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8 February 2023

PMQs: Sunak and Starmer unite in solidarity with Ukraine

There was a remarkable show of bipartisanship from both leaders.

By Rachel Wearmouth

Vladimir Putin should be tried for war crimes, Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak agreed, as international affairs dominated Prime Minister’s Questions ahead of the visit to Westminster today by Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president.

The Prime Minister said that Zelensky’s visit to London, before a trip to the EU, was “testament to the unbreakable friendship”. The Labour leader said that his party “doesn’t just hope for Ukrainian victory, we believe in it”.

The session was a remarkable show of unity and bipartisanship, as both leaders avoided the usual political digs and policy quarrels. Starmer, who opened the exchanges by offering condolences in the wake of the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, said parliament must “speak with one voice” in opposing Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, as “every time Putin has been appeased, he’s been back for more”.

Sunak said Britain would help to seek a “decisive victory” for Ukraine and was providing more military aid, before both leaders paid tribute to British soldiers providing training for Ukrainian troops at Salisbury.

Starmer, who as a barrister represented victims of Serbian aggression at the International Court of Justice in the Hague, called on Sunak to work to ensure that the Russian president “and his cronies” who have committed war crimes in Ukraine would be held accountable. The Prime Minister called Putin’s actions “horrific” and said he was optimistic that there would soon be indictments at the International Criminal Court. Britain, he said, would provide financial and technical support.

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“We in this house have a duty to stand on the shoulders of giants and support Ukraine’s fight for freedom, liberty and victory,” said Starmer. He emphasised that it was a Labour government that helped to found Nato and that the party’s commitment “is as unshakeable now as it was then”.

He then turned to how the reconstruction of Ukraine should be paid for, including through the assets of wealthy Russians. Sunak replied that the UK was working with other countries to ensure such funds could be used.

Attention will now turn to Westminster Hall, where Zelensky will address both Houses of Parliament. Boris Johnson, who led the UK’s support for Ukraine in the months after the Russian invasion, is expected to attend.

[See also: The Zelensky myth]

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