It comes to something when the rather bizarre Labour leadership contest forces David Cameron to defend his government’s approach to the refugee crisis. Yesterday Yvette Cooper described ministers’ refusal to take more refugees as ‘cowardly’ and ‘immoral’, and today the Prime Minister insisted that ‘I don’t think there is an answer that can be achieved simply by taking more and more refugees’. He said:
‘We have taken a number of genuine asylum seekers from Syrian refugee camps, we keep that under review, but we think the most important thing is to try to bring peace and stability to that part of the world.’
Incidentally, the Prime Minister’s favourite economist Paul Collier offers his solution to the crisis here. But Cameron’s approach at the moment is to talk about the causes of the crisis (some of which are countries whose conflicts Britain intervened in, and some of which are countries Britain hasn’t intervened in), and then to focus a lot on making Britain as unattractive as possible to migrants. Indeed, the government’s new catchphrase is not ‘long-term economic plan’, but ‘hostile environment’, a phrase being dropped into more and more briefing documents and speeches – which hasn’t gone down well with some ministers and advisers.
‘Hostile environment’ is the official name for the endless ‘crackdowns’ ministers have announced to imply they are in control of the situation. But this messaging has two risks. The first is that public opinion is changing in favour of Britain accepting more refugees, as people start to see distressing images of children drowning in the Mediterranean and pictures of German football stadiums festooned with ‘refugees welcome’ banners. The second is that even if the public does agree with the Conservative party’s current stance on refugees, the party will end up talking endlessly about immigration, which is something that never really benefits it anyway.