Julia Hartley-Brewer

Cameron’s impossible dilemma

Cameron's impossible dilemma
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If you spot the Prime Minister squirming and wriggling on the Syrian refugee issue, there’s a very simple explanation.

The Prime Minister is in a very tight spot, caught between a rock and a hard place. And it is clear that he hasn’t yet decided the best way to extricate himself.

After winning an outright Tory victory at the general election in May and the likely prospect of another win in 2020, he only has one major hurdle left during his term in office: winning the EU referendum. Whether he calls, as many expect, a vote as early as this spring, or waits until the end of his own self-imposed deadline of December 2017, Cameron will be campaigning to stay in. But as every day of the Syrian crisis passes, his chances of victory are getting slimmer.

On the one side sits Cameron’s rock: he must accept more Syrian refugees into the UK or face the wrath of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. After offering to take some 100,000 Syrians (and with an expectation of another 700,000 more), Merkel is adamant that other EU nations must accept their “fair share” of the refugee burden and her pointed stare is aimed directly at the UK. If Cameron politely declines that invitation, he expects Merkel to block his attempts to win meaningful offers of EU reform from other European leaders ahead of the UK’s referendum vote. That would leave Cameron going to the polls campaigning to remain in the EU with just a flimsy pretence of EU reform that can be quickly ripped apart and exposed by the campaign to leave, thereby delivering a defeat for the Prime Minister and Britain’s exit from the European Union.

The obvious solution is for Cameron to do as Merkel asks. But that’s where he finds himself wedged against another hard place: the fury of the British public.

As the Mail on Sunday’s poll yesterday suggests, while many politicians, commentators and celebrities are calling for Britain to open its doors and arms to thousands more Syrian refugees, huge swathes of British voters are decidedly not. Those many millions of people are, after all, the ones who will be asked to pay the costs of taking in vast numbers of refugees. It will be them who face a longer wait for a council house, who send their children to schools overcrowded with children unable to speak English, who can’t get an appointment with their GP, and face more competition, both from the black market and those allowed to work, for low paid jobs. Those voters will inevitably – and understandably - turn their anger at any softening of Cameron’s stance on Syrian refugees by voting to leave the EU.

Whatever he decides, Cameron is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t. As he attempts to squirm his way out of this mess, the Prime Minister must be ruing the day he offered to hold an EU referendum at all.