The Prime Minister insisted the UK will stick to its “own approach” – taking 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years, but none of the migrants who have reached Europe already – after EC president Jean-Claude Juncker suggested that all EU states, rather than just members of the Schengen borderless zone, should agree to share the burden.
And he warned that focusing on migrants who have already reached Europe would merely encourage more to come.
Mr Cameron told MPs yesterday: “I think the British approach will be very clear, which is this must be a comprehensive approach.
“If all the focus is on redistributing quotas of refugees around Europe, that won’t solve the problem, and it actually sends a message that it is a good idea to get on a boat and make that perilous journey.
“Of course Europe has to reach its own answers for those countries that are part of Schengen.
“Britain, which has its own borders and the ability to make our own sovereign decisions about this, our approach is to say yes, we are a humanitarian nation with a moral conscience.
“We will take 20,000 Syrians but we want a comprehensive approach that solves the problems in Syria, that has a return path to Africa, that sees a new government in Libya. We have to address all these issues.”
Mr Cameron insisted he had spoken to German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande in recent days and they were clear that Britain was “playing its role”.
But he said more attention had to be paid to refugees still in the region around Syria. The “bigger reality” was that 11 million Syrians had been “pushed out of their homes, and just 3 per cent had come to Europe”.
“Those who have already arrived in Europe, they are at least safe,” he said.
Responding to a suggestion from acting Labour leader Harriet Harman that the UK should be taking more than 4,000 Syrian refugees this year, Mr Cameron said there was “no limit”.
“There is no limit to the amount of people that could come in the first year, let’s get on with it,” he said.
“But we have to find the people, we have to make sure they can be housed, we have to find schools for their children, we have to work with councils and voluntary bodies to make sure these people get a warm welcome from Britain.”
Mr Cameron also dismissed claims that child refugees would be automatically kicked out of the UK when they reached the age of 18, insisting the “assumption” was they would be granted leave to remain.
Last night a House of Commons motion calling for further UK government support for refugees was rejected by MPs.
The SNP-led debate on the refugee crisis ended in a vote on motion which had the backing of Labour, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the SDLP.
The government won the vote by a majority of 52, with MPs voting 331 to 259. It was the second debate on the issue in the past two days.
The SNP said it had used its first Opposition Day debate to again raise the issue because the response from the UK government had been “woefully inadequate”.
The SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson said the government’s position had already evolved dramatically in just a few days but claimed Britain must “rise to the challenge”.
Mr Robertson said: “This is the biggest refugee crisis in Europe, if not the world, since the Second World War. Just one week ago, the UK government’s position was 216 people on the vulnerable person’s programme was acceptable – thank goodness that is no longer the case.