Priti Patel is examining plans for a third route for Ukrainian citizens to enter the UK amid chaos over the government’s response to the worst European refugee crisis for decades.
The home secretary is pushing through proposals for a new “humanitarian route”, sources from her department said, but could not say when this might be introduced.
The suggestion follows a chaotic morning when the Foreign Office minister James Cleverly and Downing Street both denied the UK was to offer Ukrainian refugees a new humanitarian-based route to the country.
They were responding to a report in the Sun, which quoted Priti Patelthe home secretary, as saying she was “investigating the legal options to create a humanitarian route”.
So far the UK has only been accepting those of the 1.3 million-plus Ukrainians to have fled the country since Russia invaded who have family connections in the UK or if they have been sponsored by a third party.
Home Office sources confirmed that “around 50” visas had been granted under the Ukraine family scheme by 10am on Sunday.
On Monday, a Home Office source said a third route was being considered, in line with the Sun’s claims.
“As the crisis is developing it is becoming clear some people have needs that go beyond what sponsorship can offer and she does not want to see anyone excluded – hence why [a separate humanitarian route is] being considered with partner governments,” the source said.
But Downing Street rubbished Patel’s claim, insisting that the two existing entry possibilities for Ukrainians were still the same.
Cleverly, the minister for Europe and America, also contradicted Patel, telling the BBC One Breakfast program there were no plans for a specific humanitarian route for Ukrainians.
“No, this is what has been in place previously,” he said. “What we need to do is we need to have some sort of process. We need to know who is here, where they are staying, what support they might need, if there are child protection issues.
“While all of us would want to throw our arms open and be as generous as possible, there does need to be a process.”
Ministers are facing pressure to do more, including from some Conservative backbenchers.
Asked on Monday if the UK refugee scheme had been a failure, Tom Tugendhat, the Tory MP who chairs the foreign affairs select committee, told LBC Radio: “It’s certainly not a success, is it? What we need to do is to make sure that we get the Home Office is absolutely delivering to make sure we get support for those who are most in need.
“The British people are extremely generous, you and I both know that. This isn’t some sort of illegal scam. This is perfectly obviously people fleeing for their lines and we need to be absolutely there to support them.”
The humanitarian plan being examined by Patel would be the third extension of the scheme. Ministers last week agreed to include both immediate and extended family members with links to the UK.
This means that as well as spouses, partners and children under 18, it also includes extended families such as older parents, children over 18, grandparents and grandchildren and siblings.
The Home Office also announced a sponsorship scheme that will allow communities, private sponsors or local authorities, to bring those forced to flee Ukraine to the UK.
However, all applicants are still having to undergo biometric and security checks, which have been blamed for the low number of applications having been approved as of Sunday morning.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “Without a clear commitment to provide a safe route to any Ukrainian who wants to come to the UK the government’s offer remains unkind and heartless. Instead of prevaricating the government must now quickly step up and take the lead in providing a warm welcome to people whose lives have been torn apart by war.
“We are also particularly concerned about reports that large numbers of Ukrainian children, who have been separated from their families getting across the border, are now alone. The government should respond immediately by ensuring they have safe passage to the UK and other EU countries.”