LABOUR leadership contender Yvette Cooper has accused the UK government of cowardice in failing to stand up to the conventional wisdom on immigration and failing to ensure Britain takes its fair share of asylum seekers.
In a major speech the shadow home secretary said Britain should be prepared to open its doors to refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.
Ms Cooper acknowledged her comments would be controversial at a time of heightened concern about immigration. But in the face of the crisis in the Mediterranean, with tens of thousands risking their lives in an attempt to reach safety in Europe, she said that it was essential to separate out the issue of asylum from the wider immigration debate.
“This has become a humanitarian crisis on a scale we have not seen on our continent since the Second World War. Yet we seem paralysed to respond,” she said.
“And it’s not just us. All Europe is struggling to respond. We can’t carry on like this. It’s immoral, it’s cowardly and it’s not the British way.”
She contrasted Britain’s offer to take a few hundred Syrian refugees through a United Nations programme to the 1930s when within months 10,000 Jewish children fleeing the Nazis were accepted.
“We have to step up to the plate. This has become a test not just of Europe’s values, but also of the EU’s resilience and ability to respond. And so far our continent has been found still wanting,” she said.
“And it is a test of British values too – of whether we will again be able to reach out to the rest of the world and help as we have done in previous generations, or whether we will turn inwards and turn our backs instead. And so far our country has been found still wanting too.”
Responding, David Cameron’s spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister has spoken previously about the need for countries to work together to look at different solutions.
“The UK has a proud history of providing refuge to those in need and we should continue to do so, while also tackling illegal economic migration.”