Cameron criticises bishops over refugee letter

PM David Cameron said the bishops were wrong to ask that he admit 50,000 refugees as Europe recommended.Reuters

David Cameron has criticised the bishops who wrote a letter condemning the UK's approach to refugees, coming close to saying they are encouraging people to make the dangerous journey to Europe.

Cameron has shared his frustration with the Church of England over Syria, suggesting that the 84 bishops who wrote to him were ignoring the £1bn in aid the UK has spent over recent years.

He said they were wrong to ask that he admit 50,000 refugees as Europe recommended. Anyone advocating that the UK be involved in the EU quota system is encouraging the refugees to venture on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, he said.

The bishops did not call on Britain to be involved in the quota in their letter to the prime minister, but said it should be brought into line with other countries by admitting 50,000 refugees, rather than the proposed 20,000 over the next five years.

Cameron highlighted to MPs that since 2012, the UK has given £1bn in aid in an attempt to encourage refugees to stay in their home countries. The 20,000 refugees that will be taken by the UK will come from camps in Syria's neighbouring countries.

"We want to see 1,000 refugees brought to Britain by Christmas. We will report on that after Christmas to tell you how we have done," said Cameron.

He then turned on the bishops:

"On the bishops no one has more respect for the bishops than me. But on this occasion, I think they are wrong and I will say so very frankly.

"I think the right thing to do is to take 20,000 refugees from the camps. If you become part of the mechanism distributing people around the EU you are encouraging people to make that dangerous journey.

"I would now like to see the bishops make a very clear statement, as [Jeremy Corbyn] just did, which is Britain has fulfilled our moral obligations by making a promise to the poorest countries and the poorest people in the world of spending 0.7 per cent of our gross national income on aid. How many other of the other big countries that made that promise have kept that promise. So let us hear an in-depth intervention from the bishops on that issue."