My thoughts remain with the people of Ukraine this week, those fleeing to seek safety, and those remaining to defend their country from Putin’s unacceptable advances.
It was extremely moving to be in an absolutely packed Parliament as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed us remotely. A sitting President dialling into the House of Commons live from a war zone, making parallels to the UK experience in World War Two, is unprecedented and powerful in equal measure.
The UK must act. We’ve got to support the hundreds of Ukrainian people stuck in Calais, and we’ve got to apply every pressure to help end this indefensible war. This week I’ve been pushing for tougher action to tighten the net on Putin’s cronies. For too long, offshore companies have been able to buy up property in the UK without revealing their true owners – hollowing out communities and masking corruption.
Under David Cameron, the Government promised a Register of Overseas Entities to unmask the shady owners. Six long years later, they are finally getting round to it. However, there is a massive loophole in their plans. Last week, the Tories proposed that overseas owners would be given 18 months to comply with the new rules. I argued this would give oligarchs buckets of opportunity to sell-up or find new ways to hide their assets before the Register comes into force. Bowing to pressure, the Government backtracked to 6 months, but this is still too long. We need action now.
Alongside my colleague Yvette Cooper, I was proud to propose an amendment to the Economic Crime Bill, seeking to scrap crony wiggle room by implementing the changes in just 28 days. We need to root out dodgy money in days, not months, and show Putin we mean business.
We put up a valiant fight in the House of Commons, and the battle will now move to the Lords. The Bill is a step in the right direction, but is still just a fraction of what is needed to stop illicit Russian money in the UK, and to tackle fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. The Government must also act to urgently reform Companies House and properly resource enforcement agencies.
This isn’t just about Russia, important as that is. It’s about how our economy runs and the strong, fair and transparent regulation that should govern it. The UK must no longer be a destination of choice for illicit finance.