No 10 defends May's decision to scrap Syrian refugees ministerial post

Updated: 

Downing Street has defended Theresa May's decision to scrap the post of Syrian refugees minister amid cross-party criticism.

The Prime Minister's official spokeswoman said the Home Office would retain responsibility to meet the Government's promise to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.

She stressed that Richard Harrington was appointed to the previous position to make sure the Syrian persons vulnerable relocation scheme "got off to a good start" and that ministers from the department already have responsibility for asylum.

Tory backbencher Heidi Allen said the move was "not a great start" for Mrs May, while the Liberal Democrats claimed it showed refugees would be treated worse than they had been under David Cameron.

But Mrs May's spokeswoman said: "There was a role appointed to a specific MP to make sure that the commitment made previously to increase the number of refugees that we resettle got under way, got off to a good start and was delivered upon."

She said the Government remains "fully committed to those commitments" to take in 20,000 refugees by 2020, adding that the Prime Minister "expects that the Home Office team will take that forward with support from across Government".

She also said: "There are ministers that already have responsibility for immigration and asylum."

On Sunday, Ms Allen told BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour: "Not a great start. We're waiting to see. It will be such a shame if we lose that incredible hard work and progress we made.

"We can't forget about those poor, poor individuals while we're busy navel gazing ourselves about how our role is going to be in the global place. So yes, actions need to speak louder than words."

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said the decision showed the Tories are "all talk and no action".

"The new Prime Minister had a chance to step up and change the Tories' position on the humanitarian crisis in Syria - the first signs of failure are already there," he said.

"Under Cameron, the Liberal Democrats faced an uphill struggle to force him and his party to take in the most vulnerable refugees - unaccompanied children.

"It looks like their fate and the fate of millions of other vulnerable refugees seeking shelter and security will be even worse under May.

"My party and I will do everything we can to ensure that we hold the new Government to account on promises already made and be the voice in Parliament for decent Britons who want our country to step up and do its part."