Britain will “work all day” to try to get the Swift international payment system “turned off for Russia”, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said. But what exactly IS it?

What is Swift?

Ukraine has called for Moscow to be kicked out of the system, which allows financial transactions to be made around the world.

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Swift – which stands for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications – is a secure messaging system which allows banks to make fast payments across borders, effectively ensuring smooth international trade. Tens of millions of payments are made over Swift every day.

Why not just remove Russia, then?

Ukraine has called for sanctions against Russia to go further and the country’s foreign minister said allies would have blood on their hands if they did not remove Russia from Swift.

But there has been opposition to removing Russia from Swift in Europe over fears the fallout could hit other countries too. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (below) was reported to have said that certain measures should be “for a situation where it is necessary to do other things as well” when asked about Swift, while Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it was a “sensitive” issue “because it would also have an enormous impact on ourselves”.

The National:

Cutting Russia out of the system would cause delays and extra costs for the Russian economy, but reports suggested there were fears it would prevent mainland Europe from buying Russian gas, on which it relies.

Another concern is that Russia could then turn to an alternative system, potentially one developed by China, which could erode the power of the US dollar.

The measure has been used before, when Iran was blocked from the system due to its nuclear programme.

What is the UK doing about it?

Wallace suggested Boris Johnson would push for other world leaders to back the measure, which would be one of the most serious sanctions available, when he meets virtually with Nato allies on Friday.

A spokesman for Johnson said: “You’ll be aware that the PM raised this in his call with G7 leaders yesterday, I expect he will raise it at the Nato leaders meeting again today.”

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US President Joe Biden said on Thursday it was “always an option but right now that’s not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Wallace said: “Britain wants the Swift system to be turned off for Russia. But unfortunately the Swift system is not in our control – it’s not a unilateral decision.”

The National:

Wallace said the system is used “to move money around”, explaining: “When you pay Russia for its gas, it probably goes through the Swift system, for example. It is based in Belgium. It has a number of partners that control it, or nation states.”

He added: “We want it switched off. Other countries do not. We only have so many options. We are going to work all day to try and get it (switched off for Russia).”

What are other parties saying?

First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon responded to reports of reluctance over Swift, saying it was "not a time for half measures".

She wrote: "If the current situation doesn’t make the maximum possible sanctions - including exclusion from SWIFT - necessary and urgent, it’s hard to imagine what would. This is not a time for half measures."

The National:

Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said banning Russia from the system was a “now decision” which should be made as soon as possible.

“That is a now decision and the Labour Party would support it in full. We think it should happen now,” he told BBC Breakfast.