David Cameron: Bishops are wrong over Syrian crisis

Posted On: 
19th October 2015

David Cameron has hit back at criticism from a group of bishops about Britain’s response to the refugee crisis, as he revealed he wanted 1,000 vulnerable Syrians to arrive by Christmas.

David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions, 25/03/15

Last month 84 Church of England bishops wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to accept at least 50,000 people by 2020.

The Government’s current programme would see 20,000 brought in from camps in Syria and neighbouring countries over the next five years.

The Prime Minister said he believed the bishops were “wrong”, and he challenged them to praise the UK’s aid contribution to the humanitarian crisis emerging from the Syrian war.

“No one has more respect for the bishops than me, but on this occasion, yes, I think they’re wrong and I’ll say so very frankly,” Mr Cameron told the House of Commons this afternoon.

“I think actually the right thing to do is to take 20,000 refugees from the camps and, if you become part of the mechanism of distributing people around the European Union, you’re encouraging people to make that dangerous journey.

“And I would now like to see the bishops to make a very clear statement... which is that Britain has fulfilled our moral obligations by making a promise to the poorest countries and the poorest people in the world of spending 0.7% our gross national income on aid. And how many other of the big countries that made that promise have kept that promise? So let’s hear an in-depth intervention from the bishops on that issue.”

CHRISTMAS TARGET

For the first time, Mr Cameron put a figure on how many of the 20,000 Syrian refugees he expected to arrive by the end of the year.

“We want to see 1,000 refugees brought to Britain by Christmas and we’ll report on that after Christmas to tell you how we have done.”

Last week in an appearance before a Commons select committee, Richard Harrington, the minister with responsibility for the Syrian refugee programme, refused to say how many Syrian refugees had already come to the UK despite repeated questioning.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on the Government to accept some people who had already travelled to Europe.

And Yvette Cooper, who is leading a Labour taskforce on the refugee crisis, described the Government’s current plan as “very slow” and said the numbers were “not enough”.