George Osborne has given the first official comments today regarding the ongoing migrant crisis. The Chancellor told Sky News he was ‘very distressed’ at the picture on the front pages of today’s newspapers and argued criminal gangs are responsible for the death of the drowned boy:
‘(There is no) person who would not be very shocked by that picture – and I was very distressed when I saw it myself this morning ‑ of that poor boy lying dead on the beach. We know there is not a simple answer to this crisis. What you need to do is first of all tackle Isis and the criminal gangs who killed that boy, you’ve got to make sure the aid keeps coming. We’ve put £1 billion of overseas aid in to help these desperate people. And, of course, Britain has always been a home to real asylum seekers, genuine refugees. We’ve taken 5,000 people from the Syrian conflict. We will go on taking people and keeping it under review. Britain has been playing a leading role and it will continue to do so.’
While some Conservatives are urging the government to take in more refugees, Osborne instead focused on the role of Isis and people traffickers. But he acknowledged there is more that can be done:
‘Of course, what we need to do to help those desperate families is we’ve got to break up the criminal gangs, who are trafficking people and lead to that boy’s death. We’ve got to defeat Isis which is the thing they’re fleeing. We’ve got to make sure aid is going there to help those families…and we’ve got to go on taking genuine refugees, real asylum seekers.’
Osborne is right to say there is no simple solution to this problem and the focus should be on the bigger issue as well as what can be done right now. But that is unlikely to keep the media at bay — the ever-careful Chancellor avoided answering the main question on everyone’s lips: will the government take more migrants?
UPDATE: David Cameron has also spoken this afternoon about the pictures and the current situation:
‘Britain is a moral nation and we will fulfil our moral responsibilities. That’s why I sent the Royal Navy to the Mediterranean and saved thousands of lives. That’s why Britain meets our commitment of 0.7 per cent of our economy spent on aid – much of which goes to North Africa, goes to the Mediterranean, to help those countries. That is why Britain is the second-biggest bilateral donor in the world to those Syrian refugee camps and that is why, yes, we are taking thousands of Syrian refugees and we will continue to do that’.
‘As I said yesterday, we will keep that under review. But as I also said yesterday, there’s isn’t a solution to this problem that is simply about taking people. We need a comprehensive solution, a new government in Libya, we need to deal with the problems in Syria.’