SNP urge action over Mediterranean refugee crisis

THE SNP urged David Cameron to do more to tackle the Mediterranean refugee crisis contrasting its “appalling record” with the shelter offered by Britain to victims of the Nazis.

Migrants wait to disembark from the Italian Coast Guard ship Peluso, on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa. Picture: AP

At the first Prime Minister’s Questions of the new term the Westminster SNP leader Angus Robertson looked beyond Scotland.

With the SNP returning 56 MPs, the SNP is now entitled to ask Mr Cameron two questions at the weekly joust with the Prime Minister.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Mr Robertson opened by saying it was a “stain on the conscience of Europe that thousands and thousands of refugees have been dying in the Mediterranean when many lives could have been saved.”

SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson. Picture: PA

The SNP Westminster leader said that the Royal Navy, Italian Coastguard and other European navies were making a “profound difference” to the crisis, but added that more needed to be done to offer refuge and asylum to those who require it.

Mr Cameron replied saying he wanted to see a Libyan government that he could work with to return people to Africa and stop the criminal trade.

“In the meantime everything Britain can do as a moral and upstanding nation to save lives we will do. We should be proud that we are doing,” the Prime Minister said.

Mr Robertson responded by contrasting today’s approach with that adopted 80 years ago when Britain was a haven for Jewish children threatened by the Nazis.

The SNP Westminster leader said the UK “offered refuge and asylum to those who were being pursued by the Nazis”

He added: “We all know about the Kindertransport and the children that were accepted and given refuge by the UK. Now in contrast the UK has an appalling record on resettlement of Syrian refugees and is not prepared to co-operate with other European nations on accepting refugees that have been rescued in the Mediterranean.

“Why does the Prime Minister think it is fair for Sweden and for Germany and other countries to accept refugees while the UK turns its back on them.”

Mr Cameron said he “took issue” with Mr Robertson’s comments. The Prime Minister said: “We have record of giving asylum in this country that we should be proud of. When people are fleeing torture and persecution they can find a home in Britain.

“Let’s be clear, the vast majority of people who are setting off into the Mediterranean are not asylum seekers. They are people seeking a better life. They have been tricked and fooled by criminal gangs and our role should be going after those criminal gangs, sorting out the situation in Libya. Turning back those boats where we can and making sure with our generous aid budget that this Government achieved – that we use that money to mend the countries from which these people are coming that is our moral responsibility.”

Earlier Mr Robertson had made reference to the late Charles Kennedy, a politician who in a recent TV documentary complained about patsy questions asked from the Government benches.

“It is just pathetic. I just can’t understand why anyone wants to get involved in a parliament where you are just handed out a couple of sentences written by somebody else and told to read it out,” Mr Kennedy told his interviewers when appeared on the BBC2 documentary “Inside the Commons”.

“Doesn’t the Prime Minister agree he is doing a great job this week and will do an even better one next week? What’s the point?”

Mr Kennedy wound not have seen the point of most of the sycophantic dolly-drops that came Mr Cameron’s way as he celebrated his position as the first Tory leader of a majority for nearly 20-years.

But the most generous dolly-drop came unwittingly from Cat Smith, the new Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood who asked the Prime Minister when the UK would retain its triple A credit rating status.

Her question, Mr Cameron claimed, was a sign of Labour progress. Labour, at last, were interested in fiscal responsibility, the Prime Minister said.

“There is a leadership election going on. Throw your hat into the ring. Your question made more sense than the rest of the them put together,” the Prime Minister said, casting his eye at the Labour benches. “Go for it,” he added.