We stand united in our condemnation of the outrageous Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the war crimes being committed there.

 However, while that united front is vital, it doesn’t mean the UK government shouldn’t be asked hard questions on whether it is responding appropriately.

And when it comes to what it is currently doing to support refugees fleeing from Ukraine, the Home Secretary has serious questions to answer.  But she has refused to answer them, instead, dubbing them “offensive”:

·         Why did she have to be forced by the speaker to come before Parliament to update MPs in the first place?

·         Why hasn’t she fixed the situation for ALL Ukrainians already in the UK?

·         Why not ditch her plan to restrict visas to those who have certain family members here with permanent residence – otherwise we leave people facing impossible choices, and splitting families apart?

·         If our European allies can waive the requirement for Ukrainians to obtain a visa before travel, including Ireland, then why can’t we?

·         Why is she progressing legislation that would criminalise Ukrainians – and anyone else – seeking asylum in the UK, outside the scheme she has announced?

Boris Johnson and Priti Patel have claimed their tweaks to the immigration rules mean an extra 100,000 or 200,000 Ukrainian people could now qualify.  We have no idea how they came up with these numbers – I suspect they are works of fiction. But even if they are not, it still means that over 800,000 Ukrainians who have already fled their country - a number growing by the day - are denied access to the UK.

The Home Secretary has cited security concerns as the reason for not waiving visas.  This remains totally unconvincing for a range of reasons.  First of all, the rest of Europe has presumably undertaken a similar assessment and decided visas for Ukrainians are not required.  Secondly, the UK – unlike our continental allies – will still have advance passenger information from carriers, so can still do the same type of checks it carries out on many other nationals arriving.  Plus, we share an open border with Ireland who - quite rightly and like all other EU countries - has already ditched visas for Ukrainian refugees.

In any event, even if Priti Patel’s security concerns were relevant, then the solution would be to follow Canada’s example and allow all Ukrainians to apply, waiving all other requirements. Ideally, though, we see no reason the UK should not be replicating the European example, working with our allies, and simply getting Ukrainians here without the red tape of visas.

The news of the Community Sponsorship Scheme is more positive and of course we all really hope this is successful - such schemes can be brilliant.  But these are generally medium to long-term endeavours and cannot absolve the Home Office of its own responsibilities.  Charities have been calling for a global resettlement scheme committing the UK to take and support 10,000 vulnerable refugees each year – something that a country of this size and wealth can, and should be willing to do, and this could directly help Ukrainians.

On top of all of this – and this cannot be said loudly and clearly enough – the UK government’s anti-refugee bill, officially known as the Nationality and Borders Bill, would criminalise any of the 800,000 Ukrainians who don’t qualify for a visa if they sought to seek asylum here - with an offence punishable with up to four years in prison. It could also deprive them of settlement rights, family reunion rights and public funds, and “off-shore” them thousands of miles away.

Indeed, it is gobsmacking that Priti Patel’s colleagues were busy pushing this bill through the House of Lords on the very days she was making her half-baked announcements to support people fleeing Ukraine in the House of Commons.

This invasion of Ukraine shows more than ever that just over 70 years from its drafting, the Refugee Convention is as relevant and necessary as ever – but the UK government’s anti-refugee bill flies in the face of this. It is obnoxious and not fit for the times we live in.

To paraphrase Lord Kerr’s speech on the bill, if everybody took the same attitude as the Home Secretary, “anyone seeking to flee persecution would find the gates of freedom clanging shut in their face”.

So while we are united in opposition to Putin, we will continue to ask questions however “offensive” the Home Secretary might claim them to be.  

Stuart McDonald is the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and the party's Shadow Home Secretary.