Ukrainian politicians ‘buddy’ with British MPs

(l to r: Jeffrey Donaldson MP; Sergei Alieksieiev MP; Yuri Levchenko MP; Philip Davies MP; HE Natalia Galibarenko, Ambassador of Ukraine to the UK; Sir Gerald Howarth, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ukraine; Natalya Katser-Buchkovska MP; Jonathan Djanogly MP)

Westminster Foundation for Democracy helps share understanding about British politics overseas, but it is not the only source of information for MPs working in other parliaments.

“I’m a big fan of Yes, Minister,” Yuri Levchenko, a Ukrainian MP visiting the Houses of Parliament, said earlier this week. “This visit is a great opportunity to see how it really works on the inside.”

The antics of fictional politician Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey, the unruffled civil servant who carefully guides him through his time in power, are “satirical”, as Mr Levchenko pointed out. But the British MPs present at the Ukraine All-Party Parliamentary Group where Mr Levchenko was speaking freely accepted the programme contains more than a grain of truth. For British MPs, APPG Chair Sir Gerald Howarth joked, Yes, Minister is an “instruction manual”. WFD prefers to offer visiting MPs insight into British parliamentary practise through more formal methods – including the ‘buddy’ scheme linking British parliamentarians with Ukrainian MPs taking place this week.

This approach reflects WFD’s commitment to exploring new ways of innovative programming. Mr Levchenko, whose party has five MPs in the Verkhovna Rada, has been partnered with Jeffrey Donaldson, a WFD board member and Democratic Unionist Party MP. Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly was accompanied by Natalya Katser-Buchkovska, a member of the Rada’s Sustainable Development Committee; this week she attended sessions of the Commons’ Energy and Climate Change Committee. Sergei Alieksieiev is shadowing Philip Davies, the Shipley MP, who has taken Mr Alieksieiev to Bradford Crown Court. “I am very grateful for the chance to exchange experiences,” Mr Alieksieiev told the all-party group meeting. “I would like to stress that there is not so much populism in the British parliament; all the decisions are made professionally.”

Such a remark could not be made without attracting self-deprecating comments from the British MPs present. They were full of praise for the Ukrainian MPs, applauding their resolve in dealing with a political and security crisis. “We want to help them get where they want to be,” Mr Donaldson said. Mr Howarth spoke of the Budapest Memorandum and Britain’s “responsibility to support Ukraine at this difficult time”. Stephen Pound, a Labour MP, described Ukraine’s significance in terms of both its size and its symbolism. “It’s important we realise there is a great future of collaboration with Ukraine as a European nation,” he said. “It is an extremely and increasingly important country.”

The British political commitment to Ukraine is reflected in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s three priorities for the country, as described by Jason Rheinberg. These are returning Ukraine to its sovereign borders; helping Ukraine reform; and strengthening its democratic institutions, “an extremely important part of that road ahead”. WFD seeks to contribute to this. Our programme, in collaboration with GIZ, has established a Financial and Economic Analysis Office which can help strengthen the Rada’s financial scrutiny work. “I would like to thank WFD for helping us,” Natalya Katser-Buchkovska said. “There are a lot of laws which need economic analysis, and now we have a chance to receive really high quality expertise. This is really valuable for us.”

Improved financial scrutiny can help expand the Rada’s role in anti-corruption, an important part of the present government’s reform efforts – and a point of political contention reflected in the comments of the Ukrainian MPs present. Their debates on this issue and others will continue in the Rada. As they do so, the FEAO and WFD stand ready to support their work.

“We’ve found a group of members of the Rada who are extremely motivated but working in difficult circumstances,” Anthony Smith, WFD Chief Executive, told the group. WFD aims to work with the Rada’s staff “as they seek to refocus their support to MPs for many years to come… We want to be there for the long-term.” Just as WFD has helped individual MPs develop relationships with their British counterparts, so we aim to harness British expertise to help strengthen the Rada.

As Mr Howarth put it: “The new members of the Rada are very well motivated, it’s been most encouraging for us. The future of Ukraine rests on some of those who are here today, and your colleagues in Kyiv.”

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