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Lesia Vasylenko

What Ever Happened To Michael Gove’s Plan To House Refugees In Oligarch Mansions?

today20 May 2022

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More than two months ago a Mail on Sunday article declared that Michael Gove wanted to seize oligarch mansions to house Ukrainian refugees.

“GOVE: SEIZE OLIGARCH MANSIONS TO HOUSE REFUGEES,” the front page headline stated.

The Levelling Up Secretary wanted to put up families fleeing Vladimir Putin’s war in the multi-million pound homes of the president’s cronies in Britain.

Among those highlighted in the article included the sanctioned Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich who reportedly had a portfolio of at least 70 properties in the UK, worth around £500 million.

Gove’s plan was being blocked by senior figures in the Treasury and the Foreign Office who believed it was “not legally workable”.

But that did not deter the senior Cabinet minister who went on to tell the BBC he wanted to “explore an option” of using sanctioned individuals’ properties to house Ukrainian refugees.

“I want to explore an option which would allow us to use the homes and properties of sanctioned individuals – as long as they are sanctioned – for humanitarian and other purposes,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme.

The Telegraph had also earlier reported that Gove was “drawing up plans” to confiscate oligarchs’ homes without paying compensation.

However, more than two months on, very little is known about the plan and officials have been unable to say if any work has been done on its feasibility.

HuffPost UK asked the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities what work had been done, if lawyers had been instructed to look at its feasibility and if any properties had been identified as targets.

However, they were not able to answer the questions, saying that they did not have any “updates” yet but all measures were kept “under review”.

Labour MP Lisa Nandy suggested that ministers “float policies to generate headlines” before checking if their ideas are even legal.

The shadow levelling up secretary told HuffPost UK: “This is typical of this government. They talk a big game and hope nobody notices when nothing happens.

“They said they’d help with the cost of living, but they’re prioritising energy companies’ record profits over cutting bills for families.

“They promised to level up the UK, but most of the country is falling further behind.

People hold placards and Ukrainian national flags in Trafalgar Square, during a 'London stands with Ukraine' protest march and vigil.
People hold placards and Ukrainian national flags in Trafalgar Square, during a ‘London stands with Ukraine’ protest march and vigil.

JUSTIN TALLIS via Getty Images

“Michael Gove toured TV studios announcing a scheme for Ukrainian refugees before even picking up the phone to the people who would have to deliver it.

“We need a serious government, not one where ministers float policies to generate headlines before checking if their ideas are even legal.”

A source close to Gove said the Foreign Office was taking over the policy on seizures.

Meanwhile, officials could only say that “nothing is off table” and they were “exploring” options.

A government spokesperson said: “Nothing is off the table. We are exploring what options there may be to use sanctioned property, working closely with our partners in the G7 and more broadly.

“Our priority has been helping people find sanctuary through our Ukraine schemes.”

“This is typical of this government. They talk a big game and hope nobody notices when nothing happens.”

– Lisa Nandy

It comes after a Ukrainian MP warned yesterday that some refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion were being left homeless on the streets of Britain.

Speaking at an event in Westminster via video link, Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko said Ukraine had “a lot to be grateful for” to the UK.

But she warned some people were being left “homeless because they have been kicked out by the host”.

“OK, it’s a normal people-to-people situation,” she said. “They are all human. Circumstances change. Something went wrong in the relationship.

“But there must be some kind of a backup plan from the UK government. Where do these people go?”

Richard Harrington, the minister in charge of the Ukraine refugee programme who was also speaking at the event, admitted there was a problem but said it was “very few cases up to now”.

On Thursday new government figures revealed 53,800 Ukrainians have so far arrived in the UK.

Some 20,800 have come under the family scheme and 33,000 people under the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme.

Lisa Nandy said the government talks a "big game" and hopes nobody notices when nothing happens.
Lisa Nandy said the government talks a “big game” and hopes nobody notices when nothing happens.

Hollie Adams via Getty Images

The data shows 107,400 visas have been granted under both schemes, meaning just over half of those with visas granted have arrived.

The Homes for Ukraine programme places Ukrainians in the homes of ordinary Brits who volunteer to look after them.

The government spokesperson added: “Our uncapped Ukraine Family Scheme and Homes for Ukraine route are one of the fastest and biggest visa schemes in UK history.”

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