Local people have branded Gainsborough MP Sir Edward Leigh ‘heartless’ after claiming Lincolnshire had already ‘done its bit’ for migrants from Eastern Europe.
Sir Edward Leigh congratulated Home Secretary Priti Patel for refusing to offer asylum to all Ukrainian refugees fleeing war. She further relaxed the rules to allow more people to rejoin family members in the UK on Tuesday.
The Conservative MP said: “Everybody wants to be humanitarian and she’s under pressure to have a visa-free scheme like the rest of Europe, but may I actually congratulate her on her proportionate response.
“I think we have to remember that, unlike the rest of Europe, we have uniquely liberal labour laws and we speak English, so we are the country of choice for mass immigration.
“And therefore I do urge her to, as well as listen to all the humanitarian voices, to listen to the voices of people in Lincolnshire, who feel we’ve done our bit in terms of migration from eastern Europe. We’re under extreme pressure in terms of housing and jobs.
“I know this is difficult to say, but we have to be honest about this. And therefore may I be a correcting voice on this and congratulate her on her humanitarian but proportionate response and not throwing away the immigration rulebook.”
Thousands have responded to the Conservative MP’s comments in the House of Commons yesterday, including TV dragon Deborah Meaden.
Criticisms came from fellow Lincolnshire politicians across the party spectrum, and including Conservative colleagues.
Disappointment from the business community
Local entrepreneur Matt Russell who has spent 20 years working in Ukraine, described the MP’s comments as “tone deaf”.
“I am disappointed that a MP as experienced as Mr Leigh is apparently tone-deaf to the situation unfolding on our European borders. These are extraordinary times where fellow Europeans need our help. We have not witnessed a situation like this for decades.
“From a compassionate position alone, we should be doing everything that we can to offer safety and refuge to the Ukrainians in their time of need. UNHCR and Red Cross official figures grossly underestimate the amount of displaced people.
“Many are encircled by the Russian army in cities far away from the European borders and are unable to travel safely. Few trains are able to make the 18 hour journey from Kharkiv to Lviv, for example. And the Russians have a choke-hold on the road network leaving families trapped in cellars and basements in fear for their lives.
“Unfortunately, it is my opinion that Mr Leigh’s poor judgement doesn’t stop on compassionate grounds alone.
“Lincolnshire’s population is ageing and is higher than the national average, with 25% growth in those aged 65 or older between now and 2030.
“Factor in the significant numbers of young people choosing to leave the county before they enter the workforce at 18 or 21, factor in labour shortages following Brexit and there is an opportunity to make the economic case for highly skilled, highly educated Ukrainians to permanently settle here following emergency migration.
“It is important that Mr Leigh understands that agriculture, defence and IT are all major components of Ukraine’s economy. With migrants highly skilled in these industries that closely align with Lincolnshire’s own economy, it is clear to me that Lincolnshire should offer safety, refuge and a permanent home to those fleeing the terror of the Russian army. I would be happy to meet with Mr Leigh to share both my experience and understanding of Ukraine.”
This week, The Lincolnite spoke to a Lincoln family appealing on behalf of relatives in Ukraine for MPs to relax visa rules.
Peter Rowlett, who lives in Nettleham, reached out to Sir Edward Leigh. The Lincolnite received a response from the MP about the case.
He said: “Right now the most immediate way for Ukrainians who are in fear of their lives to reach safety is to flee to neighbouring countries. Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary have all opened their borders to Ukrainian citizens and residents and have extensive support operations existing on the ground at their borders with Ukraine as well as further within their countries. In addition, the Home Secretary today (Tuesday) announced further measures for the UK to provide sanctuary to 100,000 individuals.
“Immediate family members of a British national normally living in the Ukraine who intend to apply for a visa under the Family Migration route should call +44 (0) 300 3032785 selecting option one for assistance before applying. Lines are open Monday-Friday 8am-8pm and Saturday-Sunday 9am-5.30pm.”