AT Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, David Cameron was clear that he has no intention of letting the UK take part in the European Commission’s proposal to redistribute 160,000 migrants around the continent.
He was adamant the UK would stick to its “own approach” on the day the EC President Jean-Claude Juncker announced his plan to provide shelter for those seeking an end to persecution and conflict.
Given that the UK opted out of the Schengen agreement, which abolished internal borders within Europe, Cameron is not obliged to comply with Juncker’s plan.
Instead, the Prime Minister will press ahead with his pledge for the UK to take 20,000 refugees from camps on the borders of Syria over the next five years.
While this move is welcome in so far as it goes, there are many who believe the UK can and should do more.
The cynical will claim that Cameron’s offer was simply a response to public horror at the deeply moving photograph that brought the tragic nature of the humanitarian crisis sweeping Europe into sharp focus.
Would Cameron have acted if the public had not seen the shocking image from a Turkish beach of the lifeless body of a young Syrian boy trying to escape to Greece? There are those who suspect not. The suspicion that Cameron has made a token gesture will linger unless more effective action is taken.
Under Juncker’s proposals, other countries are doing more than the UK. Germany will take 40,000 people and France more than 30,000.
Announcing the plans in his annual state of the union address, Juncker said tackling the crisis was a “matter of humanity and human dignity”. He also said there was a “lack of Europe in this union and a lack of union in this union”. For the European Union to succeed, there must be shared responsibility and if the UK wants to reap the benefits of membership it must also play its part.
At a time when the UK’s very future in Europe is up for debate as the EU referendum approaches, Cameron is sending out the wrong signal.
If he is serious heading off an exit vote by renegotiating a better deal for the UK in Europe, the Prime Minister would be well advised to shoulder more responsibility for the crisis that is unfolding in front of us.
By contributing more, Cameron would send out a message that the UK is serious about EU membership.
At the moment it is difficult to escape the feeling that Cameron is getting away with opting out of formal EU migration arrangements by taking action purely on his own terms.
Surely it would be better to bear more responsibility now rather than wait for another terrible tragedy to spur the UK into doing its bit?
Engage brain before mouth, Frank
THE former Labour MSP and Scottish Executive minister Frank McAveety has engineered quite a political comeback. On the cusp of being installed as the leader of of Glasgow City Council, the gallus Glaswegian is back where he wants to be – at the forefront of Scottish public life.
It has been a rollercoaster ride for the man whose career has had more than its fair share of ups and downs.
As culture minister he was forced to apologise after claiming he had been late for a parliamentary session, because he had been “unavoidably detained” at an Arts Council Book Awards ceremony.
It was with some glee that journalists were able to point out that, in fact, he had been eating pie and tatties in the parliament canteen. As is the way of these things the resulting stushie was christened “piegate”.
Even less edifying than “pie-gate” was his resignation as Holyrood’s petition committee some years later after making some hideously ill-chosen remarks about a teenage girl in the parliament’s public gallery. McAveety quit when he was overheard describing her as “dark and dusky” with “that Filipino look – the kind you’d see in a Gauguin painting. There’s a wee bit of culture”.
McAveety’s mortification and deep remorse when his comments were picked up were plain for all to see. For that reason this newspaper does not begrudge him another chance to grasp the political limelight. Buried somewhere beneath the rotten patter lies an astute political brain which has much to offer Scotland’s largest city. Welcome back Frank, but think before you speak this time.