One of the notable things about David Cameron in the months after winning the election has been quite how impatient and keen he is to get on with important reforms. As I wrote last week, the Prime Minister seems to have been invigorated by his victory, rather than lapsing into complacency – and that is largely a very good thing.
But on one issue, he hasn’t stayed quite up to speed. Perhaps it’s because it’s not a domestic reform issue, or perhaps it’s because it relates to a question that politicians seem increasingly reluctant to address, which is Britain’s role in the world, but whatever it is, the government has ended up appearing rather behind on the refugee crisis. Even the Opposition has managed to get ahead of Cameron on this issue, which is impressive given it hasn’t yet elected a leader – and looks likely to elect someone who will cause more turmoil inside the party than in politics more widely.
But the Prime Minister’s announcement, after considerable pressure from the Opposition, the media and Cameron’s own MPs and ministers, that Britain will take ‘thousands more Syrian refugees’, came better late than never today. He said in a press conference in Portugal that Britain will take ‘thousands more refugees’ and ‘we will continue with our approach of taking them from the refugee camps’ as this means they do not have to endure the hellish journey in unsafe boats that led to the drowning of three-yead-old Aylan Kurdi, his brother and his mother earlier this week. The government will set out more details of this next week, Cameron said.
One thing that is also odd, alongside the apparent inaction from the government up to this point, is that the government failed to correct the claim that Britain had taken in just 216 Syrian refugees. The Prime Minister today said that this figure was closer to 5,000 – something the Full Fact website pointed out yesterday. But the 216 figure has been circulating for days and has contributed to the impression that this government doesn’t care: why weren’t ministers more active in shutting that down?