The Labour leader said it was “nonsense” that he was seeking to link British foreign policy to the deaths of hundreds in capsized boats after facing Tory claims of a “provocative and shameful intervention”.
Cameron, back on the campaign trail after pledging UK assistance to rescue operations at an emergency EU summit, suggested the “ill-judged comments” raised doubts about Miliband’s suitability for office.
He said during a campaign visit to highlight the Conservatives’ ‘English manifesto’: “I have learned as prime minister that it is so important in a dangerous and uncertain world that you show clarity, consistency, and strength on these foreign-policy issues.
“People will look at these ill-judged remarks and they will reach their own conclusions.”
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said it was “pretty distasteful to reduce this total human tragedy, hundreds of people dying in the Mediterranean, to a political point-scoring blame game”.
Miliband insisted he was simply raising the important issue of the failure of the UK and international allies to plan properly for the aftermath of the 2011 bombing that ended in the removal of the Gaddafi regime.
While no direct link was made in the wide-ranging foreign affairs speech at the Chatham House think tank, Labour made clear that his message would be that “the refugee crisis and tragic scenes this week in the Mediterranean are in part a direct result of the failure of post-conflict planning for Libya”.
Pressed repeatedly on the issue by journalists after the speech, he dismissed any suggestion that he was implying the PM had “blood on his hands”.
“Anyone who reads my speech would see that that is very, very wide of the mark. The only people trying to whip up a big storm about this are the Conservative Party,” he said.
“I am making a very important point, I believe, about post-conflict planning in Libya.
“The international community as a whole, including our government, bears some responsibility for the crisis we see in Libya. I think that is undeniable.
“As far as what is happening in terms of the tragic scenes of people drowning in the Mediterranean, that is a result of the people traffickers who are engaged in those issues.
“But nobody can disagree with the idea that the failure of post-conflict planning has been responsible for some of the situation we have seen in Libya and, indeed, people then fleeing.”
Challenging Cameron to say “whether he thinks post-conflict planning in Iraq has been adequate, sensible, well done”, he said the prime minister had failed to learn the lessons of the Iraq war.
Meanwhile, the EU has doubled emergency aid to Italy, Greece, and Malta, the frontline states which have to deal with the massive influx of migrants coming across the Mediterranean, to €50m a year.
A spokeswoman for the European Commission, Natasha Berthaud, said “the entire emergency fund is doubling” following an agreement at Thursday’s EU summit where leaders also pledged ships, aircraft, and equipment to save lives in the Mediterranean.
The funds can be used for reception centres for migrants, medical aid, or additional staff dealing with the influx. The leaders also agreed to triple funding to €9m a month for the EU’s border operation patrolling the Mediterranean.