Press conference reveals just how far Europe is willing to move on sanctions

British government denies that only 50 refugees without immediate family in Britain have been admitted

Monday's press conference in Downing Street represented a reality check on how far and how fast Europe is willing to move in sanctioning Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Oil prices had been surging all morning amid talk of an imminent embargo on Russian oil after US secretary of state Anthony Blinken suggested on Sunday that he was in talks with European allies about such a step.

“We are now talking to our European partners and allies to look in a co-ordinated way at the prospect of banning the import of Russian oil while making sure that there is still an appropriate supply of oil in world markets,” he told CNN.

In keeping with his country's reputation for plain speaking, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte poured cold water on the idea, saying that forcing companies to stop doing business with Russia now would have enormous consequences.

“It would basically undermine supply chains the world over, particularly in Europe. It would also have an impact on Ukraine itself,” he said.

Johnson agreed, although he said he shared Blinken's view that the goal should be reducing dependence on Russian oil and gas. But he pointed out that the success of the alliance against Russia so far had been in the unity shown since the invasion began.

The spirit of unity did not stop the prime minister from making dubious claims about Britain’s record in accepting refugees. The government has dismissed claims that only 50 refugees without immediate family in Britain have been admitted.

Refugees

But home secretary Priti Patel faced a severe grilling from MPs, many of them on her own benches, over her officials' obstructive approach to refugees attempting to cross from Calais. Roger Gale contrasted the home office's approach today with that of an earlier Conservative government to people like Patel's family who fled from Uganda 50 years ago.

“I have been told that people arriving at Calais are being told that they have to go to Paris or Brussels to get visas. Is that correct or not?” he said. “In 1972 we took into Kent thousands of Ugandan Asians. We did it almost overnight and without any difficulty at all.”

Despite criticism of the government’s response to the refugee issue and its weak action against Russian oligarchs, polls suggest that the public approves of its handling of the crisis. A new poll on Thursday showed Johnson’s approval rating still below water at minus seven but it is his best showing since last November.