Labour will speak to the Government over no-fly zone, Keir Starmer says

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rejected the calls, warning that it would trigger a wider war with Russia.

01 March 2022

Sir Keir Starmer has told Ukrainians living in Britain that he will speak to the Government over their pleas to support a no-fly zone over the nation.

The Labour leader was urged to back the enforcement of the zone after Russian planes dropped bombs on the city of Kharkiv on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rejected the calls, echoed by Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky, and warned that it would trigger a wider war with Russia.

Keir Starmer visit to Ukranian church
Sir Keir Starmer gave a speech during his visit on Tuesday (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

During a visit to Warsaw in Poland on Tuesday, a Ukrainian journalist who fled over the border made an impassioned plea for Mr Johnson to assist with a no-fly zone.

Hours later, Ukrainians asked Sir Keir to do the same while he visited a church in west London.

While he attended a special service of hope and prayer at the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Acton, Andriy Petryk, a member of the congregation, raised the issue with Sir Keir.

He said: “I know it’s too much to ask, with the no-fly zone. Two weeks ago, most of the country was against switching Russia off from Swift.

“Opinions change on an hourly and daily basis. I think you might reconsider. Would you like to ask (the Government) to implement a no-fly zone?”

Sir Keir responded: “We’ll talk to the Government about that.”

Speaking to the PA news agency after their exchange, Mr Petryk, 51, a cab driver who moved from Ukraine to London 26 years ago, explained why he brought it up.

He said: “At the moment forces are attacking Ukraine from the air. They are bombing hospitals, bombing schools, bombing civilians, which is totally unjust and unfair.

“So we would like your support to close Ukrainian skies because it’s vitally important to do so at this time. We are begging to close our skies because Ukrainians are dying at every moment.”

He described Sir Keir’s response to his plea as “excellent”.

Sir Keir, who was joined by deputy leader Angela Rayner, laid flowers at a memorial and ate a piece of bread dipped in salt before watching the service.

Keir Starmer visit to Ukranian church
Sir Keir and deputy leader, Angela Rayner, ate a piece of bread dipped in salt before the visit (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The act of dipping bread in salt and eating it is a welcome greeting in several European and Middle Eastern cultures.

During the service, Sir Keir gave a speech where he said he was “humbled” by the “courage of the Ukrainian people as they face this onslaught, this aggression.”

He told the congregation: “With troops invading a sovereign European country, [we’re seeing] images we hoped we’d never see again. Soldiers saying goodbye to their families as they stand to defend their cities and their country. Women and children fleeing for borders. These are images that we thought were consigned to the past.

“We pray for them and we pray for everybody fleeing from this awful situation.”

Sir Keir later pledged to speak to the Government about “going further” with measures to support the nation during the war with Russia.

Speaking to journalists afterwards, he clarified his thoughts on what else he believes needs to be done.

“First and foremost, what the people of Ukraine, those in Ukraine, want is our support to help them in defending their cities and defending their country. So that’s the first level of support that we need,” he said.

“Of course, we need to ramp up even more the economic sanctions and there’s a frustration that whilst we’ll vote with the Government on sanctions, we want them to go further, we want them to go faster.

“And of course, on the humanitarian front, we’re seeing people fleeing, we must do as we’ve historically done, which is to give them the support that they need. A simple route to sanctuary is what we’re seeking.

“I don’t think the Home Office and Home Secretary have gone far enough on this, but it’s all those three levels of support that are absolutely crucial at the moment.”

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