Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have disagreed over cluster bombs being sent to Ukraine by the US. The Prime Minister has said Britain “discourages” the use of cluster munitions after US President Joe Biden agreed to send the bombs to help Kyiv fight Russia. Mr Sunak said on Saturday Britain is one of 123 signatories of a convention banning their use after Mr Biden made the “difficult decision”.
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Mr Sunak, who is due to meet Mr Biden in London on Monday ahead of a NATO summit, said the UK is supporting Kyiv by providing tanks and long-range weapons.
Mr Biden has faced criticism for supplying the munitions, which are banned by many allies in the defence alliance because of their ability to kill civilians.
The US leader sought to justify the bombs as being necessary because the “Ukrainians are running out of ammunition”, vowing they would be a temporary measure to stop Moscow’s tanks.
But Mr Sunak chose not to back the move during a by-election campaign stop in Selby, pointing to the UK’s commitment to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
He said: “Well, the UK is signatory to a convention which prohibits the production or use of cluster munitions and discourages their use.
“We will continue to do our part to support Ukraine against Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion, but we’ve done that by providing heavy battle tanks and most recently long-range weapons, and hopefully all countries can continue to support Ukraine.
“Russia’s act of barbarism is causing untold suffering to millions of people.
“It’s right that we collectively stand up to it and I’ll be heading off to the Nato summit next week in Vilnius, where we will be discussing exactly this with our allies how we can strengthen our support for Ukraine.”
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But Mr Johnson gave his full backing to Mr Biden’s “difficult but brave decision” to supply cluster munitions to Kyiv.
The former PM said: “He is right. These are terrible weapons. But they have been used by Putin for over a year in his programme of indiscriminate slaughter of an entirely innocent people.
“The faster we help the Ukrainians to win, the more lives we will save all round. And never forget – it is the Ukrainians who will use these weapons on their own soil, and to protect themselves.”
Washington has argued Kyiv has provided assurances it will not use cluster bombs in urban areas but some NATO allies are bound to be uneasy over their transfer.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the US for the “timely, broad and much-needed defence aid package” that will “bring Ukraine closer to victory over the enemy, and democracy to victory over dictatorship”.
The munitions are bound to feature in talks at the summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday, where talks on Ukraine’s membership bid to NATO will feature.
The weapons deploy a large number of bomblets across a wide area, but those which are unexploded can continue to pose a threat to civilians long after conflicts end.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions prohibits their use or stockpiling because of their indiscriminate effect on civilian populations. The US, Ukraine and Russia are not signatories. Both Moscow and Kyiv have used cluster munitions already in the war.
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