'Could Highgate mansions house Ukrainian refugees?'

Squatters occupying a mansion in Belgrave Square, central London

Squatters occupying a mansion in Belgrave Square, central London - Credit: PA

While squatters have "liberated" a central London mansion apparently owned by a Russian oligarch, Michael Gove has raised the prospect of using the homes of sanctioned individuals to house Ukrainian refugees.

Were those occupying the Belgrave Square property inspired by the housing and communities secretary?

Almost certainly not, unless Mr Gove's immersion in rave culture is somewhat deeper than his Aberdeen nightclub manoeuvres suggest.

But the messages are remarkably similar. 

One occupier said on Monday: “We have opened the building to house Ukrainian refugees and refugees from all nations.”

Mr Gove told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “I want to explore an option which would allow us to use the homes and properties of sanctioned individuals – as long as they are sanctioned – for humanitarian and other purposes.”

He said there is "quite a high legal bar to cross" but in Highgate, if Mr Gove were to follow through with his proposal, this could mean refugee families housed next to Hampstead Heath.

The government has already imposed a travel ban and a full asset freezes on Alisher Usmanov, who is part of Putin's inner circle, according to the government, and owns Beechwood House

A near neighbour in Hampstead Lane is Ukraine-born Russian Mikhail Fridman who owns Athlone House.

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The UK has not sanctioned Mr Fridman, who is the founder of the company behind Russia's Alfa Bank, but the EU has.

Mr Fridman has said he is contesting those sanctions and that the war is a "tragedy".

If the UK were to follow the EU's lead, and then to repurpose both properties, the symbolism would be remarkable: refugees from an unjust war housed in one of the world's most desirable neighbourhoods.

It's highly unlikely, but unlikely events are making a habit of happening.

Mr Gove said he is not talking about "permanent confiscation" of properties but, even still, are the mansion's in the best configuration for the job? Perhaps in the coming months we might be reporting on Heath-side planning applications with a difference...?