulative impact of the sanctions we’ve applied to date are really biting on the Russian economy and people around Putin.

16:46

The leaders and ministers from the countries that make up the Joint Expeditionary Force (a northern Europe defence alliance) have put out a joint statement following their meeting at Lancaster House. Here is an extract:

Putin’s actions are fundamentally challenging the security architecture of the Euro-Atlantic area. We need to ensure that such actions remain unacceptable and that no other nations can fall victim to attempts of violent expansionism. All sovereign nations have the right to choose their own security arrangements without the threat of external aggression. To that end, as a like-minded group of nations willing to demonstrate resolve, we will ensure that JEF continues to play a credible role in contributing to defence and deterrence in the region, keeping our countries and our continent safe.

The JEF countries are: Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and the UK.

Boris Johnson posing for a family photo with leaders of the Joint Expeditionary Force countries after their meeting at Lancaster House.
Boris Johnson posing for a family photo with leaders of the Joint Expeditionary Force countries after their meeting at Lancaster House. Photograph: Justin Tallis/PA

16:25

Richard Adams

Labour’s Stephen Morgan, the shadow schools minister, has warned that rising food costs and inflation are undermining the value of free school meals that a record 1.74 million pupils in England now rely on.

Schools currently receive £2.30 per day for every pupil eligible for free school meals, a rate that hasn’t changed since 2018. The Office for National Statistics says food costs are rising at an annual rate of 5%, while further increases in food and energy costs expected as a result of Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Speaking to a conference of public sector caterers, Morgan said: “Nutritious food is fuel for children to learn and achieve their aspirations. But Conservative tax hikes, universal credit cuts and an energy crisis is creating a perfect storm for families, schools and businesses.”

In 2021 nearly 21% of state school pupils were known to be eligible for free school meals, including the 420,000 eligible since the first Covid lockdown on in March 2020. Most qualify because their household receives universal credit with an annual income of less than £7,400.

16:17

Blair calls for push for peace deal with Putin – while saying Nato should not rule out intervening in war

Tony Blair, the former Labour prime minister who has considerable experience himself of constructing (or trying to construct) an international alliance to oppose a dictator, has published a long essay on his thinktank’s website about the war in Ukraine. Much of his analysis, and what he recommends, dovetails with what Boris Johnson has been saying. But at least two of his arguments challenge the current Westminster consensus on the war.

While Blair is more hawkish than conventional wisdom on one of these points, on the other he is more doveish.

  • Blair says it is a mistake for Nato to be as specific as it has been about not getting involved in the war. He explains:

I understand and accept that there is not political support for any direct military engagement by Nato of Russia. But we should be clear-eyed about what Putin is doing. He is using our correct desire not to provoke escalation alongside his willingness to escalate as a bargaining chip against us. When he is threatening Nato, even stoking…



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