Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, will address MPs via video link from Kyiv on Tuesday afternoon, where he is expected to plead for more arms and to repeat a call for a no-fly zone even though it has been rejected by Nato.
In a first, the leader’s speech will be broadcast direct into the Commons chamber with formal business suspended so MPs can listen in with the help of simultaneous translation provided over headsets at 5pm.
Ukrainian sources said he was expected to ask Britain to step up its support of arms – and to call for a change of heart in implementing a no-fly zone. “This is the No 1 issue for us. Crucial and vital,” an official said.
Zelenskiy has made a string of often dramatic speeches via video link to western leaders since the start of the war. On Saturday, he made a “desparate plea” to 280 members of the US Congress for more aircraft, drones and anti-aircraft missiles.
But while the west has been willing to supply Ukraine with increasing amounts of anti-tank and anti-air missiles to help blunt the Russian advance, both Britain and Nato have repeatedly rejected calls for a no-fly zone.
On Sunday, Dominic Raab, the justice secretary, and the head of the armed forces, Adm Tony Radakin, said a no-fly zone risked starting a general war with Russia – and would not halt the artillery shelling that has been targeting Ukrainians in cities such as Kharkiv and Mariupol.
“We’re not going to get ourselves into a direct military conflict with Putin because that would be a massive escalation, but also that feeds Putin’s narrative,” Raab said. A renewed plea from Zelenskiy will not change the government’s mind, but could have a significant effect on British public opinion.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons speaker, said he had given permission for the special address to take place. “Every parliamentarian wants to hear directly from the president,” he said. However, the Commons authorities said Zelenskiy would not be taking questions from the MPs present.