‘Nothing off the table’ says Rishi Sunak as Zelensky presses UK for fighter jets
Rishi Sunak has promised “nothing is off table” as the Prime Minister was pressed on whether the UK will send fighter jets to Ukraine.
The Prime Minister made the comment at a joint press conference with Volodymyr Zelensky, hours after Ukraine’s President used an historic address to Parliament to call on Britain to send planes to help it defeat Vladimir Putin’s forces.
Mr Sunak was speaking at a press conference at Lulworth Camp military base in Dorset, where the leaders met Ukrainian troops being trained by the British Army at a base in Dorset.
Asked if he could provide clarity on whether Ukraine will get fighter jets from the UK, Mr Sunak said the UK’s “been very clear when it comes to the provision of military assistance to Ukraine and nothing is off the table”.
He continued: “When it comes to fighter combat air force, of course they are part of the conversation... that’s why we’ve announced today that we’ll train Ukrainian air force on Nato-standard platforms.”
Downing Street earlier said the Government was investigating whether it can supply British fighter jets to Ukraine.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is now “actively looking at” whether the planes can be sent to help in the war against Russia.
He stressed that it would be part of a “long term solution” plan, rather than the “short term capability, which is what Ukraine needs most now”.
Downing Street’s comments came after Mr Zelensky flew to Britain to make an impassioned plea for UK fighter jets urging the Prime Minister to give us “wings for freedom”.
In a powerful speech in Westminster Hall on Wednesday, the Ukrainian President told MPs and peers: “We know freedom will win. We know Russia will lose.”
But in a direct appeal to Britain and other western allies, he said his country now needed advanced combat planes to help Ukraine defeat Vladimir Putin’s forces.
He said: “I appeal to you and the world with simple and yet most important words: combat aircraft for Ukraine, wings for freedom.”
No 10 has previously insisted “it is not practical” to send British fighter jets to Kyiv despite calls from President Zelensky for planes to help the war effort.
The PM’s spokesman said on Wednesday: “We are investigating in terms of what jets we may be able to give, but emphasising the long term nature of the training involved in this complex issue.”
Britain is set to train Ukrainian pilots to fly Nato-standard jets from the spring.
The Royal Air Force instruction programme is usually five years long. However No10 suggested Ukrainian troops may be fast-tracked through the scheme.
The PM’s spokesman added: “I think we’ve been clear that we will consider all further possible ways of helping Ukraine, including jets.
“But certainly this is the first time we’ve confirmed that there will be a training programme for Ukrainian pilots and the Defence Secretary is actively looking at whether we send jets.”
But President Zelensky used his earlier speech to step up the pressure on Britain, concluding his 25 minute address by saying: “I will be leaving the Parliament today thanking all of you in advance for powerful English planes.”
He also presented a helmet worn by one of the Ukrainian Air Force’s top fighter pilots to Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle - a symbolic gesture which hammered home the purpose of his surpise visit to the UK.
Following the speech, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “Thank you President @ZelenskyyUa. Your powerful and passionate appeal must be heard. There is nothing to be lost and everything to be gained by sending planes now.”
Hundreds of MPs from all parties stood shoulder to shoulder with members of the House of Lords, Westminster staff and journalists to see President Zelensky’s lunchtime address.
The Ukrainian leader joins an illustrious list of world leaders to deliver speeches in Westminster Hall which includes Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev and Barack Obama.
The 900 year old hall - the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster - was the setting for the late Queen Elizabeth II’s lying in state.
President Zelensky’s visit to the UK is only the second time he has travelled overseas since the Russian invasion last February, after he held talks in the United States and Poland during a trip in December.
He thanked Britain for its support and supplies of weapons and other defence equipment which includes Challenger 2 tanks.
But he also used the speech to warn President Putin that evil would be overcome and that Ukraine would triumph.
He added: “We really know that the victory will change the world and this will be a change that the world has long needed.
“The United Kingdom is marching with us towards the most, I think, the most important victory of our lifetime. It will be a victory over the very idea of the war.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visit to UK
He continued: “We prove together, that the world truly helps those who are brave in defending freedom and thus paves the way for a new history.
“A history of the world that knows how to be quick in help, who knows how to be effective in the defence. Who knows how to remain principled in dark hours. Who implements its treaties and arrangements in good faith. Who does not allow perpetrators to enjoy immunity. Who knows how to overcome veto when it’s abused. Who knows no fear and who knows how to win. This shall be the new reality of the free world I’m sure.”
He concluded his speech by saying: “God Bless Great Britain and long, long live the King. Slava Ukraini.”
Following the address the Ukrainian President shook hands with Mr Sunak, the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and greeted other members of Labour’s shadow cabinet before shaking hands with former PM Mr Johnson.
He then headed to Buckingham Palace to meet King Charles III before travelling to the South West to see Ukrainian troops being trained in the UK.