Boris Johnson has refused to say whether the government is considering a third, more open route for the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing war.
It comes after the home secretary, Priti Patel, sparked confusion as she appeared to float a new scheme that would help those without family ties and sponsors in the UK.
She said the Home Office was examining “legal options” to create a “humanitarian route”, which would offer all Ukrainian refugees the right to come to Britain regardless of family links.
But it was not immediately clear whether this referred to a sponsorship scheme that had already been announced, with Europe minister James Cleverly saying on Monday there had been no changes over the weekend.
Asked about the reports, the prime minister was not explicit, but appeared to play down suggestions a third route for refugees was being considered.
“What we won’t do is have a system where people can come into the UK without any checks or controls at all. I don’t think that is the right approach,” he told reporters.
“But what we will do is have a system that is very, very generous. As the situation in Ukraine deteriorates, people are going to want to see this country open our arms to people fleeing persecution, fleeing a war zone.
“I think people who have spare rooms, who want to receive people coming from Ukraine, will want us to have a system that enables them to do that. And that is already happening.”
According to the UN Refugee Agency, which has described the situation as the “fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II”, and estimated 1.5 million people have now fled Ukraine since the outbreak of war.
But on Sunday, the Home Office also provoked outrage, revealing that “around 50” visas for Ukrainians with family ties in the UK had been approved as of 10 am Sunday while 5,535 applications had been completed.
Tackled on the figure that just 50 visas have been approved, the prime minister said he was “not sure those numbers are right — but we’re processing thousands” of applications.
But when pressed for a specific number, Mr Johnson declined, saying: “I can’t give you the number, we’re processing thousands right now and will continue to make sure we have a very generous approach”.
Earlier, the Scottish prime minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted the UK government was “not doing anywhere near enough” to help those fleeing the “horror” of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and challenged politicians to make it easier for those escaping conflict.
Ms Sturgeon said it was “unconscionable” that those who have made difficult journeys to escape the fighting and shelling had to “jump through bureaucratic hoops” and apply for a visa before they can enter the UK.
As rising numbers of Ukrainians look to leave their country in the wake of the Russian invasion, the first minister stressed: “All countries must step up and fully play their part, and the UK is not yet doing so.”
A government spokesperson said: “Last week we announced a new sponsorship route which will allow Ukrainians with no family ties to the UK to be sponsored to come to the UK.
“This is alongside our Ukraine Family Scheme, which has already seen thousands of people apply, as well as changes to visas so that people can stay in the UK safely.
“The routes we have put in place follow extensive engagement with Ukrainian partners. This is a rapidly moving and complex picture and as the situation develops we will continue to keep our support under constant review.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.