Nearly 89,000 households have now signed up to provide a home for Ukrainian refugees as a Government minister said he was “actually quite proud” the website allowing Britons to put themselves forward had crashed within the first few minutes of going live.
Some 88,712 households had registered for the Homes for Ukraine scheme by Tuesday morning, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said, as the Prime Minister aimed to match the efforts at home with foreign action.
Boris Johnson is set to travel to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in a bid to further wean the UK off Russian oil and gas.
Before that, he will host visiting leaders of the Joint Expeditionary Force at Lancaster House, and the leaders of Finland and Sweden.
Further sanctions against those connected to Vladimir Putin are also expected to be announced.
As further attacks were reported in Ukraine, Foreign Office minister James Cleverly praised the British public for their efforts to support the country.
He said he was “glad the website crashed, because it is a reflection of that generosity of the British people” after households rushed to sign up for the Homes for Ukraine scheme launched on Monday.
“The irony of this is I’m actually quite proud that the system struggled,” Mr Cleverly told LBC.
“We built it quickly. We could have, yes… we could have spent more time stress-testing this website and delayed it a couple of days before launching.
“But, frankly, I’m glad we moved quickly on this and we’re moving quickly to ensure we’re able to help the Ukrainian refugees.”
Generosity of the British people
He added: “I know this is a weird thing to say as a Government minister – I’m glad the website crashed, because it is a reflection of that generosity of the British people.”
The scheme, launched by Communities Secretary Michael Gove, will allow Britons to host refugees for a minimum of six months in exchange for a £350 thank you payment.
But already the programme has come under criticism as currently, households need to have a named refugee in order to take part, rather than being matched with those in need by the Government.
However, Mr Cleverly said the latter process would hold up getting refugees the help they needed.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There are charities, faith groups, who are already in contact with people in Ukraine, people that need help and support.
“So, actually, rather than introduce a potentially slow and bureaucratic process, where people have already got connections – and there are a huge number of people and organisations that have already got connections with Ukrainians – rather than replicate, duplicate and slow that down, we want to be as agile and as quick as possible.
“That’s why we’re saying that, you know, we’ve got organisations which are already in contact with Ukrainians. We’ve now set up this site so British people can register their willingness to help and support.
“And, actually, what we’re looking to do is connect those both ends of that system together and do so in a way that’s quick and efficient.”
Asked whether he will be taking part in the scheme, he told LBC: “I have genuinely considered this. I’ve discussed this with my wife.
“I don’t know whether our personal circumstances will allow us to do this right at the moment. As you know, Nick, my wife, she’s going through medical treatment at the moment, but it’s absolutely something that I’m considering.”
British companies pull out of Russia
It comes as two more British-based companies have said they will pull out of Russia due to heavy sanctions.
Tobacco giant Imperial Brands has announced it has started negotiations to sell its Russian business as it plans to exit the country, where it employs 1,000 people in sales and marketing, and at a factory.
UK-based car dealership business Inchcape has also said it will leave Russia because operating in the country “is no longer tenable”.
Meanwhile, attacks were reported to continue across Ukraine, including in the capital Kyiv.
Mr Cleverly told BBC Breakfast: “It was meant to be some kind of lightning war where Russian troops swept across Ukraine.
“But what we’re seeing is the defence by the Ukrainian people has been ferocious. This, of course, is incredibly frustrating to Vladimir Putin and we’re now seeing an escalation, the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure – which of course is illegal in international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a video released overnight, said negotiations with Russia were going “pretty well” and Mr Cleverly said he hoped a solution could be found.
Asked on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme if he thinks the talks between the two sides will yield a positive outcome, he said: “I really hope these talks are fruitful, but we will judge Russia by its actions, and what we want to see, of course, is for them to leave Ukraine.”