MPs have today voted to leave protections for lone child refugees out of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.
The government was defeated in the Lords yesterday after peers backed the Lord Dubs’ amendment, which looked to guarantee family reunion rights for child refugees after Brexit.
Lord Dubs himself came to the UK as a child refugee fleeing the Nazis on a Kindertransport, but his amendment was overturned in the Commons today when 342 MPs voted against it.
Ministers have repeatedly promised him they would maintain the same rights after Brexit but stressed that they did not want their hands tied on a future relationship with the EU ahead of the second stage of Brexit negotiations.
Brexit secretary Steve Barclay told the Commons: “Primary legislation cannot deliver the best outcomes for these children as it cannot guarantee that we reach an agreement and that is why this is ultimately a matter which must be negotiated with the EU and the government is committed to seeking the best possible outcome in those negotiations.”
The government cannot be trusted on its pledges
Several MPs, however, backed Lord Dubs’ insistence that the government cannot be trusted on its pledge.
Labour chair of the home affairs committee in the last parliament Yvette Cooper said: “That is what makes us all suspicious, that he [Barclay] wants to remove it [from the bill] because there’s some reason why he thinks it will restrict what he wants to do and therefore that he’s going to, in the end, betray the commitments that have been made to the most vulnerable children of all.
“If he won’t, keep it in the act.”
Should we need to rely on trust?
Shadow Brexit minister Thangam Debbonaire added: “This government has asked us to trust them and on all of these matters. Why should we need to rely on trust?
“We are lawmakers. Why not include this in the legislation? After all, the prime minister has changed his mind many times on many things.”
She added: “The government’s predecessor government has got form on this, promising to take 3,000 children on the Dubs scheme, as originally committed to, and taking fewer than 500 in the end.”
Global children’s charity Unicef urged the government to replicate the approach to child refugees provided for by EU rules, known as Dublin III.
Liam Sollis, head of policy at Unicef UK, said: “The UK leaving the EU at the end of this month should not leave vulnerable children without recourse to family reunion.
“The government assure us that their position on family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children has not changed and we welcome the actions taken thus far to ensure Dublin III forms part of ongoing negotiations with the EU.
“It’s vital that UK’s own domestic rules are amended to replicate Dublin III and ensure that all refugee children, irrespective of where they are in the world, have the right to join extended family living in the UK.
“Unicef UK urges the government to ensure vulnerable unaccompanied refugee children have a safe and legal route to extended family members such as aunts, uncles and grandparents living here in the UK.”
The bill will now return to the Lords in a round of parliamentary “ping-pong”.