A Tory immigration minister has avoided apologising for suggesting Ukrainians fleeing from the war with Russia could apply for a visa to pick fruits and vegetables if they want to seek refuge in the UK.
It comes as shadow minister for immigration Stephen Kinnock said the Welsh and Scottish governments wish that the UK government give sanctuary to Ukrainians needing sanctuary in Britain.
“The UK government response on this matter has once again demonstrated the toxic combination of incompetence and indifference that are the hallmark of this Home Secretary and her ministerial team,” Kinnock said.
‘Let them eat cake’
He then hit out at Kevin Foster’s comments over the weekend, saying they reminded him of a historical French phrase uttered by a princess upon being told that peasants had no bread.
He said: “The minister for safe and legal migration tweeted that the Ukrainians who are running for their lives should apply to come to our country on the basis of seasonal fruit picker visas.
“Mr Speaker, that tweet really was the modern day equivalent of ‘let them eat cake’.
“Thankfully the minister has deleted it. But will he now come to this dispatch box to unconditionally apologise for that tweet and will he also offer swift, well-managed and safe sanctuary to these victims of Putin’s barbarity who require our support?”
But instead of apologising and laying out his offer to Ukrainians fleeing their homes because of terror, Foster said: “I’m interested to contrast those comments to what the Ukrainian ambassador said yesterday.
“But my friend the Home Secretary will shortly announce more. And as I’ve already touched on, it’s very useful to have a constructive conversation with the Scottish government on Friday.”
One Twitter user reacted: “I genuinely don’t understand why some politicians find it so difficult to say ‘sorry’. It would do so much to build back trust with those who are elected to lead this country.”
Foster’s previous comment was responding to Labour’s shadow armed forced minister Luke Pollard, who had voiced concerns that Ukrainians fleeing the conflict still have to apply for a visa to enter the UK – a requirement which other countries, including Ireland, have waived.
He wrote: “I’m looking for a route for people fleeing Ukraine who might not have a family link in the UK. We have a moral obligation to help them. Will you now change policy to do exactly that?”
In a now-deleted response, Foster replied: “As you will be well aware there are a number of routes, not least our seasonal worker scheme you will recall from your Shadow Defra days, which Ukrainians can qualify for, alongside the family route for those with relatives here.”