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Boris Johnson answers MPs’ questions on Ukraine, cost of living crisis and more at Liaison Committee

One MP asked Johnson why we are still getting ‘people on rubber boats’ but not Ukrainians or ‘wealthy’ Qatari immigrants

Boris Johnson faced questions from MPs yesterday in a liaison select committee session which covered a number of different issues, from the war in Ukraine to supporting the public with rising energy bills.

The liaison committee is made up of the heads of all the departmental select committees, and is tasked with questioning the Prime Minister every few months.

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The first few questions related to the ongoing ‘Partygate’ scandal, though Johnson remained tight-lipped on the matter, saying only that he would come back to the committee and answer questions following the completion of the Met investigation.

UK to take military support for Ukraine ‘up a gear’

Asked about the potential for civilian units and ‘white-helmet style’ support for Ukraine by Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, Johnson said the government is looking at ‘going up a gear’ in terms of military support.

Johnson said this could involve looking at ways to help Ukrainian forces to break the siege on the city of Mariupol, which is currently the scene of a slow-moving humanitarian disaster as encircled Ukrainian forces in the city have been cut off from support and supplies.

Johnson also said he understood why US president Joe Biden had made comments about Vladimir Putin being removed from office, but fell short of echoing that call.

MPs warn that homes for Ukrainians scheme could become ‘Tinder for sex traffickers’

Labour MP Sarah Champion highlighted a letter sent to Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove earlier this week by a number of refugee and anti-slavery campaign groups, expressing their concern about the Home for Ukrainians scheme.

They said the scheme risks operating as “Tinder for sex traffickers”.

Johnson said: “I think that that is one of the reasons why it’s important to have as light touch as possible, but to have DBS checks that have to be checked both ways. Make sure that we have a programme that is really working and I think that’s important for the whole country, because everybody will want to be as generous as possible, but they’ll also want to feel that the scheme is really sound, and we’re getting the people that really need our help and that we’re helping them in in the best possible way.”

Conservative MP says we want ‘wealthy’ Qataris and Ukrainians, not people in ‘rubber boats’

Discussing the government’s slow uptake on offering visas to Ukrainian refugees through the family reunification scheme and the Home for Ukrainians scheme, Conservative MP Bill Wiggin lamented that the government can’t seem to deliver his priorities on immigration.

Wiggin said that the public ‘wants Ukrainians’ but not refugees who attempt to reach the UK by crossing the channel, many of whom have come from war-zones or are otherwise seeking asylum.

Wiggin said that as well as Ukrainian refugees, the government should prioritise visa-free access for ‘wealthy’ Qataris.

Wiggin is one of several Conservative MPs who has benefitted from paid trips to Qatar funded by the Qatari government.

He said: “We have on at least three occasions promised the Qataris visa free access. These are very wealthy people who are unlikely to stay. And yet, despite saying we’ll do it three times, we still haven’t delivered.

“And I’m really worried, Prime Minister, that everything you’ve said to us today, I actually want to happen - but it isn’t happening. And the only people who are turning up turn up on rubber boats. Why can’t we get the right people through our immigration system instead of the wrong ones?”

He added: “We want Qataris, we don’t want people in rubber boats, but we’re not getting it!”

Johnson calls for a ‘more equitable spread’ of refugees across the country

Labour MP and session chair Clive Betts chair criticised the government’s approach to support for local authorities in relation to the family reunification scheme.

He said that local authorities do not receive extra support for refugees linked to the family scheme, despite having to offer additional services, and that councils don’t have access to information which would help them join up Ukrainian refugees who arrived through the family scheme but have no where to live, and those who’ve signed up to host Ukrainians through the homes scheme.

Johnson said he would look into the issues, but also called on councils across the country to do more.

He said: “What we should also recognise is that at the moment the dispersal of refugees around this country is not particularly equitable.

He added: “There are quite a few councils in Scotland that don’t take very many I’m afraid to say. And I think what will be good to see is a greater spread and a greater fairness in the in the distribution”

A recent investigation by NationalWorld found that there are dozens of local authorities in England where no refugees have been resettled since 2014, while Glasgow had among the highest rates for Asylum Seeker support and refugee resettlement in the UK.

NationalWorld has also previously found that areas with a Labour-run council are more likely to resettle refugees.

Johnson denies abandoning climate ambitions over energy strategy

Johnson was also questioned on the UK’s energy strategy, given the significant increase in the cost of energy faced by millions of households this week.

Johnson extolled the benefits of nuclear power but said that these cannot be brought online quick enough to help the public in the short term.

He also expressed his support for offshore wind and hydrogen, but said that fossil fuels still have a significant part to play.

He said: “I think the hydrocarbon riches of the world, I’m sorry to say it, they’re still vast and you want to move away from hydrocarbons as fast as you can, but it’s also in the short term useful.

Asked by MPs if this meant he was “moving away” from the climate change ambitions set at COP26, Johnson said, “no, not at all.

He added: “The net zero the ambition to keep going on the path towards and then that has not been adulterated or, or lost at all.”

MPs warn that landlords will benefit unfairly from energy rebate scheme

Part of the government’s support for those struggling with rising energy costs has been a loaned rebate which many people will receive through their council tax.

However, committee chair Clive Betts raised concerns about landlords benefitting unduly from the scheme, due to its design, with council tax as the route through which the loan is paid.

He said: “One big element I want to raise of real concern is that some of the poorest tenants in private accommodation, who pay their council tax in with their rent, their £150 gets handed over to their landlord. Some landlords get multiples of 150 pounds. I assume that was not the intention of the scheme. And is there anything you can do about it?

Johnson initially was confused by the question, mistakenly assuming Betts was referring to those in receipt of Housing Allowance, rather than private tenants whose council tax is included in their rent and therefore paid by the landlord.

After clarifying, Johnson said he would “certainly look into it,” and described the issue as “a wrinkle I hadn’t foreseen”.

He added: “I’ll do my best to ensure that. What we want to do is to cut the cost for the for the people who are paying it and to help people get through an unreasonable spike in energy prices caused by all the things that committee has mentioned.”

No further support for those who can’t work, Johnson confirms

Asked about additional support through Universal Credit for those who can’t work, due to ill-health for example, the Prime Minister said the government’s approach is to get people into work.

The rate of benefits is set to rise at around 3%, despite inflation being at more than 6% and expected to go higher, meaning that those who rely on Universal Credit but can’t work will see a significant decrease in their income.

He said: “The majority of around 65% of people who are on Universal Credit are either in work or can work and so they benefit from that. I take your point totally but the way we’re trying to help them is by the direct support that we’re giving for people facing particular hardship.

He added: “We think that the way out of poverty is to help people into work and all the evidence is that that works.”