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British Prime Minister Announces U.K. Will Take In More Migrants


The British prime minister today eased his position on admitting Syrian refugees to the United Kingdom. David Cameron spoke of Britain's moral responsibility.

The U.K. has granted asylum to about 5,000 Syrians over the past four years, and the prime minister now speaks of letting thousands more in. Patrick Wintour is political editor of the Guardian, and he joins us from London.

Welcome to the program.


SIEGEL: Is Cameron's change of position due to international pressure, domestic opinion or something else?

WINTOUR: A mixture. I think primarily it's a function of the grueling and terrible photographs that appeared of the young boy on a beach in Turkey that profoundly moved opinion in Britain and also led to a change of heart by some of the tabloid newspapers that have for years and years campaigned very hardly against immigration, and seem to suggest that there should be much more sympathy from the British people. And I think that gave a - room for some of the real disquiet about what's been happening in Europe to be expressed here in Britain and has there's been an opening of hearts from the churches, from synagogues, from all sorts of the communities about what's been happening. And I think the difficulty for the prime minister is that this is - emotion is not something on which you can base policy.

SIEGEL: Germany is talking about admitting 800,000 or more migrants, asylum-seekers. What kind of numbers do you think the prime minister has in mind? What would satisfy the current sympathy for Syrians in terms of British public opinion?

WINTOUR: Well, I think his calculation is that he shouldn't go anywhere near the levels that are being proposed in Germany. He's talked in terms of thousands - not as many as 10,000, so I think he's talking more in the region of maybe another 5,000, which is very limited. And he's also saying, which is important, that he will only take refugees from the camps on the borders of Syria. He won't take any refugees amongst those who have traveled through Turkey to Europe. And he says to do so would be to reward the people-smugglers, the human traffickers, and also to create more chaos.

SIEGEL: What was the reaction among other political leaders in Britain to Cameron's statement today? Has he caught the mood of the moment? Was he criticized by others for it? What would you say?

WINTOUR: He's been criticized for not going far enough. The Left Party's in the middle of its own leadership contest. They're saying today that what he's proposing is not enough, it's too limited and that he has to do more to help the crisis in Europe itself and not just the crisis on the Syrian border. Behind all this remains the fact, though, that everyone is aware that nobody has a solution to what is going on in Syria itself, let alone in Libya, and until peace is and stability's brought in the region, this migration crisis is going to continue.

SIEGEL: And within the Conservative Party, is...

WINTOUR: Well, there's a Christian wing of the Conservative Party that has been quite vocal, calling for the government to do more to remember its humanitarian duties. And I think quite a lot is being said in private, which is the way in which the Conservative Party often operates, is through private counsel. But I think Cameron is very aware, as I say, that public opinion can be fickle on this.

SIEGEL: Patrick Wintour, thanks for talking with us today.

WINTOUR: Pleasure.

SIEGEL: Patrick Wintour, political editor of the Guardian, spoke to us from London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.