Tory backbenchers hit out at David Cameron for U-turn on Syrian refugees
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Wednesday 29 January 2014
Some Conservative MPs have criticised the U-turn by David Cameron under which about 500 refugees from Syria will be allowed to enter Britain.
They broke a cross-party consensus on the issue even though Theresa May, the Home Secretary, sought to reassure them by announcing that the Syrians would be granted only temporary visas.
Andrew Bridgen, a Tory backbencher, said: "It is pure political posturing and tokenism. I think that people can see the political expediency of the U-turn.” He claimed the Government’s decision would make little difference to such a vast refugee crisis.
Sir Gerald Howarth, a former Defence minister, said the number of Syrian refugees should be limited to hundreds rather than thousands, arguing that Britain was a more densely populated country than France or Germany. In the Commons, Labour MPs cried “shame” when he said the UK should prioritise persecuted Syrian Christians.
The Syrians will be allowed to work during their stay in the UK. The Home Office has not yet decided how long their visas will last but they could be reviewed after three years on a case-by-case basis, taking account of individual circumstances and events in Syria.
Mrs May completed the Government’s U-turn when she announced that Britain would run its own Vulnerable Person Relocation scheme outside the United Nations’ resettlement programme, which aims to persuade western nations to admit 30,000 Syrian refugees.
The Home Secretary told the Commons that running a “parallel scheme” would give Britain the flexibility to help the vulnerable groups it wished to target – survivors of torture and violence, including sexual violence; and women and children at risk or in need of medical care. Mrs May insisted that the Government would still work “hand in hand” with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which will identify the people who will come to Britain.
The Government’s rethink headed off the prospect of a Commons defeat. Labour did not force a vote after a debate on the issue.
But Mrs May was criticised by Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs for not joining the UN programme and some Tories urged her to keep that decision under review. Bob Ainsworth, a former Labour Defence Secretary, warned: “If every single country demands the flexibility to set up a parallel and unilateral scheme then the entire effort will be undermined to some degree.”
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