Responding today, Boris Johnson said the UK is “of course” going to take refugees and pledged to help people “fleeing in fear of their lives”.
Despite Johnson’s rhetoric closer inspection of the policy change reveals that the visa relaxation only applies to married and long-term couples and children under 18, who have parents already residing in the UK. Applicants will also still be subject to stringent English Language tests and minimum income requirement, and failing these face a very real prospect of having their applications denied.
The Labour Party described the insignificance of these changes to visa requirements as “shameful” and the Liberal Democrats have suggested that: “Boris Johnson needs to follow the lead of our European neighbours and set up a simple, rapid scheme to resettle Ukrainian refugees in the UK. Anything less would be a failure of moral leadership and leave thousands at risk.”
Meanwhile EU leaders agreed unanimously last night that all member countries will take in Ukrainian refugees for up to three years without asking them to first apply for asylum. As of this morning, Reuters website reported that 200,000 Ukrainian refugees had entered EU territory so far.
The Government was also met with criticism by some of its own backbenchers today; Julian Smith, the Tory MP for Skipton and Ripon expressed his disapproval of his party’s limited response to the refugee crisis, lauding instead the EU’s open door policy.
He wrote on Twitter: “It would be very positive for the UK to now follow suit with a big and generous policy.”