MPs revolt over failure to admit Syrian refugees as Yvette Cooper condemns minister's dismissal of 'token' impact

 

The Coalition is under mounting pressure from Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs to perform a U-turn to allow some Syrian refugees to come to Britain.

The Coalition is under mounting pressure from Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs to perform a U-turn to allow some Syrian refugees to come to Britain.

Mark Harper, the immigration minister, angered some MPs yesterday by saying the United Nations plan for Western countries to accept 30,000 of the 2.3 million Syrian refugees would have only a “token impact”.

In an emergency Commons debate, three Tory and four Liberal Democrat MPs demanded a rethink by the Government. Labour tabled an emergency Commons question after an alliance of 25 leading aid agencies and refugee groups wrote an open letter appealing to the Government to play its part, which was published in The Independent on Saturday.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has asked Western governments to accept vulnerable refugees trapped in neighbouring countries. Although 18 countries have signed up, it is still more than 10,000 places short of its target.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, told Mr Harper: “You described it as token. It is not token for a child given a home. You have dismissed this in favour of regional support but it isn’t an either/or. As every other major Western country understands, some vulnerable refugees need a different kind of help.”

Ms Cooper said it would be “shameful” for Britain to reject the UN request and we should not “turn our backs” on the crisis. Later she dismissed the Government’s response to her urgent question as “completely inadequate”.

 

The immigration minister insisted that the refugees wanted to go home to Syria rather than come to Britain.  He argued that the best way to help them was through the UK’s £600m of humanitarian aid, making it the second highest donor after the United States.

He told MPs: “This country is playing a leading role and we can be proud of that. We are taking this view because we believe this is the right way to get the maximum amount of help to the largest number of people. The £600m that we are spending … is helping hundreds of thousands of people in the region with food and water and medical attention. That I think is the right priority.”

Buildings in Aleppo that fell down following reported air raids by government warplanes; the government is under pressure to allow some Syrian refugees into Britain Buildings in Aleppo that fell down following reported air raids by government warplanes (AFP/Getty)
The Tory MP Margot James, a parliamentary private secretary and member of Downing Street’s policy board, told Mr Harper: “We are now being urged by the UN to take on some special cases. I would say that is not necessarily a tokenistic response if you could combine the sheer number of special cases that other countries might be prepared to take. Could you at least not rule out our participation in such a programme in the future?” The minister promised the Government’s policy would be kept under review.

Mark Pritchard, former secretary of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, asked: “Surely there is more room for more children, particularly vulnerable children, orphans and the most severely disabled, as a result of this conflict?” James Gray, Tory MP for North Wiltshire, told the minister Britain could admit some children at a very limited cost and not as an alternative to its humanitarian aid on the ground.

A Syrian refugee woman walks among tents at Karkamis' refugee camp A Syrian refugee woman walks among tents at Karkamis' refugee camp (AFP/Getty)
Nick Clegg has defended the Government’s policy but all the Liberal Democrat MPs who spoke in the debate called for a U-turn: Sir Menzies Campbell, the party’s former leader; John Leech; Julian Huppert and the former minister Sarah Teather. She warned the “catastrophe” could worsen as a result of Britain’s stance because countries such as Jordan and Lebanon might close their borders with Syria.

Read more:
Syria peace talks: Geneva II is the only hope for Syria – and Iran should have been part of it
Moment of truth for Syria, but Iran left in the cold by UN - and now Assad says he may stand in this year's presidential election  
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine