Yachts blocked from leaving Britain over 'links to oligarchs', Grant Shapps confirms

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·37 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Grant Shapps has confirmed measures taken by the Department for Transport in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine - Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency via Getty
Grant Shapps has confirmed measures taken by the Department for Transport in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine - Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency via Getty

Yachts have been blocked from leaving Britain over suspected links to oligarchs, Grant Shapps said on Thursday.

Speaking at transport questions, Mr Shapps also revealed that 10 ships linked to Russia had been turned away or redirected on attempting to enter British shores.

"We have detained private jets that we believe are owned by or connected to Putin's cronies," he said in the House of Commons.

"And now I can confirm that we're investigating a small number of yachts moored in this country we suspect are also linked to Russian oligarchs. I have taken steps to ensure that are unable to depart and investigations are ongoing.

"I can reveal ten Russian-linked ships have been turned away or redirected on their course, and eight ships or their companies had severed their Russian ties."

04:47 PM

That's all for today...

Britain has blocked 10 Russian-linked ships from entering the country and has stopped yachts from being able to leave over suspected ties to oligarchs, the Transport Secretary confirmed on Thursday.

It is the latest in a series of measures taken to isolate Vladimir Putin and his associates as the Russian president's war on Ukraine enters its fourth week.

Mr Shapps also said private jets had been detained that are thought to be "owned by or connected to Putin's cronies".

Also in Parliament, Labour called on ministers to go further and ditch current defence plans that would see a total of 10,000 troops scrapped in line with the Integrated Defence Review published last year.

All eyes are on next week's Spring Statement to see if Rishi Sunak will set out a substantial increase in defence spending, called for by MPs on both sides of the House.

04:46 PM

Ben Wallace orders inquiry into impostor

Ben Wallace has ordered an immediate inquiry into how an impostor posing as the Ukrainian prime minister was able to speak to him on the telephone (see 4.31pm), a Ministry of Defence source told the PA news agency.

04:31 PM

'Dirty tricks' from Russia behind fake Ukraine call, says Ben Wallace

Ben Wallace has blamed "dirty tricks" by Russia after he was called by an impostor pretending to be the Ukrainian prime minister.

"Today an attempt was made by an imposter claiming to be Ukrainian PM to speak with me," the Defence Secretary wrote on Twitter.

"He posed several misleading questions and after becoming suspicious I terminated the call.

"No amount of Russian disinformation, distortion and dirty tricks can distract from Russia’s human rights abuses and illegal invasion of Ukraine. A desperate attempt."

04:25 PM

Britain to deploy Sky Sabre missiles to defend Poland from ‘Russian aggression’

The UK will deploy the British Army’s Sky Sabre air-defence missile system to Poland along with 100 troops to protect Polish air space from "Russian aggression", reports Matthew Day.

The announcement of the deployment was made by Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, during a visit to Poland today.

Ben Wallace speaking with officers in January in front of the Saab Giraffe surveillance radar - a key component of the Sky Sabre - Adrian Dennis/AFP
Ben Wallace speaking with officers in January in front of the Saab Giraffe surveillance radar - a key component of the Sky Sabre - Adrian Dennis/AFP

Sky Sabre’s arrival in Poland will be seen as further evidence of the UK’s commitment to defend Nato’s eastern flank as Russian forces continue their onslaught on neighbouring Ukraine. The system will also harden the defensive line now being re-enforced on Poland’s eastern border to deter any possible Russian incursion into Polish territory.

Speaking after a meeting with Mariusz Blaszczak, his Polish counterpart, Mr Wallace said it was vital "to guarantee the security of Polish air space from any further aggression by Russia".

Full story: Further proof of UK's commitment to Nato eastern flank

04:04 PM

Lords rebel over plans to axe home abortions, condemned as a ‘roll back of women’s rights’

Peers have rebelled over plans to axe home abortions, saying the move would be a “roll back of women’s rights”.

Ministers recently announced that the “pills by post” system will be dismantled in England by September, having been introduced as a temporary measure at the start of the pandemic.

But last night peers voted against the Government plan, revealed by the Telegraph, which means the matter will now go to a vote in the Commons.

During the first coronavirus lockdown in March 2020, the Department for Health and Social Care changed regulations so that women could have medical abortions at home following a phone or video consultation.

Laura Donnelly has the story

03:39 PM

Ukraine has long been shaped by the rise and fall of empires

Few may have noticed Sir Lindsay Hoyle’s innocent gaffe when he introduced Volodomyr Zelensky to the House of Commons and mentioned "The Ukraine", writes David Abulafia.

The name itself means borderlands, frontier, and there are similarly named areas such as "Krajina" in Croatia. Adding "the" suggests it is the frontier of someone else, Russia, rather than a free and independent state.

Ukraine is indeed a borderland, but it is the borderland of Europe, lying at the "gates of Europe". Its wide plains have functioned as a bridge between the Black Sea and the Baltic, making it a strategically desirable territory to control.

Its rich resources, sprung from the mud of its extremely fertile soil, have also made Ukraine economically desirable. The contest for its soil has mattered not just to its neighbours but to consumers of its grain as far afield as the United States. This can be traced right back to the ancient Greeks, who founded colonies in Crimea that sent food to Athens.

Why Ukraine is a strategically desirable territory to control

03:19 PM

Janet Daby makes first call to newly-returned constituent

Janet Daby has made her first call to her constituent Anoosheh Ashoori on British soil after his release.

Ms Daby was formidable in her campaigning for the release of Mr Ashoori, the retired civil engineer released from custody in Iran alongside Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe yesterday.

He was as arrested in 2017 while visiting his elderly mother in Tehran, on what charities have said were "trumped-up" charges, and held in the notorious Evin Prison, described by human rights campaigners as "overcrowded and unhygienic".

While in custody, he went on hunger strike and, according to his wife, twice tried to take his own life.

Max Stephens and Martin Evans have this profile of Anoosheh.

03:06 PM

RMT: Security guards trying to handcuff ferry workers

Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT union, claims security guards hired by P&O are trying to handcuff sacked ferry workers who won't leave their boats:

We are receiving reports that security guards at Dover are seeking to board ships with handcuffs to remove crew so they can be replaced with cheaper labour.

We are seeking urgent legal action and are again calling for the Government to take action to stop what is fast turning into one of the most shameful acts in the history of British industrial relations.

If this happens at P&O it can happen anywhere, and we are calling for mass trade union and wider public mobilisation and protest against the company.

​Read more on our business blog

02:44 PM

Richard Ratcliffe, the north London accountant who has truly ‘set the bar high for all husbands’

Six years ago today, Richard Ratcliffe kissed his wife and daughter goodbye. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Ratcliffe’s wife of seven years, was taking their baby daughter, Gabriella, to see her parents in Iran.

Mr Ratcliffe, then 37, expected them back two weeks later. But when Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe reached Imam Khomeini Airport for her and Gabriella’s flight home, she was arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Her detention shocked Britain and plunged Mr Ratcliffe, a City auditor from West Hampstead with no prior involvement in public life, into a geopolitical quarrel decades in the making. As Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment dragged on into months and then years, Mr Ratcliffe fought to keep her in the mind of the public and the Government.

“This is an accountant from north London whose life has been completely transformed,” Tulip Siddiq, the couple’s local Labour MP, told the Financial Times. “He never thought he would lead a life of juggling media demands from dawn into the night, or dealing with government officials. An accountant is about as far removed as you can be from this world.”

​Tom Ough has this must-read profile

02:27 PM

Tom Harris: Starmer has turned Labour into a one-man show

It is often suggested by political observers, more in hope than in expectation, that if a challenge to Keir Starmer’s leadership were to emerge this side of a general election, it would come from his deputy, Angela Rayner, writes Tom Harris.

She has some cause, after all, to feel that she is not valued by her boss: he has tried in the past to demote her and has conducted at least two reshuffles without informing her in advance.

Even Tom Watson was kept more abreast of what Jeremy Corbyn was doing (most of the time) and theirs was one of the most dysfunctional political relationships since the one before it.

Unfortunately for any ambitions Rayner might have harboured, yesterday’s outing at Prime Minister’s Questions, where she was deputising for Starmer in the absence of the prime minister abroad, will not have increased the chances of securing enough nominations to mount a challenge, even if that was her intentio.

Tom Harris: Rayner is far from a great hope of the left

02:11 PM

'The Bank of England had one job. It has failed spectacularly.'

It wasn’t long ago that central bankers, in Britain and around the world, were deluding themselves that inflation was "transitory", writes Kate Andrews.

No longer. Today the Bank of England has raised interest rates again, returning them to the pre-pandemic level of 0.75 per cent.

By historic standards, this is still extremely low, but don’t take its incremental movements as a sign of calm within the Bank.

Having ignored the very real prospect of inflation for so long, Threadneedle Street is now on the back foot, playing catch-up.

And regardless of what actions it takes now, much of the economic pain cannot be mitigated.

Kate Andrews: We will all pay the price for Threadneedle Street's dogma

01:52 PM

Ethnic minority success stories must be 'acknowledged', says minister

The Government has unveiled its long-awaited strategy to "counter the pessimism that often prevails in debates about race in the UK".

Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister, on Thursday published a 97-page plan containing 70 actions which she believes will tackle racial inequality and address mistrust by levelling up opportunities.

The Inclusion Britain strategy was developed in response to a controversial report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (Cred) last year.

It was commissioned by Downing Street and a report published by Dr Tony Sewell - the founder of Generating Genius, a charity that helps black children access higher education - concluded: “We no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities."

In her foreword to the report, Ms Badenoch said: "The panel found that racism does still exist in some areas and does still require action to overcome it, but the panel also found many minority groups have achieved successes that have gone unreported or unacknowledged, and far from the nature of our society and institutions constituting a bar to success, they are more often than not an enabler of opportunity.

Government will stop using the term 'BAME', report confirms

01:36 PM

Tory MP claims he told Ratcliffe to go public

Tobias Ellwood, the chair of Parliament's defence select committee, said he had encouraged Richard Ratcliffe to run a public campaign for his wife's release, against Foreign Office advice, Tony Diver reports.

The Tory MP appeared to take credit for the idea to run the campaign, which involved Mr Ratcliffe going on hunger strike and publicly lobbying Downing Street to do more to secure her release.

"I privately encouraged him to make the case to go public, to make sure that people are more aware of what's going on," Mr Ellwood told Times Radio.

The Government's official position is that hostages are more likely to be released if there is less public awareness of their capture, as domestic political pressure can be used as leverage by a foreign regime.

That is the default position of the Foreign say please don't go public as you lose control of the agenda," Mr Ellwood said. "But we privately agreed, actually, this is getting more momentum, partly because of this wider geopolitical picture that we're speaking about."

'We knew that this debt was providing a hurdle to us'

01:33 PM

P&O confirms 800 redundancies

Some breaking news from the world of business as the UK-based firm P&O Ferries announces a total of 800 redundancies.

"In its current state, P&O Ferries is not a viable business," the company said in a statement.

"We have made a £100m loss year on year, which has been covered by our parent DP World. This is not sustainable. Our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes now.

Three P&O ferries, Spirit of Britain, Pride of Canterbury and Pride of Kent moor up in the cruise terminal at the Port of Dover in Kent - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Three P&O ferries, Spirit of Britain, Pride of Canterbury and Pride of Kent moor up in the cruise terminal at the Port of Dover in Kent - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

"As part of the process we are starting today, we are providing 800 seafarers with immediate severance notices and will be compensating them for this lack of advance notice with enhanced compensation packages."

Agency staff are now waiting to board the company's ships. But the move has sparked a furious row with unions including Nautilus and the RMT - which have instructed their members not to leave the ferries.

Our business live blog has more on this extraordinary news

01:30 PM

Between China and Russia, investors don’t know what to worry about most

Just a few weeks ago central bankers were walking a tightrope, notes Ben Wright. But now they are tiptoeing along a rapidly fraying piece of string.

Even before Christmas there was a heated debate about whether raising rates and "normalising" monetary policy to curb inflation threatened to snuff out the nascent economic recovery as the world started emerging from its Covid nightmare. And then Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.

In Shanghai, perimeter fences surround a neighborhood that has been placed under strict lockdown restrictions... - Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
In Shanghai, perimeter fences surround a neighborhood that has been placed under strict lockdown restrictions... - Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
...while the longer the Russian invasion of Ukraine goes on, the more growth will weaken - Alexander Nemenov/AFP
...while the longer the Russian invasion of Ukraine goes on, the more growth will weaken - Alexander Nemenov/AFP

This has resulted in a sharp spike in energy prices and left Europe "flirting on the edge of recession", according to Peter Oppenheimer, chief global equity strategist at Goldman Sachs. Over the weekend, investors were confronted with a fresh concern as China started locking down multiple cities.

Why China risks collapsing the world economy

01:21 PM

Dominic Raab: Free speech reforms to hit oligarchs are not 'anti-lawyer'

A proposed toughening of freedom of speech safeguards should not be seen as "anti-lawyer", Dominic Raab said this lunchtime.

The Justice Secretary came as Bob Seely, the Isle of Wight MP and a member of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, spoke in Parliament about "unscrupulous law firms" offering "legalised gangsterism... [to] the most wretched and unscrupulous people on earth".

Newly-drafted reforms will give a stronger public interest defence to any journalists, publishers and investigators sued by oligarchs in an attempt to silence criticism, Mr Raab confirmed - likening the current situation to a "modern-day struggle between David and Goliath".

"I want to avoid this being anti-lawyer because the vast majority of legal practitioners are as aghast at the abuses that we see," Mr Raab told MPs.

"It is wrong that unscrupulous individuals and corporations are able to exploit our laws and our courts, this jurisdiction, with claims designed to muzzle respected journalists, academics, campaigners in order explicitly to stop them shining a light on corruption and links to organised crime."

01:06 PM

We cannot put history 'in the dock', says equalities minister

Britain must not "put history in the dock", the equalities minister has said as she launches the new 'Inclusive Britain' action plan to tackle racial inequality and boost inclusion in society.

Kemi Badenoch, who writes that she "came here as a 16-year-old [from Nigeria] and grew to love the United Kingdom", hailed this country as an "amazing success story".

Ms Badenoch pledged to eliminate discrimination "with no exceptions [or] excuses" in an article for the today's Daily Mail.

Kemi Badenoch pictured as she campaigned to become a Conservative MP in 2017 - Jeff Gilbert
Kemi Badenoch pictured as she campaigned to become a Conservative MP in 2017 - Jeff Gilbert

"We won’t achieve this, however, if we undermine the values, traditions and institutions which embody the best of Britain," she wrote.

"And we certainly won’t achieve greater equality if we fall for the narrative that this country and its institutions are fundamentally racist, that the lack of opportunity experienced by people from ethnic minorities is all due to racial prejudice and we won’t achieve equality until we decolonise this, tear down that and put our entire history and every person of 'privilege' in the dock for crimes of commission and omission."

12:52 PM

Nadine Dorries: There’s nothing woke about online safety

It’s a momentous day in the digital age, writes Nadine Dorries. Years in the making, and with countless improvements to strengthen the legislation, today the Government is introducing its world-first Online Safety Bill to Parliament. It’s one of the most important things I’ve ever worked on – and it will finally bring some accountability to Silicon Valley.

No one can deny it’s needed. While the internet has been a huge force for good in our lives – we wouldn’t have survived the pandemic without it – there are some glaring exceptions to that rule. Ones that, in particular, horrify any parent.

Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, writes for today's Telegraph about new online harms proposals - James Manning/PA Wire
Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, writes for today's Telegraph about new online harms proposals - James Manning/PA Wire

Teenage girls are drawn into suicide chat rooms, or subjected to algorithms that litter their Instagram feeds with posts teaching them how to be bulimic or anorexic. Vulnerable users are radicalised online by terrorists, or stumble upon extreme pornography while browsing Twitter. A footballer misses a penalty and they’re bombarded with racist abuse. Grieving parents are trolled by ghouls.

The result? People too often face a lose-lose situation: stay on social media and face a daily torrent of hate, or close down their accounts and miss out on the huge benefits of a healthy online life. It shouldn’t have to be like this.

Nadine Dorries: Much-needed online change is here

12:32 PM

Does Douglas Ross still have faith in Boris Johnson?

Douglas Ross has refused to back Boris Johnson to lead the Tories into the next general election despite insisting there was "never a personal rift" over his call for for the Prime Minister to quit over 'partygate'.

The leader of the Scottish Tories said that the Prime Minister had his “full backing” during the Ukraine crisis, but declined to guarantee his support at “some future general election years down the line”.

In an interview with The Telegraph ahead of this weekend’s Scottish Conservative Party conference in Aberdeen, he also warned that Nicola Sturgeon’s plans for another "divisive" independence referendum next year "would play into Vladimir Putin’s hands".

Pledging to oppose another separation vote "at every single turn", Mr Ross said: "It would destabilise the UK in the middle of an international crisis. It would be the SNP’s most reckless act yet."

Douglas Ross: There was never a personal rift between us

12:18 PM

No direct link between debt payment and Nazanin release, insists Government

Bizarrely, No 10 continues to insist there is no direct link between the UK paying its £400m debt to Iran and the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on the same day, writes Tony Diver, our Whitehall Correspondent.

"The UK has never accepted our nationals being used as leverage for any purpose, including to settle IMS debt," No 10 says.

The deal struck yesterday is that the cash can only be spent on humanitarian aid.

Downing Street says there is "rigorous oversight" of this agreement, but won't say who is doing the oversight or how they are overseeing it - as those details are "confidential".

12:16 PM

Breaking: More than 150,000 sign up to 'Homes for Ukraine' scheme

More than 150,000 Britons have signed up to welcome Ukrainian refugees into their homes as part of the 'Homes for Ukraine' scheme, Downing Street said.

When the programme launches on Friday "we will see what that translates to", the Prime Minister's official spokesman said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 6,100 visas had been granted through the Ukraine Family Scheme.

12:08 PM

Labour criticises 'harmful but legal' aspect of new online harms laws

Labour has concerns over the issue of what is "harmful but legal" in the online harms bill published today, the shadow culture minister has said.

Lucy Powell described online content as "unregulated for far too long", but told Times Radio: "We have some concerns about whether it's still strong enough and goes far enough in terms of some of the sanctions, the teeth, the powers of the regulator.

"There's two directions of travel we could really go with this. As an adult, am I being subject to harm online?

"We could go one direction of travel which is where I think the Government seems to be going now, which is that the Government will produce a list of the types of content that it thinks are harmful, and therefore the social companies will be required to take down [that] harmful content.

"The other direction of travel which we could go in which I would strongly prefer and so would most of the campaigners looking at these issues is where there is a broad duty of care on the social media companies, where their systems and businesses models are assessed as policies as to whether the content people are seeing in the round is causing them harm or not."

12:04 PM

Online harms bill 'not a magic bullet'

The new online harms bill is not a "magic bullet" that would end racist or misogynistic abuse, a former minister has said.

Ed Vaizey, who was the Conservative culture and communications minister between 2010 and 2016, welcomed proposals to give Ofcom regulatory power over online content and insisted he was "very supportive" of the legislation.

"On the other hand, there is this free speech issue because the bill attacks what we call legal but harmful content, which doesn't tip over to hate crime. And there will be a big debate in Parliament about how you police that, how you stop people saying what you or I might consider to be outrageous but they consider it to be their right to express themselves."

Mr Vaizey said there was a "missed opportunity" to introduce age verification in 2017, and said the legislation will not "suddenly stop" under-18s accessing adult content, but spoke of "sophisticated technology" that can be rolled out as part of the proposals.

11:50 AM

Britain must be 'critical friend' to Saudi Arabia, insists Cabinet minister

The Leader of the House of Commons has defended Boris Johnson's visit to Saudi Arabia yesterday.

After objections from Thangam Debbonaire, his Labour counterpart, Mark Spencer urged her to recognise "that the way to influence our world leaders is to engage with them, is to go and sit with them and challenge them face-to-face" to "encourage them in a direction of improving human rights.

"The only way you can do that is by having those face-to-face meetings and to be a critical friend of those regimes.

"And I think that is the right way to conduct world business."

11:40 AM

Inside the secret talks that helped end Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s six-year ordeal

If there was a turning point in the long road to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, it was perhaps the quiet conversation that took place in a corner of Manhattan last September, write Ben Riley-Smith, our Political Editor, and Joe Shute, our Senior Feature Writer.

Liz Truss, just five days into her new job as Foreign Secretary, sat down with Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, her opposite number in Iran, at the United Nations General Assembly.

Liz Truss confirmed the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe by the Iranian regime on Wednesday - Jessica Taylor/AFP
Liz Truss confirmed the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe by the Iranian regime on Wednesday - Jessica Taylor/AFP

The meeting drew little press attention at the time, squeezed into a packed schedule of talks with the great and the not-so-good of the international diplomacy circuit.

Yet the fact the gathering was taking place at all carried significance. No British foreign secretary had met their Iranian counterpart for three years.

Long read: 'It was at points terse and frosty'

11:32 AM

Labour urges Government to scrap troops cut

Labour has asked the Government not to go ahead with plans in the Integrated Review, which would involve cutting 10,000 troops, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow leader of the Commons, added that MPs that oligarchs must "not live a Mayfair lifestyle in Moscow while committing atrocities".

Mark Spencer condemned the "most appalling atrocities committed within Ukraine by the desperate regime within Russia" and spoke of the efficacy of the UK's sanctions regime.

"I have to say these people will be held to account as we move forward".

11:23 AM

British press to be protected from being silenced by Russian oligarchs

Freedom of speech laws will be toughened up to prevent oligarchs from silencing their critics, Dominic Raab has signalled.

The Justice Secretary is proposing amendments that would give publishers, journalists and investigators a stronger public interest defence against any legal action brought by oligarchs to stifle criticism.

He is also planning to make it easier for courts to throw out legal claims brought by the oligarchs to harass their critics and issue "restraining orders" to stop them from mounting fresh libel actions.

Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, wants to crack down on censorship - Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/Handout via Reuters
Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, wants to crack down on censorship - Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/Handout via Reuters

Lawyers who represent the oligarchs could also be disciplined for misconduct if they are found to have been involved in "spurious" legal actions.

"The ability of a free press to hold the powerful to account is fundamental to our democracy and as a former journalist I am determined we must never allow criticism to be silenced," Boris Johnson said.

Charles Hymas, our Home Affairs Editor, has all the details

11:08 AM

Planet Normal: 'I'm on Putin's kill list but I won't flee'

The world continues to watch in awe as brave Ukrainians defy expectations by holding out against the Russian invasion.

Among them is Ukrainian MP Kira Rudik, who told the Planet Normal podcast, which you can listen to here, that she will stay and fight with her people regardless of the risks.

Kira Rudik says she will stay and bear arms in the fight against the Russian invasion
Kira Rudik says she will stay and bear arms in the fight against the Russian invasion

"I'm on Putin's kill list and I'm still here. I don't plan to flee," she said. "This is what we need to do, stay and fight. This is our obligation."

Ms Rudik, who is People's Deputy of Ukraine, believes it is crucial that political figures like herself and President Volodymyr Zelensky remain behind to help defend their country.

10:53 AM

Offering to host a Ukrainian refugee? We want to hear from you

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, launched on February 24, has seen more than three million Ukrainians flee the nation in the fastest exodus this century, according to the latest figures.

The Government has been under intense pressure to react appropriately to the ensuing refugee crisis.

On Monday, the Homes for Ukraine scheme, drawn up by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, was launched. The scheme will allow people in the UK to offer spare rooms to Ukrainians fleeing the conflict.

With more than 44,000 people offering to host a Ukrainian refugee in their homes within the first five hours of the scheme being launched, we want to know if you are offering to host Ukrainian refugees, why you have chosen to do so and how you are finding the process.

Signing up to the scheme? Tell us more here

10:40 AM

Who is Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and why was she jailed by Iran?

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is now back home in the UK and finally reunited with her family after an ordeal lasting nearly six years.

But who is she and why was she jailed in the first place?

Max Stephens takes a look

10:26 AM

Ed Davey urges emergency airlift on Polish border

There should be an emergency airlift for Ukrainian refugees on the Polish border, Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, has urged.

In a letter to Liz Truss and Priti Patel, Mr Davey - who visited the border earlier this week - wrote:

I met people who are desperate to come to the UK – often to join family members.

However, there was no-one from the Government and no-one supported or sponsored by the UK Government to help them to get here or even to explain how they might get to the UK.

In just the past few days, more than 100,000 people across the UK have offered to host refugees fleeing Ukraine – demonstrating clearly the immense compassion of the British people. The Government must urgently step up its response to match that spirit of generosity.

Ed Davey speaking with a Ukrainian refugee during a visit to the Polish-Ukrainian border region - Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Ed Davey speaking with a Ukrainian refugee during a visit to the Polish-Ukrainian border region - Sean Gallup/Getty Images

10:14 AM

Tory MPs warn of ‘de facto lockdown’ over fuel duty

Conservative MPs have urged Grant Shapps to make representations to Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, about a cut in fuel duty in the Spring Statement next week.

"Given the increases in our prices, given the cost for my average constituent in Newcastle-under-Lyme, we need to do more than that now at this forthcoming Budget," Aaron Bell, who represents the 'Red Wall' seat in the North-East, told the Commons during Transport Questions.

"Because the Treasury is getting more revenue from VAT, we need to find ways to reduce that duty burden so that people in Newcastle-under-Lyme can fill up and can continue to go to work. Will he speak to the Chancellor about that?"

Grant Shapps said Mr Bell is "absolutely right" about the current pressures, but added: "We've frozen now for the twelfth consecutive year, that's about £15 per family car less to fill that car than it would have been otherwise."

Robert Halfon said warned the UK was "heading to a de facto lockdown where parents can't afford to take their kids to school, where workers can't afford to commute by car and have to stay at home".

Responding to his fellow Tory MP's call for the Treasury to cut fuel duty, Mr Shapps said: "I will have further conversations with my friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it will of course be for him to decide."

09:51 AM

They wanted us for cannon fodder, say British medical volunteers 'tricked' into fighting for Ukraine

British medical volunteers have claimed the Ukrainian army duped them into crossing the border before trying to conscript them as "cannon fodder" for the battle of Kyiv, Jack Hardy and Nataliya Vasilyeva write.

Carl Walsh and Ollie Funnell left the UK with the hope of putting their expertise to use treating casualties in the warzone, but were instead told they would be deployed to defend Ukraine’s besieged capital.

Two British medical volunteers have claimed they were duped by the Ukrainian army - Jack Hardy/The Telegraph
Two British medical volunteers have claimed they were duped by the Ukrainian army - Jack Hardy/The Telegraph

Mr Walsh, 50, is a former combat medical technician from the Rhondda Valley in Wales and had met Mr Funnell, a paramedic turned teacher from Eastbourne, East Sussex, heading in the same direction at Krakow airport on March 11.

Speaking on Wednesday on the Polish side of the border with Ukraine, the new friends told The Telegraph they could hardly believe their ordeal had only lasted five days.

Both men contacted the Ukrainian embassy in the UK to offer their help after seeing the appeal by Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, for volunteers to join his country’s resistance against the Russian invaders, dubbed the international legion.

Full story: Medical volunteers flee back across Polish border

09:39 AM

Russian air strike on theatre shelter 'self-evident breach of international law'

A Russian air strike on a shelter at a theatre in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol "looks to be... a self-evident breach of international law", a foreign minister said this morning.

Asked by ITV's Good Morning Britain if the attack constituted a war crime, James Cleverly said: "The targeting of civilian infrastructure, the targeting of civilians is a breach of international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict.

"So making sure that we collect evidence like we’ve just seen on the programme and other instances is incredibly important so that those people who are responsible for these, whether they are battlefield commanders, right up to the top of the organisation, can be held accountable once this war is concluded.

"This looks to be targeting, this looks to be specific targeting of civilian infrastructure and, as I say, that is a self-evident breach of international law and the law of armed conflict."

09:29 AM

'Is that Mummy?' Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe reunited with daughter and husband on British soil

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian national imprisoned in Tehran for nearly six years, has finally returned home to the UK.

The chartered plane carrying the 43-year-old charity worker landed at RAF Brize Norton near Oxford just after 1am following a seven-hour flight from Oman.

A smiling Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe walked down the steps of the Titan Airways Boeing jet with Anoosheh Ashoori, 66, in tow - a fellow British-Iranian national who was arrested in August 2017.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, wearing a navy coat and a yellow shawl - perhaps a subtle hint in support of Ukraine - waved at the cameras as she walked into a reception building at the airport where her daughter Gabriella and husband Richard Ratcliffe were waiting.

Max Stephens has this moving report

09:13 AM

Iran's 'change in tone' could see sanctions reviewed and nuclear deal move closer, says minister

A "change in tone" from Iran and face-to-face meetings could see sanctions reviewed and a nuclear deal move a step closer, a minister has suggested.

James Cleverly, the minister of state for Europe, was speaking a day after the Government paid off a debt of almost £400million, which could end an impasse in talks over the Iranian nuclear programme.

Wednesday also saw dual British-Iranian nationals Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori allowed to leave Tehran after the Ministry of Defence handed over the cash, which dated back to a tank deal from 1979.

Asked if it was the beginning of the country’s readmission to the international community after decades of sanctions, Mr Cleverly said the matter was "entirely in the gift of the Iranian government".

Will Iran return to the fold? That's up to them, says minister

09:01 AM

Richard Ratcliffe was right to go public, says Labour MP

The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was right to go public with his campaign to free her despite Foreign Office guidance, his MP has said.

Tulip Siddiq, the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, recalled how Richard Ratcliffe had been "very clear" that he was advised not to talk about Nazanin's plight when she was detained in 2016.

"Throughout the course of the years, I think I have come round to thinking about Richard and thinking he was probably right," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "I think we did put pressure on particularly the current Prime Minister by being so vocal and public and campaigning.”

Richard Ratcliffe, pictured with his daughter Gabriella, had campaigned tirelessly - including two hunger strikes - for the release of his wife - Andrew Boyers/Reuters/File Photo
Richard Ratcliffe, pictured with his daughter Gabriella, had campaigned tirelessly - including two hunger strikes - for the release of his wife - Andrew Boyers/Reuters/File Photo

Speaking to Times Radio, James Cleverly said earlier this morning that while had "boundless" admiration for Mr Ratcliffe, "I disagree with him" on whether his involvement made any difference.

"Ultimately, the decision to release her was always in the hands of the Iranians.. Frankly I think they were unmoved by his actions.

"He generated a huge amount of support and sympathy and respect and admiration but I don’t think that is true in Tehran. What we have done is work tirelessly in support of his family, in support of Anoosheh’s family because that is right thing to do."

08:49 AM

Andrew Bridgen withdraws no confidence letter as 'partygate' woes ease

Another Conservative MP has publicly withdrawn his letter of no confidence in Boris Johnson, citing the Ukraine crisis - in a sign that the Prime Minister’s "partygate" troubles have abated, reports Claudia Rowan.

At a Telegraph event chaired by Christopher Hope on Wednesday, Andrew Bridgen, the MP for North West Leicestershire, said that it would be an "indulgence" to hold a vote of no confidence during the war.

Speaking on stage at the panel event, titled 'How will history judge Boris Johnson?', Mr Bridgen said he was "appalled by partygate" - but that the current climate was "no time for internecine warfare within the Conservative Party".

Confirming that he was removing his letter of no confidence, Mr Bridgen said: "It would be an indulgence to have a vote of no confidence at the time of an international emergency, and this is not going to go away quickly."

Full story: 'Indulgence' to hold vote of no confidence mid-war

08:45 AM

Allister Heath: Hubristic West has declared victory too soon

We must dare to dream, amid the horror, carnage and war crimes, that Vladimir Putin could soon be defeated – or at least forced into an ignominious stalemate, writes Allister Heath.

Russia’s conventional forces have proved staggeringly incompetent, crippled by appalling leadership, communications, coordination and logistics.

There is now a growing sense that Russia is about to sue for peace, and that the agreement it signs will be a humiliation.

No, Ukraine will not join Nato, pace George W Bush; it would need to adopt a Swedish-style neutrality; and Russia would retain some stolen territory, for now. Crucially, however, Kyiv would keep its army under the 15-point plan in discussion, and Putin wouldn’t even come close to achieving his aim of destroying Ukraine, as detailed in his grotesque speech prior to the invasion.

But it is too soon to know in the fog of war and propaganda whether this relatively optimistic scenario will materialise, or if Russia is bluffing, playing for time as it inflicts death and destruction.

Allister Heath: Russian invasion has exposed massive long-term fragility

08:30 AM

'I want mummy to take me to the toy shop'

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s daughter, Gabriella, has said that the first thing she wants to do with her mother when she returns from Iran is to go toy shopping.

Speaking to The Telegraph's Mason Boycott-Owen on Wednesday, Richard Ratcliffe, who has been campaigning for his wife’s release for six years alongside her family, said: "We’re happy; jubilant."

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, with his daughter Gabriella - Geoff Pugh
Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, with his daughter Gabriella - Geoff Pugh

Asking his daughter, who is now six, what the first thing she wanted to do when she saw her mother, Gabriella replied: "Go to the toy shop."

Her father added: "She’s packed a number of toys that she wants to show her mum and various craft things. She’s started to learn the piano. She wanted to show her mummy the things she can do now that she couldn’t before."

Full story: The 'total determination' of a father and husband

08:21 AM

Debt repayment will 'exclusively' be used for humanitarian purposes

The agreement over the repayment of a debt of around £400million was agreed a number of years ago, James Cleverly told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Emphasising that the money would be used "exclusively for humanitarian purposes", Mr Cleverly could not comment on whether it had gone to the Iranian government.

"It is to be used for Iranian humanitarian purposes exclusively and in line with international counter terrorism and anti money laundering laws."

On whether the deal had the approval of the Biden administration, Mr Cleverly said the UK and US work "incredibly closely" and the countries will continue to work on ensuring the full release of Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian, American and British trinational who has currently been released by Iran on furlough.

08:14 AM

'Ridiculously distasteful' to compare Saudi and Russia

James Cleverly said it was "ridiculously distasteful" to draw any comparisons between Saudi Arabia and the actions of Vladimir Putin's regime in Russia.

On Wednesday, Labour claimed Boris Johnson had gone "cap-in-hand from one dictator to another" and questioned why he had visited the kingdom in light of its human rights record.

"We need to recognise that Saudi is an incredibly influential country in the region," he told BBC Breakfast.

Boris Johnson was welcomed by Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince, in Riyadh yesterday - Bandar Al-Jaloud/Saudi Royal Palace/AFP via Getty Images
Boris Johnson was welcomed by Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince, in Riyadh yesterday - Bandar Al-Jaloud/Saudi Royal Palace/AFP via Getty Images

"It is a significant oil and gas producer and it is absolutely right that the Prime Minister seeks to alleviate some of the pressure that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has put on oil and gas prices.

"[It’s] absolutely the right thing to do. We’ve always raised concerns about human rights and the death penalty when we speak with the Saudis.

08:11 AM

I haven't had 'full debrief' on Boris's Saudi visit, says James Cleverly

Asked if there was any sign of a breakthrough on Saudi Arabia increasing its oil production after Boris Johnson's visit on Wednesday, James Cleverly said that he had not had a "full debrief" from the trip.

"Obviously the Saudis will need to go through whatever internal processes they have and probably also talk to their partners in Opec," he told BBC Breakfast

"But it was absolutely the right thing to do for the Prime Minister… to find ways of alleviating the pressure they are finding themselves [in] because they are much more reliant on Russian energy than we are."

Speaking to Sky News, he added: "We have to see what the production levels [are] that come out of the Middle East. The Prime Minister has a very influential relationship with a number of heads of state and heads of government in the Middle East and I really hope that production will step up to alleviate some of the pressure we’re seeing."

Mr Johnson appeared to have walked away empty-handed from talks with both Saudi Arabia and the UAE that were designed to encourage the states to export more oil to the UK.

08:08 AM

Boris Johnson does not owe Nazanin an apology, says minister

Boris Johnson should not apologise to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a foreign minister has insisted.

Mr Johnson told a committee of MPs in 2017 that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who returned safely to the UK early on Thursday morning after six years of detention in Iran, had been training journalists in the country, which prompted fears for her safety.

But asked whether the PrimeMinister, who was the Foreign Secretary at the time, should apologise to her, Mr Cleverly told Times Radio: "The Iranian regime have demonstrated a willingness to apply completely arbitrary and meaningless charges.

"The simple truth of the matter is it was always within their gift to release Nazanin and Anoosheh and Morad and others, they chose not to. They are the sole party responsible for the suffering these people have endured in the last few years."

Mr Cleverly added that he had "absolutely no doubt that [Mr Johnson's] comments made no difference" and noted there were people from a number of countries in arbitrary detention.

08:07 AM

Good morning

Britain has taken "every precaution" to stop Iran using a payment of about £400million being used for weapons, a foreign minister has said.

Here is the front page of your Daily Telegraph: