Labour To Force Commons Vote On Accepting Syrian Refugees

Labour party leader Ed Miliband speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London.
Labour party leader Ed Miliband speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London.
PA/PA Wire

The Labour Party intends to force a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday in an attempt to pressure the government into accepting a few hundred of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees.

Labour sources said the party was hoping to get "widespread support" across party lines given the "desperate" situation was both "urgent and very important".

In total the United Nations is asking countries to accept some 30,000 Syrians, of which a few hundred would come to Britain. Labour insisted the push to accept some refugees from the bloody civil war was "nothing to do with immigration", rather it was about helping relatively low numbers of people who were victims of rape and torture as well as children who had lost their parents.

The decision to hold a Commons vote was announced after Ed Miliband pressed David Cameron on the issue during prime minister's questions on Wednesday afternoon. He said the UK should "set an example" for the rest of the world to follow.

Cameron told MPs the was ready to take in some of the most vulnerable refugees from camps in and around Syria. But he said Britain was already delivering a large amount of aid to help Syrians affected by the war and that a "small quota" system would not solve the larger problem.

Miliband said Britain could provide both humanitarian assistance on the ground as well as let in a few hundred refugees who were most at risk.

In keeping with a deliberate plan for Miliband to try and appear more statesmanlike at prime minister's questions, Labour sources said they did not want to over politicise the issue but that it was "important we see some more movement from the prime minister" on refugees.

There is likely to be substantial support for the Labour position from the Lib Dem and Tory benches. Former Lib Dem leader Sir Ming Campbell told The Huffington Post UK that he thought the government was currently in the wrong place on the issue of refugees from Syria.

The veteran MP, who is a member of the foreign affairs committee, said while he would wait to see the precise wording of Labour's motion, particularly it's "tone", before deciding whether to vote with the Opposition, he had made his position "clear" that Britain should accept few hundred of those who have suffered most.

"Are we now so intimidated by Ukip that we have abandoned our humanity?" he told the Commons on Monday. "There is no dispute that the government have led the way in the provision of financial aid; nor is there any dispute that the government have helped to lead the way in relation to a political settlement, but the children of Syria have suffered grievously. "

Labour has previously said that the UK should take in a few hundred refugees under the UN scheme, and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said earlier this week that it would be "shameful" for Britain to refuse to take part.

William Hague has urged the warring sides in the Syrian civil war to "put an end to the devastation of your country" by staying at the negotiating table, as peace talks to end the three-year conflict opened in Switzerland.

Speaking at the "Geneva II" conference today, Hague called for a firm timetable for the creation of a transitional government acceptable to both sides, along with ceasefire agreements to allow full and immediate humanitarian access to the millions of people who have been forced from their homes by the fighting.

US secretary of state John Kerry told the conference there was "no way" that Syria's president Bashar Assad can form part of any future government for the Middle Eastern state.

Representatives of both the Assad regime and the main opposition groups have gathered in the town of Montreux for the biggest diplomatic push yet to halt the bloodshed which has cost more than 130,000 lives and sparked a massive humanitarian emergency.