Final bid to force Boris Johnson to let child refugees reunite with relatives in UK

'The government has said it wants family reunion for vulnerable children to continue - but we are running out of time'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 26 June 2020 07:12
Comments
Commons votes 342 to 254 to reject the Dubs amendment

A last-gasp bid to force Boris Johnson to allow desperate child refugees to reunite with relatives in the UK will be made in the Commons next week.

The prime minister prompted fury earlier this year, when he ordered Tory MPs to overturn a commitment to negotiate with the EU to reach agreement on the children’s fate.

Charities have warned that unaccompanied youngsters seeking asylum will be forced to turn to smugglers and take dangerous routes in order to escape harsh conditions and reach their families.

Some were among migrants in Dunkirk and Calais forced to sleep rough with no toilets or running water, when the authorities cleared away their tents last year.

Now a cross-party group of MPs has tabled an amendment to the Immigration Bill to restore a scheme similar to that drawn up by former Labour MP Alf Dubs – but then dropped.

“We must not suddenly lose all the hard work that has been done over the last few years to help child and teenage refugees reunite with family members who can care for them and give them back a future,” said Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Commons home affairs committee.

Tim Loughton, a Conservative former children’s minister, said ministers had promised to act but warned: “No details have been forthcoming and time is running out.”

And Beth Gardiner Smith, head of Safe Passage, a charity providing legal support, said: “The new arrangements the government has proposed would currently downgrade protections for children and lead to many more attempting dangerous journeys at the hands of smugglers.”

Time is running out because the current obligation to work with the EU to give refugee children sanctuary will expire with the post-Brexit transition period, which ends on 31 December.

With a thumping Commons working majority of 86, Mr Johnson will expect to comfortably defeat the amendment, in a vote expected next Tuesday.

However, Tory MPs have displayed an increasing willingness to rebel recently, over free school meal vouchers, Sunday trading laws and barring Huawei from the UK’s 5G network.

When it won a crucial vote in January, No 10 claimed “nothing has changed” – arguing it still wanted an agreement to bring over child refugees – but no progress has been announced since.

Crucially, a firm commitment to act has been replaced with a need to simply “make a statement” – once – on the progress of negotiations.

Four other Conservative MPs – Andrew Mitchell, David Amess, Simon Fell and Sally-Ann Hart – have signed the amendment so far.

Ms Cooper added: “The government has said it wants family reunion for vulnerable children to continue, but we are running out of time”.

Otherwise, the UK would be “denying children and young people a safe and legal route to sanctuary with family who can look after them, putting them at much greater risk from trafficking and smuggler gangs”.

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