Minister who made work visas for Ukrainian refugees comment declines to update MPs on crisis

Home Office minister Kevin Foster was attacked online for tweeting that fleeing Ukrainians could enter the UK through its seasonal workers scheme. Credit: Parliament

A minister who was heavily criticised for saying Ukrainians fleeing war could apply to enter the UK under its seasonal workers scheme has declined an invitation to appear before a Commons select committee which wanted an update on the Ukraine refugee crisis.

Tory MP Kevin Foster, who is parliamentary under-secretary of state for immigration and future borders, "declined an invitation from the Home Affairs Committee to give evidence on the UK’s response to the Ukraine refugee crisis", the committee said in a statement.

With an estimated one million Ukrainians already displaced due to Russia's invasion, the committee said it issued the invitation "to understand what the UK was doing to provide support and refuge to people leaving Ukraine".

The committee said it was urging the minister to reconsider "given the urgency of the situation".

A Home Office spokesperson said ministers are "busy responding to the situation in Ukraine at this critical time" and Mr Foster has "not refused to attend but asked for a later date given this urgent work".

Mr Foster came under fire last weekend after tweeting that there were a "number of routes" for refugees "not least our seasonal worker scheme".

The Torbay MP eventually deleted his tweet and wrote a new one, which said working was "just one of several routes" available to Ukrainians.

The Home Office minister was responding to Labour shadow armed forces minister Luke Pollard, who was "looking for a route for people fleeing Ukraine who might not have a family link in the UK". He said: "We have a moral obligation to help them. Will you now change policy to do exactly that?"

The minister responded: "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."

Mr Pollard said the minister's comments were "painfully unaware and unkind".

The UK has since widened its scheme for Ukrainian refugees with family in the UK, so anyone with adult parents, grandparents, children over 18 and siblings there can seek sanctuary.

Boris Johnson has said it means 200,000 Ukrainians will be able to enter the UK.

And a separate scheme will allow individuals and organisations to sponsor Ukrainian refugees to come to the UK, even if they do not have immediate family settled in Britain. Mr Johnson said "very considerable numbers would be eligible" to enter the UK - a "couple of hundred thousand, maybe more".