In the Commons Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary and front-runner in the Labour leadership contest, made his first intervention in Brexit related questions, stating that the government’s decision to remove the child refugee protections from the EU (withdrawal agreement) bill was a “disgraceful decision”.
Boris Johnson’s government removed a commitment to reach an agreement with the EU to ensure unaccompanied child refugees can be reunited with relatives in the UK after Brexit.
And Tory MPs declined to amend the bill and restore the pledge.
Speaking in the Commons, Starmer said: “Labour will fight to protect the most vulnerable. We may not win many votes in parliament just now, but we can win the moral argument.
He added: “I would urge everyone who cares about this issue to put pressure on the government and urge ministers to rethink this disgraceful decision.”
The issue is set to become contentious as the bill moves to the house of Lords.
Lord Dubs, the Labour peer who successfully campaigned for this protection for refugee children in 2016, said it was a “very depressing” development.
“It is very disappointing that the first real act of the new Boris Johnson government is to kick these children in the teeth. It is a betrayal of Britain’s humanitarian tradition and will leave children who are very vulnerable existing in danger in northern France and in the Greek islands,” he said. He vowed to fight the lack of protections in the bill as it moves to the upper house, The House of Lords..
As all amendments to the government’s proposed Brexit bill failed, due to the Conservative party’s overall majority, Downing Street sought to address concerns on a range of issues. Following the vote, Downing Street insisted that the commitment to child refugees had not been abandoned, but had just been removed from the Brexit withdrawal agreement bill “so it delivered on what it was designed to do”.
MPs voted 348 to 252 against the amendment, which had previously been accepted by Theresa May’s government and which would have guaranteed the right of unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with family members living in the UK after Brexit.
Johnson’s press secretary said the provisions, as set out in the Dubs amendment, would remain government policy, but that there was not a need to set this out as a specific negotiation strand in the withdrawal agreement bill.
“Protecting vulnerable children will remain our priority after Brexit, and this new clause [on refugees in the bill] reaffirms our commitment, while clarifying the role of parliament and government in the negotiations,” he said.
Source: The Guardian