Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has resisted calls from Boris Johnson to send Ukraine fighter jets to assist in the war with Russia. Johnson made the plea to Sunak while on a US tour in which he is advocating for further support from the West for Ukraine.
However, Sunak has said that the commitment would be too difficult for the UK to fulfil due to the times needed to train pilots. Downing Street added that the UK remains committed to providing support which could be used immediately.
Johnson said that he took the reasoning against sending fighter jets “with a pinch of salt”. Defence secretary Ben Wallace has not ruled out sending the aircrafts to Ukraine in the future.
It comes shortly after the UK said that it would send 14 Challenger 2 to Ukraine. The promise was followed up by Germany signing off on a further 14 Leopard 2 tanks being sent, alongside 31 M1 Abrams units from the US.
President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the move, which also allowed German-built tanks to be released to Ukraine from other countries such as Poland. He said: “We must form a tank fist, a fist of freedom whose hits will not let tyranny stand up again. The terrorist state must lose.”
What did Boris Johnson say about sending fighter jets to Ukraine?
Johnson spoke about the possibility while attending an event hosted by the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington D.C. He uged both the UK and US to deliver the fighter jets to Ukraine, saying he didn’t place much emphasis on the claim that the aircrafts could not be used unti pilots were fully trained.
Johnson told the Washington crowd: “I hear that an objection to their having sophisticated Western planes to fly is that they won’t know how to use them. I have to say I take that argument with a bit of a pinch of salt.”
He likened the possible use of fighter jets in Ukraine to that of Polish soliders piloting aircrafts in World War Two, saying: “I’m lucky enough to represent the constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip in the west of London where in the Second World War was based the famous 303 Squadron which was flown by Polish pilots.
“Never forget that the Poles in the Battle of Britain took out one seventh of the Nazi planes.
“It didn’t take long for those Polish pilots to work out how to use a Hawker Hurricane or a Spitfire and I don’t think it would take the Ukrainians long to work out how to use F-16s or Typhoons or whatever we have to give them.”
How has Downing Street responded?
Downing Street has distanced itself from Johnson’s comments. A spokesman said that the former Prime Minster was “acting in his own capacity and not on behalf of the UK Government” during his US visit.
They also said that the UK’s stance on the supply of fighter jets to Ukraine remains unchanged, saying: “We will continue listening to the Ukrainians and consider what is right for the long term.
“But it’s helpful to understand the situation, that the fastest training programme for a new pilot is approximately 35 months. The current UK fast jet training programme takes five years.”
They added that the Prime Minister will continue to “focus on how we can help Ukraine defend their country and push back this year”. However, the defence secretary has not ruled out fighter jets being sent to the war-torn country in the future.
Wallace told reporters while speaking at an event in Portsmouth: “On the question of jets, one thing I’ve learned over the last year is don’t rule anything in, don’t rule anything out”. However, he also echoed the PM’s words that the aim for the UK government at the moment was to support Ukraine in the short-term.