Austria and Germany have condemned David Cameron’s refusal to take any more Syrian refugees – a move which may damage the Prime Minister’s attempts to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership of the EU.
The Daily Mail reports that both countries are key allies in Mr Cameron’s bid to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership, but relations have soured as a result of the Prime Minister’s stance on not receiving more refugees.
The UK had agreed to take the most vulnerable Syrian refugees, such as those with mental health conditions.
However, Austria and Germany have warned that that “solidarity is not a one-way street” and Mr Cameron’s hopes of renegotiating EU membership will be damaged if he behaves as though the UK is “out of the club”.
Britain is not a member of the Schengen area of EU member states, which allow freedom of movement.
Hungary is currently refusing to allow around 2,000 refugees and migrants to travel by train to Germany and Austria – and says it is the only member state maintaining the EU’s borders.
Germany has agreed to accept more migrants from Africa and the Middle East, who are being transported by train to Munich for processing. Germany is anticipating at least 800,000 asylum applications this year and is calling for a fair distribution of migrants and refugees across Europe.
The UK has received 25,771 asylum applications in the year ending June 2015, according to Home Office figures – but recent figures also show that annual net migration to the UK has increased to 330,000.
There are also an estimated 8.3m people living in the UK who were born overseas – approximately one in eight of the population of Britain is now from overseas. In addition, there are also an estimated 1.5m migrants in the UK who have entered Britain illegally.
However, Stephan Mayar – a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU alliance – told The Times:
“If the British government is continuing to hold this position that Great Britain is out of the club in this big task of sharing the burden, certainly this could do some harm to the British-German relationship – and certainly also to David Cameron's ambitions to be successful in the renegotiation.”
Mr Cameron had promised to make headway with renegotiation before the promised UK referendum on EU membership in 2017.
Labour leader hopeful Andy Burnham has said that taking more refugees would raise the UK’s standing. Mr Burnham was a key member of Tony Blair’s New Labour government, which relaxed border controls in 2004, allowing the first wave of new migration from EU member states.
Mr Burnham said the British government could win support for the UK’s demands to reform EU freedom of movement rules “by showing leadership on the refugee issue”.
In a speech in London, Mr Burnham accused the government of “a dangerous absence of leadership on the world stage” over the migrant crisis.
On Monday (01/09/15), Angela Merkel said that if EU member states could not agree on how to share out the responsibility for refugees, the Schengen area of 26 European countries without border checks between each other would be “under threat”.
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