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Boris Johnson verdict is a hammer blow to Rishi Sunak’s hopes of maintaining a fragile peace in the Tory civil war | Politics News

In the end, it was excoriating, damning and unanimous: Boris Johnson was found not only to have deliberately misled the House of Commons over events in Number 10 during COVID lockdowns, but had attacked the fabric of our democracy itself by seeking to undermine the committee and investigation.

The conclusion of the 14-month privileges committee inquiry was brutal, as was the recommended sanction: a 90-day suspension from the Commons for “repeated contempt” and revoking his parliamentary pass.

It was tougher than even some of Mr Johnson’s harshest critics had anticipated, as the original charge sheet of misleading the House on multiple occasions was added to through the investigation – with further sanctions made for breaching confidence by disclosing the findings of the report and “being complicit in the campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation of the committee”.

“The attack on a committee carrying out its remit from the democratically elected House itself amounts to an attack on our democratic institution,” said the report.

What does it change? For his enemies, it proves he is a wrong ‘un, a liar and unfit for high office. They will see this report as the final punctuation mark for his chequered political career.

Politics Hub: Johnson misled parliament on multiple occasions – latest developments

For his supporters, the level of sanction is proof of the “overreach” – to quote one ally – of a committee that set out to defenestrate a political powerhouse whom opponents wanted to destroy. They argue that the chair should have recused herself, and the process was a sham. For them, the die was cast way before this report was even out.

Is a comeback possible for Johnson?

The biggest question – the answer to which will take time to unfold – is whether the conclusions of this investigation are so damning that it effectively kills off any hope of a political comeback for the former prime minister. What is clear in the early aftermath is that his allies will seek to undermine this report in order to keep the possibility of political revival for Mr Johnson alive.

It is equally clear that this report’s publication in no way brings an end to the divisions it has once again exposed and exacerbated in a Tory party that ploughed through three prime ministers in seven weeks last autumn.

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Boris Johnson ‘is not defeated’

You only have to look at how Mr Johnson and his allies have reacted to both the investigation and the publication of the report today to see Rishi Sunak’s fragile peace deal on the benches becoming unstuck.

Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House, clearly alluded to these tensions in the chamber when she announced there would be a free vote on the report on Monday.

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She told colleagues that while it was a “painful and sad” process, they should read the report and make their own judgement. And in a not-so-subtle nod to the tensions, with Tory MPs reeling at the prospect of formally voting to sanction the leader who helped deliver them their seats back in the 2019 election, Ms Mordaunt said this: “All of us must do what we think right, all must leave us alone to do so.”

But MPs are not being left alone. There is pressure from Johnson-backing colleagues and likely also their own Conservative associations about whether the party should condemn Boris Johnson as this cross-party committee has done.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, holds a copy of the House of Commons Committee of Privileges report into whether former prime minister Boris Johnson misled Parliament
Jacob Rees-Mogg holds a copy of the House of Commons Committee of Privileges report

The recently knighted former minister Sir Simon Clarke – a beneficiary of Johnson’s honours list – tweeting even as Ms Mordaunt was on her feet that he was “amazed at the harshness of today’s report by the privileges committee. I believed Boris before and I believe him today. This punishment is absolutely extraordinary to the point of sheer vindictiveness, and I will vote against his report on Monday”.

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, another ally also knighted by his old friend Mr Johnson, told me the 90-day suspension was “extraordinary” and “shows that the report is deliberately trying to do damage to Boris Johnson. It is way beyond a judicial sanction”. He too will vote against the report on Monday, which also happens to be Mr Johnson’s 59th birthday.

An unedifying moment

It will be an unedifying moment for the party as the Conservative “Boris haters”, as Sir Jacob calls them, line up to support the privileges committee and another group of his supporters back the former PM. He will want to see a show of support – a key thing to watch on Monday is how Conservatives choose to vote.

What is clear from all of this, be it the Mr Johnson attacks on fellow Conservative Sir Bernard Jenkin, who sits on the privileges committee or the howls of rage from Mr Johnson supporters over his treatment, is that Mr Sunak simply doesn’t have a strong enough grip on the party to stop the infighting and perform the reset he needs.

Mr Johnson might be quitting parliament, but the current prime minister still has two by-elections to fight because of it before the summer recess and one later in the year as Nadine Dorries opts to delay her resignation to prolong the pain for Mr Sunak.

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Key findings from Boris Johnson report

What about his long-term political career? Mr Johnson’s old ally Sir Jacob certainly doesn’t think the former prime minister is done for, telling me that much depends on the judgement people come to and that there are plenty out there still in the Johnson camp. He thinks there is a route back for Mr Johnson – although he not this side of an election.

“I think many people will look at 90 days and will think that that is simply too harsh, too aggressive, and shows what the committee was really trying to do. I think this will generate sympathy for him. But he is still a popular national figure. He still has a connection with voters that most politicians would give their eyeteeth for,” says Sir Jacob.

Read more:
Who are the privileges committee investigating whether Boris Johnson misled parliament over partygate?
Boris Johnson: What the former PM told the privileges committee about partygate

Jumping before he was pushed, the fury that Mr Johnson unleashed on Friday night when he announced he was going to quit as an MP having seen a confidential copy of the report, is now so much clearer.

The account of his conduct levelled at him by the committee would have almost certainly resulted in Mr Johnson’s suspension from parliament and a possible by-election in his constituency. So, he quits “for now”, leaving the possibility that he might want to return.

For him, this report was “intended to be the final knife-thrust in a protracted political assassination”. Whether it succeeds in killing off his political career is another matter. He might have been rejected by parliament, but this is a populist who has built his brand on being able to connect with the public and the grassroots in the Conservative Party. We’ve had the privileges committee’s verdict of the former PM. We’ve yet to have theirs.

Russians assaulted, threatened and abused in UK as hate crimes linked to Ukraine war surge | UK News

Russians in the UK have been subjected to violent assaults, threats and vandalism in the last year, as new figures suggest a surge in hate crime linked to the war in Ukraine.

A Sky News investigation has found details of dozens of race hate crimes against Russian nationals in Britain since 24 February 2022, the date Vladimir Putin began his invasion.

One large police force in England saw anti-Russian offences more than double in the last year compared to 2021, while a charity revealed that children of primary school age have been victims.

An expert has warned that the number of recorded offences is likely to be the “tip of the iceberg” as many go unreported, and the spike is expected to continue for the duration of the war.

Among the offences:

• An assault was reported on a building site in Derbyshire, where a worker told the victim: “I hate you Russians – you kill people,” before the attack started.

• Hertfordshire Police revealed details of a racially-aggravated assault where the victim was pushed to the floor at a crossing and told: “All Russians are murderers.”

• A suspicious white powder was sent to a London law firm, with a letter condemning its ties with Russia and containing “pro-Ukrainian content”.

• Devon and Cornwall Police said a victim was followed around a supermarket by someone “calling them names and threatening to kill them because they are Russian”.

Graffiti reading 'Kill Putin' was pictured on a wall in Slough in August. Pic: Maureen McLean/Shutterstock
Graffiti reading ‘Kill Putin’ was painted on a wall in Slough. Pic: Maureen McLean/Shutterstock

• A woman, originally from Russia, living in North Wales was abused by a neighbour who said: “Why are you still here? F*** off home”. A note was also left on her postbox telling her to go home and the abuse was thought to be “connected with Russia’s offensive in Ukraine”, police said.

• In Dorset, paint was poured on the bonnet of a vehicle overnight – with the victim suspecting it was due to their Russian nationality.

• In Lancashire, a suspect repeatedly called a victim from a withheld number, and left a message saying: “Are you Russian c**ts? You still f*****g trading in the UK? You f*****g scumbags, (I’ll) come to your f*****g shop soon”.

• An “obscene word” was written on a woman’s car in North Wales, which the victim believed was “due to the mistaken belief that she was Russian”.

Anti-war graffiti on the gates of the Russian embassy in London in February 2022
Graffiti was scrawled on the gates of the Russian embassy in London in February 2022

What does the data show?

The crimes were revealed after Sky News sent freedom of information (FOI) requests to the UK’s 45 territorial police forces and British Transport Police (BTP).

Greater Manchester Police said 13 race hate crimes against Russian victims had been recorded since the invasion of Ukraine – up from six in 2021 and two in 2020.

Derbyshire Police has recorded four anti-Russian offences since 24 February 2022 – compared to zero crimes in 2021 – including assault causing actual bodily harm, criminal damage and racially aggravated harassment.

Cambridgeshire Police said it had seen seven race hate crimes against Russian victims since the war in Ukraine – the same number as in 2021 – including racially-aggravated common assault or beating and harassment.

Meanwhile, BTP have recorded three anti-Russian offences during the Ukraine war, having recorded none in 2021.

City of London, Dorset, Kent, Avon and Somerset, Hertfordshire and Lincolnshire police forces have also recorded race crimes against Russians since the conflict began.

The Metropolitan Police refused to answer Sky News’ FOI request, saying it would cost too much to retrieve the information. However, the force has previously revealed it recorded 16 hate crimes against Russian victims in the first two months of the war in Ukraine, compared to 22 offences across the whole year before the invasion.

Vladimir Putin delivers his speech during a meeting of the Federal Security Service (FSB) board in Moscow, Russia
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has led to some police forces reporting a rise in anti-Russian hate crime. Pic: AP

In total, just 14 forces provided relevant data on race hate crimes or similar incidents targeting Russian people in the UK during the war in Ukraine.

The remaining forces either did not respond to Sky News, refused to provide the information on cost grounds or said they had no recorded anti-Russian offences.

Some forces admitted the nationality of victims was often not recorded for race hate crimes, with Avon and Somerset Police saying it appeared to have been completed “only 10% of the time”.

‘You Russian pigs’

Russian chef Alexei Zimin told Sky News that his London restaurant received threatening calls and had bookings cancelled in the early weeks of the invasion of Ukraine.

Despite being an opponent of the war, he revealed people had said: “You Russian pigs” and “you need to close your restaurant or we’ll do it”, and a police officer was once sent to their building over an apparent threat.

Mr Zimin’s restaurant Zima has donated about £30,000 to the Red Cross for Ukrainian refugees and his vocal anti-war stance has led to the cancellation of his cooking show on Russian TV.

He said he expected repercussions for voicing opposition to the war “because I know my country”.

Asked if he would feel safe returning to Russia, Mr Zimin replied: “I don’t know…. I don’t want to check.

“I haven’t been in Russia for more than a year.

“Most of my friends are now in different countries.”

Primary schoolchildren targeted

The charity Victim Support said it had seen a “flurry” of anti-Russian hate crimes in the early weeks of the war in Ukraine, including incidents of “hate-related bullying” in schools.

Some victims were of primary school age, it added.

Becca Rosenthal, hate crime operations manager at Victim Support, told Sky News: “Quite often with children and adults, it’s got that narrative of: ‘Go back home’.”

She said Victim Support had also seen cases involving “anti-Ukrainian rhetoric” and victims from other countries being targeted in the mistaken belief they are Russian.

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‘A lot of Russians support Ukraine’

‘Tip of the iceberg’

Mark Walters, professor of criminal law and criminology at the University of Sussex, said “trigger events” lead to increases in certain types of hate crimes.

“With Brexit, we had a big spike in racist hate crimes,” he told Sky News.

“With the pandemic, we saw a spike in anti-Chinese and anti-Asian hate crime.

“With the war in Ukraine, you’ll see there will be a spike in anti-Russian hate crimes… that will probably last as long as the war lasts.”

Prof Walters warned that hate crimes are under-reported, adding: “While I think the figures will definitely show there’s been a spike… I would have no doubt that will probably be just the tip of the iceberg.”

A Home Office spokesman told Sky News: “Hate crime is a scourge on communities across the country. It does not reflect the values of modern Britain.

“While the rise in cases is likely to be largely driven by improvements in police recording, these are serious crimes and we expect the police to fully investigate these hateful attacks and make sure the cowards who commit them feel the full force of the law.”

Ukrainians recite ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ lyrics in powerful film to mark first anniversary of war | World News

The lyrics of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” have been recited by Ukrainian people in a powerful film to mark the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion.

The one-minute video released by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) shows the devastation unleashed by Vladimir Putin’s war, with millions unable to return to their homeland after being forced to flee.

It begins with a black screen and the caption: “Ukraine. February. 2023.” A cast of actors still living in Ukraine then recite lines from the anthemic Gerry and the Pacemakers song, over music by German-born British composer and pianist Max Richter.

A young boy, seen sitting on a swing in front of a hollow tower block, delivers the iconic line: “And don’t be afraid of the dark, at the end of a storm.”

The footage, shot this month, also shows a boy in a bomb shelter, a doctor in a hospital, a couple and a dog owner outside their homes, and a woman and child sitting on a bus.

Entitled “Never Alone”, it was made by a predominantly Ukrainian crew and directed using a remote camera.

Although the people featured in the film are actors, they represent real stories of people who have been helped by DEC charities.

The video ends with a black screen saying: “The UK raised over £400 million so the people of Ukraine didn’t walk alone” and images of aid workers who travelled to the country to offer help.

The DEC’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal has raised £414m since launching on 3 March 2022, including £25m donated by the government through the UK Aid Match scheme.

A woman and girl seen in the film
A woman and girl seen in the film

In the first six months of the response alone, aid delivered using DEC funds included (but was not limited to):

  • 1.9 million people provided with access to clean water
  • 392,000 people who received food assistance, including hot meals and food parcels
  • 338,000 people who received cash payments to meet their basic needs
  • 127,000 people who accessed basic services at transit centres for the displaced
  • 71,000 people who accessed primary healthcare services
  • 114,000 people who received legal help and support
  • 10,000 people who were provided with temporary accommodation

Read more:
Russia interrupts minute’s silence for Ukraine at UN
Putin will face trial for war crimes, US envoy says
China unveils 12-point peace plan to end war

A couple sitting outside what remains of their home
A couple sitting outside what remains of their home
A dog owner standing outside his proprty
A dog owner standing outside his property

Film director Rick Dodds said: “This film is a time capsule of Ukraine in February 2023 – exactly one year since the conflict began.

“We cast Ukrainian people still living there – so that we could capture their resilience, their strength, and their Ukrainian stoicism for all to see.

“The poetic words of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ then took on a different power when delivered by this cast in such dramatic and real locations.

“For example, a woman stood outside her house that has been blown apart saying ‘though your dreams be tossed and blown’. Or a young boy in a bomb shelter saying ‘with hope in your heart’.”

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DEC director of fundraising and marketing, Simon Beresford, hailed the “incredible generosity” of the British public.

“We’re really proud of the fact that we could work with a Ukrainian cast and crew to make this film,” he said.

“Choosing to shoot it in Ukraine added layers of complication to the project, but we think has made it much more authentic and impactful.

“Everyone who worked on the film in Ukraine has been affected in some way by the conflict and their creative input has been invaluable to the project.”

Sunak to urge world leaders to ‘move faster’ to arm Ukraine as he leads minute’s silence on war anniversary | Politics News

Rishi Sunak is to urge fellow world leaders to “move faster” to arm Ukraine’s troops as he leads a minute’s silence on the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion.

The prime minister is expected to use a G7 meeting on Friday to call on allies to supply longer-range weapons to Ukraine as there is an urgent need for Kyiv to gain a “decisive advantage” on the battlefield.

Mr Sunak will lead the UK in a minute’s silence at 11am to mark the anniversary in front of the Downing Street door.

He will be joined by the Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and representatives from each of the 11 nations that are part of the British-led Ukrainian troop training programme, Operation Interflex.

UN demands Russia withdraw troops – Ukraine war latest

“For Ukraine to win this war – and to accelerate that day – they must gain a decisive advantage on the battlefield. That is what it will take to shift Putin’s mindset,” Mr Sunak is expected to tell G7 leaders in a virtual meeting.

“This must be our priority now. Instead of an incremental approach, we need to move faster on artillery, armour, and air defence.

“The coming weeks will be difficult for Ukraine, but they will also be difficult for Russia. They are overreaching once again. So now is the time to support Ukraine’s plan to re-arm, regroup, and push forward.”

Mr Sunak will also reiterate his offer of UK support to countries able to provide jets to Ukraine as he and his wife, Akshata Murty, hang a blue and yellow wreath on the door of Number 10.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on Western countries to send fighter jets to Ukraine and while the UK has announced training for Ukrainian pilots on NATO-standard jets it has not sent any planes.

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Johnson: ‘Send jets to Ukraine’

Former PM Boris Johnson has joined those calls and told Sky News on Thursday the UK needs to “break the ice” by becoming the first country to supply Ukraine with the aircraft.

But so far, neither Mr Sunak or his defence secretary Ben Wallace have not made a steadfast commitment to do so.

Sky News exclusively reported on Thursday the Treasury has signalled there is no new money for defence, despite recognising the urgent need to rearm in the wake of the war.

As things stand, the British army would run out of ammunition within a few days if called upon to fight and would take up to 10 years to field a modern warfighting division of some 25,000 to 30,000 troops.

Read more:
PM has ‘no interest in defence’ as UK ammo stockpiles proved ‘inadequate’ by war
Ukraine war: The race to rearm could decide who wins the conflict
British prisoner of war in Ukraine reveals Russian torture methods

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A look back on a year of war in Ukraine

On the eve of the anniversary, Mr Sunak said: “As we mark one year since a full-scale war broke out on our continent, I urge everyone to reflect on the courage and bravery of our Ukrainian friends who, every hour since, have fought heroically for their country.

“I am proud that the UK has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine through this horrific conflict.

“As I stand with brave Ukrainian soldiers outside Downing Street today, my thoughts will be with all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend freedom and return peace to Europe.”

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who met Mr Zelenskyy in Kyiv recently, said the UK’s support “is as firm and unstinting today as it was on that dark day one year ago”.

He said his party stands “in lockstep with the government” in continuing support to Ukraine “regardless of what other political disagreements we may have”.

Ukraine war: Russia attacks ‘pompous’ Zelenskyy and warns UK as president asks for more weapons | Politics News

Russian officials have attacked Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s “hasty” visit to Europe – dismissing his speech to MPs in Westminster as “theatrical”.

The Ukrainian president made a surprise appearance in London, where he urged the UK and Western allies to provide “wings for freedom” by supplying advanced jets.

Mr Zelenskyy then travelled to Paris for talks over dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz – and he is expected to attend an EU summit in Brussels later today.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meet Ukrainian troops being trained to command Challenger 2 tanks at a military facility in Lulworth, Dorset. Picture date: Wednesday February 8, 2023.

But in a strongly worded statement, the Russian embassy in London said: “Zelenskyy’s pompous solicitations about the values of ‘freedom’ and ‘human rights’, which Kiev claims to be fighting for, were overtly hypocritical.”

The embassy went on to mock “the ex-comedian in a green sweatshirt now on tour around Europe” – and also had a warning for the UK government.

“We would like to remind London: in the event of such a scenario the death toll of yet another round of escalation, as well as and its military-political consequences for the European continent and the whole world will be on the United Kingdom’s hands. Russia will know how to respond to any unfriendly actions by the British side,” it said.

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Zelenskyy awards Ukrainian troops in UK

Zelenskyy calls for more weapons

This morning, Mr Zelenskyy is set to address the European Parliament in what will be his third stop on a surprise trip across the continent.

While Mr Zelenskyy is unlikely to secure immediate pledges to satisfy his requests, this will be his first opportunity to make the case in person to EU member states since the war began almost a year ago.

It follows a powerful speech in Westminster Hall on Wednesday, followed by talks with the leaders of France and Germany over dinner in Paris.

Rishi Sunak has said “nothing is off the table” when it comes to assisting the war effort in Ukraine and fighter jets “are part of the conversation”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shake hands after meeting Ukrainian troops being trained to command Challenger 2 tanks at a military facility in Lulworth, Dorset. Picture date: Wednesday February 8, 2023.

Mr Zelenskyy received a standing ovation after his speech.

Later at a military site in Dorset alongside the Ukrainian president, the prime minister was asked “to provide absolute clarity” on whether Ukraine will receive jets from the UK and, if so, when.

“We’ve been very clear and we’ve been clear for a long time that when it comes to the provision of military assistance to Ukraine, nothing is off the table,” Mr Sunak said.

“When it comes to fighter combat aircraft of course they are part of the conversation.”

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Ukraine’s Zelenskyy meets King Charles

‘More military assistance needed’

After the Western world came together to agree on sending tanks to Ukraine, Kyiv is requesting warplanes to repel the Russian invasion.

Mr Zelenskyy told the news conference that without more military assistance “there will be stagnation, these people [Russian soldiers] will be living on our territory and this poses great risk to all of the world”.

Downing Street said the prime minister has asked Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to investigate what warplanes the UK could supply but stressed any potential move to do so would not happen immediately.

But according to Professor Michael Clarke, a defence and security analyst, the UK “doesn’t have” the right sort of jets to offer.

This is Mr Zelenskyy’s second trip outside Ukraine since Russia invaded last February.

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After visiting parliament, he travelled to Buckingham Palace for an audience with the King and later visited Lulworth Camp in Dorset with Mr Sunak, to meet Ukrainian troops being trained by the British Army.

Following his talks with Mr Macron and Mr Scholz, he said: “France and Germany have the potential to be game changers and that’s how I see our talks.

“The sooner we get heavy long-range weapons and our pilots get modern planes … the quicker this Russian aggression will end.”

Also on the agenda during Mr Zelenskyy’s visit to Brussels will be a discussion on Ukraine joining the European Union.

UK to train Ukrainian judges to carry out war crimes trials for Russian soldiers | World News

A group of 90 Ukrainian judges will undergo training, provided by the UK, to carry out war crimes trials for Russian soldiers.

The first group of judges attended sessions at a secret location in the region last week, and more will follow in the coming months, as part of a £2.5m investment.

In her first broadcast interview as Attorney General, Victoria Prentis told Sky News it would ensure perpetrators of atrocities can – at an unprecedented scale – be prosecuted while the conflict goes on.

The vast majority of war crimes trials are expected to be carried out in the country by Ukrainian judges.

So far, 14 Russian soldiers have been convicted, with the first trial carried out in May.

But a vast caseload of more than 43,000 reported crimes have already been registered.

“They are prosecuting war crimes in real time”, Ms Prentis said. “This is a live and very brutal conflict.

Ukraine is managing with all the difficulties that we know are going on in the country at the moment, with things like power and organising courts, to try war crimes.

“This is very important, obviously because justice is important, but also because I hope that those Russian soldiers and officers who are watching the Ukrainian prosecutions at the moment will realise that they must act in accordance with international law.

“These 90 judges will go back after some really intensive training, able better to run those courts.”

UK Attorney General Victoria Prentis
UK Attorney General Victoria Prentis

Russia’s ‘Nuremberg’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenkyy and his wife Olena, who visited the UK this month, have been advocating for the establishment of a special tribunal for Ukraine, which they have compared to the Nuremberg trials, for the Russian leadership.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has already opened an investigation into the Ukraine war – but the Zelenskyys say a special tribunal alongside it could prosecute a wider range of crimes.

This has not been explicitly backed by the UK government, but Ms Prentis said all options are being considered, in discussions with the Ukrainian authorities.

Read more:
Divided loyalties and messy compromises for Ukrainian refugees

“I’m sure that the vast majority of these war crimes will be tried by Ukrainian judges in Ukraine, where the witnesses and the evidence are,” she said.

“But I’m also sure the international community will want to have a moment where justice is done, and seen to be done. We don’t yet know exactly what form that will take. All options are on the table.”

In her long career as a government lawyer before entering politics, Ms Prentis said: “I don’t think we ever anticipated we would have war crimes in Europe again and that we would have to start talking about Nuremberg-style trials.”

The judges’ training is run by Sir Howard Morrison, a British judge who worked at the International Criminal Court and on the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Sir Howard Morrison, British judge helping to train Ukrainian judges for war crimes
Sir Howard Morrison says senior Russians being tried ‘cannot be ruled out’

He spoke to Sky News on his return from the region after the first three-day session.

Sky News teams have witnessed the work of mobile justice teams in the country, such as in Makariv, outside Kyiv, where officials say 130 bodies were found in April.

Sir Howard said: “War crimes bring an added dimension, particularly when you have mass graves.

“I’ve spent 25 years staring either literally or metaphorically into mass graves, and believe me it’s a very different exercise than a single body or a single victim.

“They [judges] are very much aware of the necessity to run these trials in accordance with internationally recognised standards.”

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Sir Howard was the judge at the trial of former Bosnian leader Radovan Karadzic and said it was the hope senior Russian leaders could eventually be put on trial – but it would take time and commitment.

He said: “I was told when I was at the ICT [tribunal for the former Yugoslavia], that we would never try Milosevic, Karadzic or Mladic, and we tried all three.

“So you don’t know how the political winds will change direction in the future. It may be a long, slow process, but you cannot entirely rule out the Russians, senior Russians, in politics or in the military could one day come before an international tribunal.”

Britain ‘too deep’ into Ukraine war, Russian ambassador says | World News

The Russian ambassador has warned the UK that it is “too deep” in the Ukraine war – but said Moscow would not use nuclear weapons in the conflict.

In an interview with Sky’s Mark Austin, diplomat Andrei Kelin claimed he had proof that UK special forces were involved in a Ukrainian drone attack on Russia‘s Black Sea fleet in Crimea and had handed evidence to the British ambassador.

Asked to provide evidence of Russia’s claims, Mr Kelin said: “We perfectly know about [the] participation of British specialists in [the] training, preparation and execution of violence against the Russian infrastructure and the Russian fleet in the Black Sea. We know that it has been done.”

Putin ‘weakened’ after ‘catastrophic error’ – latest updates

Pressed to give evidence to the public on Moscow’s accusation the attack on the Russian fleet in the Black Sea was carried out under the guidance and leadership of British Navy specialists, Mr Kelin said it had been handed to the British ambassador and added that “it will become public pretty soon,” perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow.

He added: “It is dangerous because it escalates the situation. It can bring us up to the line of I would say no return, return is always possible. But anyway, we should avoid escalation.

“And this is a warning actually that Britain is too deep in this conflict. It means the situation is becoming more and more dangerous.”

Russia's ambassador to the UK, Andrey Kelin
Russia’s ambassador to the UK, Andrei Kelin

Claims designed to distract from military failures, UK says

The government has said such claims are false and are designed to distract from Russia’s military failures in Ukraine.

Moscow has cast the UK as a particularly insidious Western foil to Russia. President Vladimir Putin has said the UK is plotting to destroy Russia and carve up its vast natural resources.

Ambassador denies Moscow would use nuclear weapons

Speaking after Russia accused the West of “encouraging provocations with weapons of mass destruction”, Mr Kelin denied Moscow would use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Mr Kelin said: “The nuclear war cannot be won and it should never be fought. And we stick strongly to this statement.”

Asked if Moscow could use a tactical nuclear weapon in the conflict, Mr Kelin replied: “No. The world has every assurance that Russia is not going to use [a] tactical nuclear weapon in [the] Ukrainian conflict.”

A still image from video, released by the Russian Defence Ministry, shows what it said to be Russia's Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launched during exercises held by the country's strategic nuclear forces at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia
A Russian Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launched during nuclear exercises

Moscow has been ramping up its nuclear rhetoric since it invaded Ukraine, most recently by accusing Kyiv of planning to use a “dirty bomb,” though it did not offer evidence. Kyiv has denied it has any such plan.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it feared the five declared nuclear powers were teetering “on the brink of a direct armed conflict”.

It added: “We are strongly convinced that in the current complicated and turbulent situation, caused by irresponsible and impudent actions aimed at undermining our national security, the most immediate task is to avoid any military clash of nuclear powers.”

Ukraine war: UK rejects Russian claim West is helping Ukraine escalate conflict | World News

Russian claims that Britain and its allies are planning to help Ukraine escalate the war have been rubbished by the defence secretary.

In a call with Ben Wallace, his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu alleged Ukraine was “planning actions facilitated by Western countries, including the UK” to “escalate the conflict in Ukraine“.

But in a short, straight-forward official statement after the call, the Ministry of Defence said: “The Defence Secretary refuted these claims.”

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attend the opening of the Army 2022 International Military and Technical Forum in the Patriot Park outside Moscow, Russia, Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. Putin vowed to strengthen Russia's military cooperation with its allies. (Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin with his defence minister Sergei Shoigu. Pic: AP

It said both ministers had been “professional and respectful” during the call, but that Mr Wallace had “cautioned” Mr Shoigu against using such allegations as “a pretext for greater escalation”.

The exchange came after a second call in three days between Mr Shoigu and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin.

It follows a similar conversation between Mr Shoigu and his French counterpart on Sunday, where the Russian warned the situation in Ukraine was rapidly deteriorating and trending towards “uncontrolled escalation”.

He told Sebastien Lecornu, the French defence minister, that Moscow had concerns Ukraine could use a “dirty bomb” in the conflict.

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Some Russian nationalists have blamed Mr Shoigu for Moscow’s setbacks since the 24 February invasion and most recently for Ukraine’s rapid gains in the northeastern Kharkiv region, which saw several thousands of square kilometres of territory regained from Russian takeover.

In his call on Sunday, Mr Wallace also reiterated UK and wider international support for Ukraine and a desire to de-escalate the conflict.

“It is for Ukraine and Russia to seek resolution to the war and the UK stands ready to assist,” his statement added.

Sir Rod Stewart rents Berkshire home for Ukrainian family of seven who fled war | UK News

Sir Rod Stewart has revealed he has rented and furnished a home for a family of seven Ukrainian refugees after feeling heartbroken watching the war against Russia unfold on the news.

“Words couldn’t describe what we were watching,” Sir Rod told the Daily Mirror.

“The bombing of innocent children, the bombing of hospitals and ­playgrounds. Like everyone else, we were completely beside ourselves. I don’t wish that on anyone. This is evil, pure evil.”

Sir Rod is now providing support to Ukrainian couple Rostylsav and Olena and their five children aged between 17 and two, paying rent and bills for the Berkshire property for at least a year, according to the newspaper.

The family, who arrived in the UK without speaking any English, are “lovely… so polite” and “all very grateful”, Sir Rod said.

Rod Stewart performs at the Raise the Roof fundraiser for Prostate Cancer UK in June
Rod Stewart performs at the Raise the Roof fundraiser for Prostate Cancer UK in June

The star said he wanted to use his “power” as a knight to help others.

“I usually keep all my charitable efforts nice and quiet and just do it. But I thought, ‘I am a knight, I have been given this knighthood because of the things I’ve achieved in my life and the charity work I’ve done over the years’.

“But that was the past; I want to be seen to be doing something now. I am a knight, I should be using my power to do something for people.

“I am sure that if there are people out there who see what I am doing, they will pick up some slack too.”

The singer also hired three trucks filled with supplies for refugees and had them driven to Ukraine, before using the same vehicles to transport 16 people back to safety in Berlin.

He was later put in contact with Rostyslav and his family, as well as others who he has since given jobs to.

In a statement Olena and Rostyslav said: “Many thanks to Sir Rod Stewart, Warren Cady, his parents and their family for their openness and genuine and big hearts. Thanks to their sponsorship and Warren’s hard work, our children are now safe and able to learn normally in school.”

Sir Rod kicks off a string of UK arena dates next month, playing in Nottingham, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Belfast, London, Birmingham and Manchester.

He told The Mirror that he plans to address the conflict in Ukraine as part of the tour, dedicating shows to the country and its people.

British prisoner of war John Harding used as a ‘punching bag’ over days of torture in Ukraine | World News

A freed British prisoner of war who was held by Russian-backed separatists has told Sky News how he was tortured over several days.

John Harding said he was used as a “punching bag” by the guards in a holding facility in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.

The centre was run by the MGB, which he said was the equivalent of Russia’s FSB, formerly the KGB.

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He said he was held there for about nine days in a small cell about 4ft by 6ft, between being taken to the prosecutor’s office for questioning.

Mr Harding was one of five Britons freed in recent days in a prisoner swap with Russia. He is now back in the UK after his release with the help of the Ukrainians and the Saudis.

Shaun Pinner (centre) and Aiden Aslin (right). John Harding has his thumb up
Mr Harding, left, with fellow POWs Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin on a plane after their release

Mr Harding had been in Ukraine teaching its soldiers how to use first aid kits.

When the Russians crossed the border in the February invasion, they were near his base and he ended up in the Azovstal steel complex, where he and his colleagues fled because it was a good defensive position with underground tunnels.

They were surrounded after the site was besieged by Russian forces and famously held out there for a number of weeks before surrendering in May due to running very low on ammunition.

He said he was originally taken to a prisoner of war camp for about four days before being transported to the holding facility where he suffered days of torture.

Mr Harding said he suffered a fractured sternum, damage to his coccyx, broken ribs and neurological damage to his hand in the holding centre in Donetsk.

John Harding pictured during a court hearing in Donetsk in August
Mr Harding at a court hearing in Donetsk in August

He said he was beaten up about five to six times “for fun”.

“Every time we left for the prosecutor’s office we got beaten up.”

In the worst attack, which lasted about 30 minutes, he said he was handcuffed with his arms behind his back and was pushed to the floor.

He said at least four guards kicked him in the chest, ribs, kidneys and in the face.

“One man stood on my hips and jumped up and down,” he said.

John Harding pictured in a courtroom in Donetsk in August. Pic: AP
Pic: AP

He added: “I think I used to quite annoy the guards because I tend not to scream when I’m beaten and I think that annoyed them.”

Mr Harding admitted he feared for his life several times.

“I had a feeling… if they kicked you to death they wouldn’t be that bothered. I thought it was heading that way.

“If you are going to be killed best to get it over with. They enjoyed it, the tormentors.”

He said he was given “very little food and water” and not allowed any exercise during his time there.

The cell had no windows so he never knew what time of day it was.

Mr Harding said after about nine days in detention he was moved to a civilian prison where he was kept for months until his release.

He said the treatment in the jail was not as bad as that which he faced in the detention centre.