THE UK should take its full 60,000 proposed share of EU refugees, Alex Salmond has insisted, claiming the Conservative Government was hopelessly misjudging the Mediterranean crisis and did not understand the "basic human instinct" of the British people to help those in extreme need.

The former First Minister spoke out within hours of being appointed the SNP's Foreign Affairs Spokesman and gave notice that he will range far and wide in his new role.

In his first intervention, he berated David Cameron's government over the "insane proposal" to scrap the Human Rights Act and the Prime Minister's decision to hold an in/out referendum on the EU, which, he said, would only lead to confusion and damage.

After Theresa May, the Home Secretary, argued economic migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe should be returned home, the newly elected MP for Gordon hit out.

Stressing how Britain should be part of the European effort to find homes for the refugees fleeing persecution and poverty in North Africa, Mr Salmond said the UK state should take its "fair share", noting: "Scotland certainly advocates that and I'm quite certain the Scottish Government will continue to push very hard for that."

Earlier, Mrs May described the current situation in the Mediterranean, where hundreds have drowned trying to make their way into Europe, as "intolerable".

But she argued it was important to distinguish between those genuinely fleeing persecution and economic migrants seeking a better life.

She said that the UK Government intended to reject any proposals for a mandatory system of resettlement as it would only encourage more economic migrants.

"While the UK has a proud tradition of providing refuge for those who need it, we must not provide new incentives for those simply seeking to come for economic reasons," stressed the Secretary of State.

Battlelines for the first big clash between the Tory Government and Brussels have been drawn over the European Commission's plan to draw up a new quota system for asylum seekers across Europe.

Last year, Britain accepted 31,745 cases but, under the new Brussels quota plan, this could more than double to levels seen in other EU countries. In 2014, France and Italy both accepted more than 64,000 each.

However, Mr Salmond, who on his new appointment said he would be "pro Europe, pro developing world, against military adventurism", did not accept the Conservative argument.

He told Channel Four News: "The UK Government, in general, and Theresa May, in particular, is hopelessly misjudging this issue. I can think of very few people in Scotland and very few people in England either, who would want to turn away people in total extremity given the scenes that we have all witnessed on our televisions over the last few months.

"Where are these people to go if they're not settled? Can they all be returned? It doesn't seem likely. They can't stay in the hold of a warship in the middle of the Mediterranean for any great length of time, so Britain must play its full part."

When he was pressed on how big a part Britain should play, Mr Salmond replied: "Britain should take the full 60,000 and Scotland is certainly willing to take our proportionate share and we will argue for that." This would likely be around 5,000.

Asked if he agreed with the Conservatives that people were worried about the impact on public services of such a number of refugees, he said: "No. Most people are human beings when they see people in their extremity and want to do something to help.

"A government, which doesn't understand that basic human instinct of the Scottish people and, indeed the English people, isn't the sort of government that represents people properly."

Meantime, Mr Salmond made clear he did not agree with the proposed EU referendum, stressing the circumstances were different between Mr Cameron's poll and the independence one. He also argued that the Tory Government's "insane proposal" to scrap the Human Rights Act would not happen because the Scottish Parliament would withhold its consent .

Other SNP appointments included new MP, Joanna Cherry, a QC and human rights lawyer who has become the party's justice and home affairs spokeswoman.

Mr Salmond's opponents dismissed his return to frontline party politics in the foreign affairs brief, pointing to earlier controversial interventions.

In 1999, he branded Nato's bombing of Yugoslavia an "unpardonable folly" and last year he expressed admiration for "certain aspects" of Russian President Vladimir Putin's leadership, notably his restoration of "Russian pride"; this came just days before Russian annexed Crimea from Ukraine and sparked fury among Ukrainian expatriates.

Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said: "Alex Salmond's blundering and bullish approach to many international matters warrants serious reflection from the new SNP MPs. Time and again Alex Salmond has proven himself on the wrong side of human rights groups and civil society."

The Lib Dems' Scottish leader added: "He should be under no impression that he now speaks for all Scotland as a pseudo foreign secretary."

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said: "In Scotland, taxpayers are used to picking up the tab for Alex Salmond's extravagant trips across the globe. Those across the rest of the UK may be a bit more puzzled by his penchant for Ryder Cups, tartan trews and film premieres."

Labour declined to comment.