UK to train Ukrainian pilots 'as quickly as humanly possible' but Ben Wallace says no fighter jets in short term

9 February 2023, 10:30 | Updated: 9 February 2023, 17:20

Volodymyr Zelenskyy is trying to whip up support for a transfer of fighter jets from Europe
Volodymyr Zelenskyy is trying to whip up support for a transfer of fighter jets from Europe. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

The UK will train Ukrainian pilots to fly NATO jets "as quickly as humanly possible", Downing Street has said, but Defence Secretary Ben Wallace warned this may not happen until "post-conflict".

Mr Wallace said that providing jets could take months and Britain will instead concentrate on sending long range missiles and drones.

Rishi Sunak, who promised further support for Ukraine Mr Zelensky's visit top the UK, said the offer of pilot training was a "first step", which could lead to the eventual supply of fighter planes.

"We're talking about further support, potentially with aircraft as well," the Prime Minister said.

"The important first step of that journey is to make sure that we provide the training for Ukrainian pilots to be able to use that very sophisticated equipment."

The UK is "exploring how quickly this can be done," No 10 said in a briefing.

Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hold a news conference at an army camp
Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hold a news conference at an army camp. Picture: Getty

Mr Zelenskyy asked the UK for jets on Wednesday, when he met with King Charles and Rishi Sunak and made a historic address to Parliament in Westminster Hall.

He addressed the European Parliament on Thursday after meeting with Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz in Paris.

But despite his pleas, Mr Wallace said: "The first thing to recognise is that this is not a sort of immediate, 'have a look and hand over a whole load of aeroplanes'.

"Britain knows what Ukraine needs and is very happy to help in many ways trying to achieve the effect."

Read more: Send Ukraine jets and you're responsible for the consequences: Putin's chilling threat to UK after Zelenskyy's plea

Ben Wallace put the brakes on any transfer of fighter jets
Ben Wallace put the brakes on any transfer of fighter jets. Picture: Alamy

He added: "If I gave away all the fighter jets, and all the tanks, that would mean taking them out of Estonia and taking them out of Britain, and there are lots of obligations here."

Mr Wallace was asked to weigh up what kind of help Britain can send Ukraine, having already pledged Challenger 2 tanks and AS-90 self-propelled artillery most recently. It also trains up Ukrainian soldiers.

The decision against sending Typhoon jets in the immediate term comes despite Mr Sunak saying "nothing is off the table" – though Downing Street later said it would not be practical to send them.

Read more: 'He's the best': Ukrainians react to Zelenskyy's visit to the UK

Mr Sunak's former boss Boris Johnson, who was close with Mr Zelenskyy and appears to be popular in Ukraine thanks to his early support for Kyiv, hit back at the idea.

Speaking after Mr Zelenskyy's speech, Mr Johnson agreed his message to the PM was "get on with it" and said: "The important thing now is that his message is heard. What he's asking for is the tools to finish the job – that's all he wants.

Mr Zelenskyy met with Mr Macron and Mr Scholz
Mr Zelenskyy met with Mr Macron and Mr Scholz. Picture: Alamy

"He just wants the ability to use the long-range missiles - the deep fryers as they're called - to take out Putin's positions and he wants the ability to keep his country safe with more tanks and planes. His appeal was very, very interesting for the focus he put on aviation and on planes."

He added: "It can be done and the point I'd make is the faster we do it the better. The faster we do it, the bigger the saving in life, the bigger the saving in our defence expenditure.

"Ultimately once Putin is beaten in Ukraine, the world is going to be a much, much safer place, so helping the Ukrainians now is a massive down payment on future security."

Speaking after a huge round of applause at Westminster Hall, Mr Zelenskyy said fighter jets were key to fending off Russia.

He gave speaker of the House of Commons Sir Linsday Hoyle a white fighter jet helmet that said on the side: "We have freedom, give us wings to protect it."

He added: "I trust this symbol will help us with our next coalition, the coalition of planes... wings for freedom."

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

The Prince Albert memorial has been 'considered offensive'

Prince Albert Memorial branded 'offensive' as it reflects 'Victorian view of the world'

Lord Falconer has said 'the time has come' for assisted dying reform

'The time has come': Lord Falconer calls for 'significant' assisted dying reform ahead of his new bill being introduced

An independent review recommended teachers and nurses get 5.5% pay rises

'There's also a cost to no deal': Treasury minister hints at above-inflation pay rise for public sector workers

Yvette Cooper vows to crackdown on illegal immigration

Beauty salons and car washes to be targeted in illegal immigration blitz as Home Secretary redeploys Rwanda scheme staff

Sarah Justine Packwood, 54, and her husband, Brett Clibbery, 70.

Mystery as Brit woman and husband attempting to cross Atlantic found dead in lifeboat one month after going missing

Exclusive
Five days of big names: LBC announces guest host week

Five days of big names: LBC announces guest host week

Rachel Reeves

Rachel Reeves vows 'big bang' for pensions as government launches review in bid to boost investment and savings

Amanda Abbington has claimed Giovanni Pernice was 'cruel and abusive'.

Strictly's Amanda Abbington breaks silence over 'cruel' Giovanni Pernice - as first female pro under fire

Donald Trump spoke at a rally for the first time since he was shot in the ear

Donald Trump says he ‘took a bullet for democracy’ at first rally since assassination attempt

A burnt out car in the Leeds suburb of Harehills, after vehicles were set on fire and a police car was overturned as residents were warned to stay home following an outbreak of disorder on Thursday evening. Picture date: Friday July 19, 2024.

Man charged with arson after bus set on fire in Leeds riots over children allegedly removed from local family

Craig Revel Horwood has said the recent allegations have come as a 'shock' to him

Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood breaks silence after 'shock' of dancing show's abuse allegations

A series of Israeli strikes have been launched against the Houthi-controlled port city of Hodeidah in Yemen

Israel launches series of air strikes on Houthi-controlled city in Yemen day after group claim deadly attack on Tel Aviv

Jay Slater and his mum, Debbie Duncan

Jay Slater's GoFundMe page hits £70k after teen's mum appeals for funeral donations

Holidaymakers have been left stranded during global IT outage

'We're not being given any information': Furious holidaymaker stranded in Rhodes tells of travel hell after IT outage

A burnt out car in the Leeds suburb of Harehills, after vehicles were set on fire and a police car was overturned as residents were warned to stay home following an outbreak of disorder on Thursday evening. Picture date: Friday July 19, 2024.

Further unrest in Leeds as hundreds take to streets to 'demand return of children' allegedly removed from local family

NHS England has warned of "continued disruption" to GP services into next week.

NHS warns of GP disruption after global IT outage as trains, planes and roads remain in chaos leaving Brits stranded