Rishi Sunak rules out Shapps' plan for British troops to train fighters in Ukraine

No UK soldiers will be sent to fight in conflict with Russia, Prime Minister says in response to proposal by defence chief

From left, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meeting UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps in Kyiv. PA
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Following Defence Secretary Grant Shapps’ suggestion that British troops could train forces in Ukraine, Rishi Sunak has said it is not for the “here and now”.

The recently appointed political head of the Ministry of Defence was discussing possible plans for the “long term”, said the Prime Minister on Sunday as he ruled out UK forces going to Ukraine.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Shapps said “eventually” he would like to move Britain’s long-standing training of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s troops “in country” rather than in the UK.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said any British troops in Ukraine would be legitimate targets for the Kremlin’s forces.

But on a visit to Burnley ahead of the Tory party conference in Manchester, Mr Sunak said he wanted to be “absolutely clear” about the situation after “some misreporting”.

He said Britain had been training Ukrainian citizens and soldiers “for a long time” within the UK.

“And what the Defence Secretary was saying was that it might well be possible one day in the future for us to do some of that training in Ukraine,” the Prime Minister said.

“But that’s something for the long term, not the here and now, there are no British soldiers that will be sent to fight in the current conflict. That’s not what’s happening. What we are doing is training Ukrainians. We’re doing that here in the UK.”

Mr Shapps has spoken to military chiefs about moving “more training” into Ukraine and called on British defence firms to set up production in the country.

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Having taken over as Defence Secretary from Ben Wallace at the end of August, he said he has also spoken to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian President, about the Royal Navy helping to defend commercial vessels in the Black Sea.

He said Britain was also looking for ways to help Ukraine prepare for its potential membership of Nato.

Mr Shapps visited a military base on Salisbury Plain on Friday where he was briefed by Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, Chief of the General Staff, and other senior army figures.

“I was talking about eventually getting the training brought closer and actually into Ukraine as well," he said.

“Particularly in the west of the country, I think the opportunity now is to bring more things in country and not just training. We’re seeing [aerospace company] BAE, for example, move into manufacturing in country.

“I’m keen to see other British companies do their bit as well by doing the same thing.”

More than 20,000 recruits from Ukraine have received training in the UK since the start of last year but Nato members have avoided training programmes in Ukraine due to the risk of personnel being drawn into combat with Russia.

The Defence Secretary said he spoke to Mr Zelenskyy on Wednesday and hinted Britain could play a more active role in the Black Sea, where Russia has targeted cargo ships.

“Britain is a naval nation so we can help and we can advise, particularly since the water is international water,” he said.

“It’s important we don’t allow a situation to establish by default that somehow international shipping isn’t allowed in that water.

“There’s a lot of places where Britain can help advise.”

Ahead of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Mr Shapps told The Telegraph Britain should reinstate former prime minister Liz Truss’s pledge to increase defence spending to 3 per cent of GDP.

“I think it’s really important that we understand that freedom isn’t free,” he said.

“You have to pay for it and it also keeps us prosperous, not only because we keep out invaders but we also help shape the world around us and do good in the world.”

Updated: October 02, 2023, 5:43 AM