11 Labour MPs pull signatures from Stop the War statement after whip request

Sienna Rodgers
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

11 Labour MPs on the left of the party have pulled their signatures from a Stop the War statement that criticised NATO expansionism after being urged to do so by the chief whip amid the war in Ukraine.

Diane Abbott, John McDonnell, Richard Burgon, Ian Lavery, Beth Winter, Zarah Sultana, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Apsana Begum, Mick Whitley, Tahir Ali and Ian Mearns had all signed the statement by the organisation once chaired by Jeremy Corbyn.

LabourList understands that, while many of the Labour left MPs condemned the invasion of Ukraine today, they pulled their support for the statement because it was thought they would have the Labour whip withdrawn if they refused to do so.

The statement from February 18th was also signed by Labour Unions chair and ASLEF train drivers’ union general secretary Mick Whelan, plus independent MPs Corbyn and Claudia Webbe, none of whom have removed their names.

Momentum co-chair Andrew Scattergood said the MPs’ “steadfast commitment to the Ukrainian people and against Russia’s invasion is beyond question” and it “beggars belief” that the leadership “focuses on a week-old statement in an attempt to wage factional warfare against them while a real war wages on against the Ukrainian people”.

The declaration stated that “Russia and Ukraine should reach a diplomatic settlement of the tensions between them” and that NATO should “call a halt to its eastward expansion”. It also refuted “the idea that NATO is a defensive alliance”.

It criticised the British government for sending arms to Ukraine and for having “talked up the threat of war continually”. Keir Starmer has been strongly supportive of the UK government supporting Ukraine via military equipment and training.

Boris Johnson announced new sanctions today, including all major Russian banks having their assets frozen and being excluded from the UK financial system, and laws to stop major Russian companies and Russia borrowing money on UK markets.

The Prime Minister said there would be a limit on deposits Russians can make to UK bank accounts, the Aeroflot airline would be banned from the UK, and there would be a stop on exports of high-tech items and oil refinery equipment to Russia.

Starmer responded to the statement in the House of Commons by welcoming the set of sanctions outlined and pledging opposition support for “further measures”, such as new legislation to ‘crack open’ “shell-companies” hiding “stolen money”.

Below is the full text of Keir Starmer’s House of Commons statement today on the war in Ukraine. 

In this dark hour, our thoughts, our solidarity, and our resolve are with the Ukrainian people. Invading troops march their streets. Missiles shell their cities. They have been cast into a war.

Not through fault of their own but because Putin fears their freedom and because he knows that no people will choose to live under his bandit rule unless forced to so at the barrel of a gun.

The consequences of Putin’s war of aggression will be horrendous and tragic for the people of Ukraine but also for the Russian people who have been plunged into chaos by a violent elite who have stolen their wealth, stolen their chance of democracy, and stolen their future.

And we must prepare ourselves for difficulties here. We will face economic pain, as we free Europe from dependence on Russian gas and clean our institutions from money stolen from the Russian people. But the British public have always been willing to make sacrifice to defend democracy on our continent and we will again.

The consequences of Putin’s actions will be felt throughout the world. For years and I fear decades to come. Russia’s democratic neighbours and every other democracy that lives in the shadow of autocratic power are watching their worst nightmare unfold.

So all those who believe in democracy, over dictatorship, in the rule of law, over the reign of terror, in freedom, over the jackboot of tyranny, must unite and take a stand. We must support the Ukrainian people in their fight and we must ensure Putin fails.

Putin will eventually learn the same lesson that Europe’s tyrants learnt in the last century: that the resolve of the world is harder than he imagines, that people’s desire for freedom burns brighter than he can ever extinguish, that the light of liberty will prevail over his darkness.

For that to happen, we must make a clean break with the failed approach to handling Putin, which after Georgia, after Crimea, and after Donbas, has fed his belief that the benefits of aggression outweigh the costs. We must finally show him that he is wrong.

That means doing all that we can to help Ukraine defend herself. By providing weapons, equipment, and financial assistance, as well as humanitarian support for the Ukrainian people.

We must urgently reinforce and reassure our NATO allies in Eastern Europe, who now stand at the frontier of Putin’s aggression. And the hardest possible sanctions must be taken against the Putin regime. It must be isolated, its finances frozen, its ability to function crippled.

That means excluding Russia from financial mechanisms like SWIFT and banning trade in Russian sovereign debt.

I welcome the set of sanctions outlined by the Prime Minister just now and pledge Opposition support for further measures. And there are changes we must make here in the UK. For too long, our country has been a safe haven for the money that Putin and his fellow bandits stole from the Russian people. It must now change.

Cracking open the shell-companies in which the stolen money is hidden will require legislation. Bring it forward immediately, Prime Minister, and Labour will support, along with the other measures that he has announced just now.

Mr Speaker, this must be a turning point in history. We must look back and say that this terrible day was actually when Putin doomed himself, and doomed his plan to reassert Russian force as a means of controlling Eastern Europe, to defeat.

We know how Putin operates, so we know how to defeat him. He seeks division, so we must stay united. He hopes for inaction, so we must take a stand. He believes that we are too corrupted to do the right thing, so we must prove him wrong.

I believe we can. And in this dark hour, we can step towards the light.

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