Death of Alexei Navalny

– in the House of Commons at 5:07 pm on 19 February 2024.

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Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 5:07, 19 February 2024

With permission, I would like to update the House on the death of Alexei Navalny. I am sure that I speak for the whole House in sending our deepest condolences to Mr Navalny’s family, friends and supporters. We are appalled at the news of his death.

Mr Navalny dedicated his life, with great bravery, to exposing corruption. He called for free and fair politics and held the Kremlin to account. He was an inspiration to millions, and many Russians felt that he gave them a voice. The Russian authorities saw him as a threat. President Putin feared even to speak his name. Putin’s Russia imprisoned him on fabricated charges, poisoned him and sent him to an Arctic penal colony. Mr Navalny was a man of huge courage and iron will. Even from his remote prison cell, he persisted in advocating for the rights of the Russian people.

No one should doubt the dreadful nature of the Russian system. Years of mistreatment at the hands of the state had a serious effect on Mr Navalny’s health. His death must be investigated fully and transparently. The Russian authorities must urgently confirm the location of Mr Navalny’s body to his family and allow them access to it.

On Friday, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office summoned the Russian ambassador to express our outrage at Mr Navalny’s death. We made it clear that we hold the Russian authorities fully responsible. As the Foreign Secretary said over the weekend, those responsible must be “held to account”. I assure the House that we are working at pace to explore all options.

As a mark of respect, the Foreign Secretary and his G7 counterparts began their meeting on Saturday with a minute’s silence in honour of Mr Navalny. Our ambassador in Moscow laid flowers at the memorial to victims of political repression on Saturday. The ideals for which Mr Navalny stood and died will live forever.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development) 5:09, 19 February 2024

I am grateful to the Minister for advance sight of his statement. This weekend, my right hon. Friends the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Foreign Secretary attended the Munich Security Conference and heard Yulia Navalnaya, Alex Navalny’s wife, speaking with remarkable courage and conviction in a moment of utter personal grief. I share the Minister’s comments, and I am sure that the whole House will join us in sending our deepest condolences to her and her family.

The death of Alexei Navalny was shocking yet cruelly predictable. Let us be crystal clear: one person above all others bears the overwhelming responsibility for his death and should be held accountable. Alexei Navalny is yet another victim of the oppressive system that Putin has built, of which he was such a potent critic. He was not a saint but he fought relentlessly, optimistically and with good humour against the corruption and kleptocracy of modern Russia. The last few years of his life were a profile of courage. After an assassination attempt with a chemical weapon, there would have been no shame at all in seeking a quiet life. Instead, he chose to return not just to the fray but to Russia. He knew exactly what he would face, but Alexei Navalny believed relentlessly and indefatigably in a different Russia that could be, in his words, not only free but happy. He once wrote from prison:

“Everything will be all right. And, even if it isn’t, we’ll have the consolation of having lived honest lives.”

Alexei Navalny’s courage, his campaign against corruption and his dream of a democratic Russia will live on in those brave Russians who continue to speak up. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an illegal act of aggression. Navalny called it a stupid war built on lies. It has been devastating for Ukraine, but also for Russia, which edges further into darkness, propaganda and paranoia. Alexei Navalny challenged not just Russian autocracy and kleptocracy but past western hypocrisy and enablement. His campaign was about not just Moscow but London. We must deliver the changes that he campaigned for.

The reality is that we have still much further to go, and it is therefore disappointing that the Minister has shown up with nothing new to say in response to last week’s appalling news. Will the Government review further sanctions on Russia, including an assessment of the full Navalny list? Will the Minister launch a new effort to target those networks responsible for facilitating and enabling international corruption?

There has been little or no action against breaches of new Russian sanctions brought in since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, so will he strengthen not just our sanctions regime but how those sanctions are enforced? Will he support calls to establish an international anti-corruption court? Will he turn rhetoric on frozen Russian state assets into tangible action? When will the Government get on with it? It is a source of shame that under successive Tory Governments, Britain became the money laundering capital of the world. Our tributes to Alexei Navalny must be more than just rhetorical and include tangible action at home to clean up the financial crime fuelling autocrats abroad.

Finally, I want to ask the Minister about Vladimir Kara-Murza. I have met his brave wife and mother and heard directly from them. Vladimir is another brave and vocal opponent of Putin, languishing in prison for his beliefs. He is also a British citizen. We know what Putin is capable of. What is the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s current assessment of his welfare, and what steps are being taken to support him and his family?

The tragic death of Alexei Navalny has reverberated across the world. It must serve as a reminder of Putin’s menace and underscore our responsibility to oppose him in Ukraine, on the world stage and here in London. I hope that the Minister can provide the House with some assurance that today’s statement will be accompanied with commensurate, bold and urgent action.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We will act. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the tone of his response. I endorse everything that he said about the heroically brave Mrs Navalnaya. Those in this House who watched her video early this morning will have been extremely moved by her fortitude and courage at this difficult time. He used the word “courage” with regard to Mr Navalny, which was absolutely appropriate. Those of us who watched the footage of Mr Navalny returning to Russia subsequent to the Novichok attack were humbled by his audacity and his bravery. His hope for a free and happy Russia must remain in the hearts of the many Russians who, despite extraordinary press censorship and repression, deserve to have the opportunity to live up to that promise.

It would be premature for me to comment on the prospect of future sanctions in addition to those that have already been put in place with regard to Mr Navalny’s poisoning, but I can assure Stephen Doughty and the House that we are working at pace and looking at all options in that regard. Of course, we will continue our active diplomatic work to crack down on the networks of corruption surrounding the Russian state and its kleptocracy. Sanctions evasion is a particularly important component of that and is something that our diplomatic teams around the world, in concert with our allies, are focused on.

The hon. Gentleman asked a relevant question about seizing versus freezing assets. We continue to work with G7 allies to look at all legal routes to ensure that frozen assets might be used to help the reconstruction effort by those who deserve them. We will keep the House updated as and when we make progress on that. We do seek to act in that regard, and that is how we can honour Mr Navalny’s memory and his legacy—by acting, not just making rhetorical statements.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Mr Vladimir Kara-Murza. Through our ambassador in Moscow, we continue to make representations inquiring after his health and wellbeing and seeking consular access to him. I can confirm that the Foreign Secretary remains in contact with Mrs Kara-Murza and continues to support the family.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on the Overseas Territories, Chair, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on the Overseas Territories

Alexei Navalny was murdered. It is important that we in this House call it out for what it was, because that is what he deserves. Following his murder, I was also in Munich, where I heard his wife, Yulia, ask for us to stand by her. That is what we must now do. The US threatened more than a year ago that there would be significant repercussions if Navalny was murdered; Biden must now deliver on that threat, or we will see more lives taken, such as that of Vladimir Kara-Murza. I reiterate the calls for the seizing of central bank assets. That has been done before: the UN Security Council froze and seized Iraqi assets. We have a precedent; there is no reason for us to find new legislation or other ways to do so. Beyond that, we need to pursue a special tribunal on the crime of aggression. Will we consider also sanctioning Russia’s Deposit Insurance Agency? Finally, to hit the heart of Putin’s economy, will we urge the US to release more oil and therefore drive down prices?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My hon. Friend speaks with authority, and I am grateful for her reflections on her meeting in Munich. She is right to use the word “murder”. We seek to hold the Russian state and leadership to account. Of course, I cannot comment on the American position, but on our policy with regard to Russian state assets, we will continue to look at the appropriate legal path to ensure that that which is frozen might be utilised to bring benefit to those affected by this outrageous and illegal war in Ukraine.

On accountability, a special tribunal is one of the things we are considering, together with our Ukrainian allies and Sir Howard Morrison. There has been a large degree of institutional work together with the Ukrainians and the G7 on that. We will continue to work to find the best mechanism possible that might sit alongside the International Criminal Court. Of course, the ICC has already indicted Putin, and that indictment for crimes relating to trafficking children had an impact on his travel plans. Sometimes the cogs of justice can turn slowly, but they do turn surely.

My hon. Friend made a good point about the insurance agency, which I cannot comment on now. She also asked about the flows of oil; again, I cannot comment on that. We do have a laser-like focus on the economic impact of our sanctions in the round. The House should have confidence that the economic impact of our actions—taken as part of the G7 response and wider international actions on sanctions—on Putin’s ability to fund his war has been very significant: to the tune of billions.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (EU Accession)

We are, all of us, appalled at this murder and the timing of it. It was designed to send a message and it needs a serious response. I am grateful for sight of the statement, as far as it goes. I think the Minister would acknowledge that it does not go very far, so I would press for further action. The Minister will be aware that the EU Foreign Affairs Council is meeting in Brussels as we speak. It is looking at a range of measures. Can he assure us that the UK will be part of those efforts, in particular with regard to the implementation of Magnitsky sanctions? I am looking not for an announcement now, but to ensure we are co-ordinated with that. I reiterate my own calls for the sequestration of the Russian assets that have been seized. This death—this murder—was designed to send a message. A serious message must be the response to it; if there is one, it will have SNP support.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I am grateful, as ever, to the SNP spokesperson for his tone and his support. Of course, it would be premature for me to comment. By convention, we never comment on sanctions from the Dispatch Box, but of course we are looking at pace at all options in response to this outrageous event. In that context, we will continue to liaise with US and EU allies—that is a matter of course. The hon. Gentleman asked a good question about sequestration. Again, I cannot comment, other than to say that we continue to look at the most viable legal route to bring about that good.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

Will my hon. Friend tell the House what advantages remain in maintaining diplomatic relations with this murderous and barbarous regime?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The benefit is to deliver messages of condemnation and outrage, and to continue to advocate for consular access for those held by the Russian regime.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking

I want to turn to the economic impact of the sanctions, which the Minister alluded to. A loophole in our sanctions regime means that countries such as China and India import Russian crude oil, process it and then sell it into the UK as refined oil. In 2023, we imported 5.2 million barrels of this oil. That means that we sent something like £141 million in tax revenue to the Kremlin’s war chest. Britain is also the biggest insurer of Russian oil moved by sea, most of which is sold at prices well above the price cap—again, violating sanctions. Does the Minister agree that tough words are no substitute for tough actions, especially after the shocking murder of the heroic Alexei Navalny? Will he agree to report back to Parliament before Easter with proposals to stop the sanctions-busting?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We should have confidence that the economic impact of sanctions has been very significant. Putin has been denied hundreds of billions of dollars because of the collective action of the G7 nations. Is it perfect? No, it is not. Are we looking at ways of making it more effective? Yes, we are. Will we keep the House updated? Of course.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

Yulia Navalnaya’s speech at the Munich security conference changed the tone of that entire summit. She called for the west to act. Does the Minister agree with me that Alexei Navalny’s death underlines Putin’s determination to emulate Stalin in quashing free speech in Russia and extending Russia’s influence beyond its borders? When we speak of sanctions, might we also consider pressing the Americans to expedite the $60 billion that Ukraine needs? One way we can honour Navalny’s life is by making sure Ukraine wins and Russia loses. To that extent, can I also suggest that while diplomatic back channels need to remain open, maybe it is time to dismiss the Russian ambassador?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We will continue to lead by example in terms of our provision of lethal aid and humanitarian aid, and we hope and expect that our closest allies will do the same. The impact of our provision has been very, very significant. My right hon. Friend made a good point about Putin’s leadership. What this event actually shows is the fact that Putin is fearful: fearful of those, like Mr Navalny, who have the courage to challenge him and speak truth to power. That is the most potent action in the face of a cruel, repressive tyrannical regime like Mr Putin’s, which ultimately is quite brittle.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

At the end of February last year, Alexei Navalny clarified his position on Crimea. He talked about how the borders of Ukraine and Russia were internationally recognised, and had been defined in 1991. Does the Minister agree that while it is not our place to choose the Governments of Russia, we long for a time when Russia will be governed by a Government who respect sovereignty and territorial integrity?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I do agree with the hon. Gentleman, and there is no inevitability about the Russian people being ruled by a tyrannical latter-day Tsar. Mr Navalny knew that, and his messages and brilliantly produced and humorous videos were watched by millions of people in Russia because many millions of Russian people seek that alternative.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

It is clear that domestically the Putin regime is a criminal racket, and that internationally it has brought war against Ukraine and threatens many others. What discussions are the UK Government having, and what diplomatic efforts are they making, with other NATO members that do not pay the minimum 2% of GDP towards our common defence?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My hon. Friend has asked a very good question, and we continue to make that point to our NATO allies in a full-throated way. As he knows, NATO is a growing organisation with a growing potency and capability, but collectively we must and will put our money where our mouth is.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

I declare an interest, in that I was the director of the British Council in St Petersburg from 2005 until 2008. I am also honoured to call Vladimir Kara-Murza my friend. I met him shortly before he insisted on flying back to Russia although many of us urged him not to. It is a measure of the man that he did that—and, indeed, we are talking about somebody who the Russian authorities have tried to poison twice. With heroism similar to that of Navalny, Kara-Murza has stood up against the mafia state that is represented by Vladmir Putin.

It was good to hear the Minister say that our ambassador in Moscow is doing his best to gain access to Kara-Murza, but may I press him on the issue of Kara-Murza’s medical condition? He is weakened by the two attempts to poison him, and we are desperately worried that he may well be on the list in terms of what the Kremlin may be wanting to do next. His medical health is of the utmost importance, so can the Minister please say what steps are being taken specifically to ensure that it is being looked after?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Gentleman knows from his own experience the system that we are dealing with. The direct answer to his question is that we continue to make representations at the very highest level to the senior membership, or leadership, of the Russian state, saying that we expect Mr Kara-Murza’s health to be attended to, that we expect him to receive medical care, and that we expect no threat to be made to his life. That message is carried by our ambassador directly to Russian Government Ministers, and, in addition, UK Ministers including the Foreign Secretary continue to engage with Mrs Kara-Murza to offer the family full support.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon

Does my hon. Friend agree that the murder of Alexei Navalny, following the earlier murder of Boris Nemtsov, shows the absolute refusal of Putin to tolerate any kind of genuine democratic opposition? Will the Government therefore give absolutely no credibility or recognition to the sham pretence that the co-called presidential election taking place next month in Russia will undoubtedly be?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My right hon. Friend speaks on the basis of knowledge, and he is entirely right about the sham election that will take place on 12 March. The murders of which he has spoken do show a terrible pattern, but as I said earlier, we should not feel that repressive government is an inevitability in Russia. The Russian people have a hope that there can be a different Government, and that is why Mr Navalny’s message was received so well.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

All those who care about democracy and free speech should condemn the murder of Alexei Navalny, but one of the most meaningful things the United Kingdom Government could do to honour his memory is to take steps to deal effectively with the dirty Russian money being laundered in this country, particularly as being made through nefarious means by allies of Putin. What are the Government going to do to deal more effectively with the dirty Russian money being laundered in the United Kingdom?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The House should have confidence and should be proud of the fact that we have sanctioned more than 1,900 individuals and entities. There is no space or place for dirty Russian money in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

I just want to reinforce the point about Vladimir Kara-Murza. He is a British citizen, and he is now the most high-profile political prisoner in Russia. In my conversations with the Minister and his officials, when I have talked about prisoner swaps, which I was doing at the behest of the Navalny team, it was made quite clear that doing that encourages state hostage taking. I accept that argument, difficult thought it is, but unfortunately it comes at a price. In my conversations with Evgenia Kara-Murza, she is adamant that she now wants everything possible done to get Vladimir out, despite the fact that he went back of his own accord, because his health is in a fragile condition, and if Putin can kill Navalny, he can kill Kara-Murza. There is some criticism that the Government have not done everything possible in the past. Will the Minister reassure me that every option and every conceivable course of action to get Kara-Murza out—potentially including negotiated swaps with Russian spies in Sweden or wherever—will be looked at? Otherwise, he will be next.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

As my hon. Friend said, we do not and would not countenance a policy of prisoner swaps, but of course we continue to make every effort to support Mrs Kara-Murza and to seek the release of Vladimir.

Photo of Neale Hanvey Neale Hanvey Alba, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath

Holding political prisoners is not a sign of strength; it is a sign of weakness, and Mr Navalny’s murder should be rightly condemned. However, right now in the UK the journalist Julian Assange is in Belmarsh prison for blowing the whistle on atrocities in Iraq. Does the Minister agree that it is important for the UK Government to measure themselves against the same standards if they are going to criticise others? [Interruption.]

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I think the hon. Gentleman can sense that the House knows there is no equivalence.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Conservative, Clwyd West

In 2020, Alexei Navalny was treated in hospital in Berlin, having been poisoned in Russia with a toxin subsequently identified as Novichok, also used in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018. Given the use of the same toxin in such similar circumstances, does my hon. Friend not agree that it is overwhelmingly likely that agents of the Russian state were responsible for the attempted murder of Navalny in 2020 and that the current protestations by the Russian state that it was not responsible for his death last week are entirely risible? How are the Government ensuring that those who are responsible are brought to book and tried before a court?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My right hon. Friend is correct. That is why we demand a full and transparent investigation, because those individuals involved must be held to account.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

The whole House should be worried about developments such as those at the weekend with the murder of Navalny because the Russian state, now run by a bunch of criminals, seems arrogant enough to assassinate opposition people outside its own boundaries, invade nations, threaten other nations and now suppress democracy in its own country. It is disappointing that the Minister is saying today only that he will look at all the options. Will he come to this House very soon with a list of additional sanctions that we can impose on the regime and with ideas about how we can isolate it diplomatically?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We are working at pace on working up all options, but I can confirm that as and when action is taken, we will keep this House informed. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that work is under way at pace.

Photo of James Wild James Wild Conservative, North West Norfolk

This appalling murder is not really about the prison guards. It is about who gave the order, and that can only be Putin. Does the Minister agree that we need to intensify the sanctions against him personally and against his regime, and that we need to pursue all measures to hold him to account for this murder?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I agree. Apart from anything else, it is a matter of justice and international law. The cogs turn slowly, but we should have confidence that they do turn.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The gruesome treatment and appalling murder of Alexei Navalny are a stark reminder, if one were needed, of the evils of Putin’s regime. Time and again, we have asked what progress the Government are making on overcoming the legal concerns about repurposing frozen Russian assets to support the recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine, as countries like Canada and Estonia are already doing. Yet again, we have had an empty response this afternoon. Will the Minister now prioritise this issue and come back to the House as soon as possible with a real plan for how the UK can use those assets to help Ukraine?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We are working at pace. It is urgently important and, of course, we will keep the House updated.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset

It takes an extraordinary person to go back to a country where he knows he will be imprisoned, tortured and then murdered. All our thoughts are with Alexei Navalny’s wife, and our best wishes go to her.

The best way to commemorate Alexei Navalny’s tragic death is to ensure that Ukraine does not fall. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he is straining every diplomatic sinew to ensure that our allies, both in NATO and the EU, give Ukraine what it needs to keep these Russian thugs at bay and to regain its country?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I entirely endorse my hon. Friend’s comments about Mr Navalny’s courage, and about the sense of hope that he gave to people in Russia because of that courage.

My hon. Friend asks about Ukraine. Of course, we seek to lead by example by increasing our contribution of both lethal aid and humanitarian support. Our collective response through NATO shows that Putin was quite wrong if he thought he could walk into Ukraine and conquer the entire country.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

Let us call this what it is: state-sponsored terror by Putin and his regime. We know that Putin and his regime attempted to murder Navalny three years ago with the same Novichok that was used against Sergei Skripal in the streets of the United Kingdom. The difference between today’s response and the response we saw from the then Prime Minister, Mrs May, is that we took action immediately —not just us but our allies in Europe and North America—by expelling Russian diplomats.

My hon. Friend Alyn Smith mentioned Magnitsky sanctions, and we need to act now. Putin needs to get the message that we will stand up to Russian terror. Why is Russia participating in this week’s G20 summit? We need to send a very clear message to Putin, and the only message this international thug will understand is that we will take the swiftest action against him.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s sentiment, and we are acting. Sanctions have deprived Putin of billions of dollars of revenue to fund his war machine. We would never comment prematurely from the Dispatch Box about future sanctions, but we will continue to do everything we can to ensure that he is deprived of the ability to wage his illegal and evil war.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

I strongly support what Members have said about the Minister needing to come back in, say, a week’s time to tell us more about what action can be taken.

The Minister spoke about working with the opposition to Putin. When I went out with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy some years ago to try to find allies that we could work with, it was incredibly depressing how few we found in organised political parties. I also went out for the Pussy Riot trial, and I felt the strength of feeling, but they are clearly not people we could work with on that level. What can we do? Navalny and Nemtsov are gone. Who can we work with to try to support the people who oppose Putin?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Lady is right, and she makes a good point. Putin’s tyrannical regime leaves absolutely no civic or political space for any kind of freedom of expression or political engagement, no matter how moderate. What we can do is ensure that Russian people have more access to the truth and to better information, which is why a lot of our energy goes into working against Russian disinformation across the region.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

The House and the whole country are easily and instinctively united in condemnation of this latest evidence of Vladimir Putin’s brutality, but is the Minister not a little uncomfortable that he makes his statement on the same day that his colleagues in the Home Office have announced restrictions on visa access for those from Ukraine fleeing the war against Russia? Does he not understand that we diminish the effect of our outrage unless we are seen to be doing absolutely everything, at home and abroad, to support our Ukrainian allies?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I know from my own constituency, as all Members will know, that our collective response, whether from the Government, local government or at an individual level, has been consistently generous and open hearted.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

I express my condolences to Alexei Navalny’s friends and family, and to the Russian people as a whole. What has happened to Navalny is an indictment on any freedom-loving people, as I believe the majority of Russians to be. As colleagues have said, we are keen to understand the effectiveness of the sanctions and I hope the Minister will come back to the House about that, because currently Putin seems to be able to do what he wants with impunity. In the powerful documentary about him, one of Navalny’s last statements was that it only takes good people to do nothing for people like Putin to survive. We must make sure that does not happen.

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Lady puts her finger on the good point that Navalny essentially gave people hope. That is why his message will resonate and why, despite his murder, he leaves a powerful legacy, which will continue to inspire the Russian people.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance, North Down

The murder of Alexei Navalny reminds us of the scale of the threat from Russia, not least to Ukraine—it is, of course, the second anniversary of the Russian invasion this week. Following the earlier question about the changes to the Ukraine family scheme, how can those changes be justified given the ongoing threat to Ukrainian families? The announcement was sneaked out today and comes into immediate effect this afternoon. How can that be justified given that there are Ukrainian families who want to be reunited with relatives in the UK?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Gentleman will know he should address that question to the Home Office. He mentioned the second anniversary of the illegal invasion of Ukraine. Earlier today, I had a good meeting with the Ukrainian chargé d’affaires at which we looked at images of the Ukrainian Red Cross delivering aid in some of the worst afflicted cities in Ukraine. Each Member of the House will choose how to remember and commemorate the second anniversary, but I am grateful to him for raising it.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Reclaim, North West Leicestershire

I express my condolences to the friends and family of Alexei Navalny, but can the Minister explain why we can have a statement on the untimely death of one foreign national but we cannot have a statement on the ongoing excess deaths of 100,000 of our own citizens, many of whom have died suddenly? [Interruption.] Is it because this death fits the Government’s narrative, but the death of our own citizens does not? Or is it a parody of Stalin, whereby one death is a tragedy but 100,000 deaths is merely a statistic?

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for his answers. My thoughts are with the family, wife, children and friends of Alexei Navalny at this difficult time. The fear of the disappeared will resonate with some citizens in Northern Ireland, where so many families have not been able to lay their loved ones to rest. That is apparent in news stories today about Navalny’s mother trying to get access to her son. Does the Minister agree that all efforts must be made to ensure Navalny’s body is returned to the family so that they can understand, have a full investigation and lay their loved one to rest?

Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Gentleman is right. Our ambassador has today made a representation directly to the Russian Government to release Mr Navalny’s body back to the family. We will keep making representations until that takes place.