Government votes down plan to rescue more child refugees after axing of Dubs amendment

A threatened Conservative revolt falls flat, despite evidence that ministers are ignoring evidence that local councils are ready to accept more refugees

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 07 March 2017 16:21 GMT
Celebrities including actors Joely Richardson, Toby Jones and Juliet Stevenson protest outside Parliament for the reinstatement of the Dubs scheme
Celebrities including actors Joely Richardson, Toby Jones and Juliet Stevenson protest outside Parliament for the reinstatement of the Dubs scheme (Getty)

A cross-party bid to force Theresa May to accept more child refugees from Europe has failed, despite a Conservative revolt.

The Government defeated an attempt to force ministers to take up offers from local councils eager to accept more unaccompanied children fleeing conflicts.

There was uproar last month when the Home Office suddenly axed the Dubs scheme to bring in 3,000 refugees from Europe – when just 350 have arrived.

Ministers have been accused of ignoring evidence that town halls are willing to make thousands more places available, with the right funding.

But the bid – led by Conservative backbencher Heidi Allen – to force ministers to properly audit local council capacity was lost by 287 votes to 267, a Government majority of 20.

Ms Allen had urged ministers to think again, saying: “This debate for many of us is about Dubs – whether we can bring that back to life.”

Warning the refugee council was far from over, she added: “I care that we take our fair share to help our neighbours in Europe.”

She was echoed by Yvette Cooper, the former Labour leadership contender, who said the end of the Dubs scheme was already proving a boon to traffickers, who were saying “there is money to be made”.

Local authorities would be able to provide “thousands more places potentially if they were better funded”, she argued.

But Ms Allen’s hopes that up to 30 Conservative backbenchers would rebel were dashed, after ministers pledged that auditing of councils’ capacity would improve.

Just two Tories joined her in backing an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill, to place a statutory duty on councils to report back to ministers at least once a year.

They were former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Tania Mathias. Six Conservatives who had signed the amendment failed to vote for it.

Speaking afterwards, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “This vote shames Britain.

“The Government continues to defend the indefensible by closing Dubs against opposition from a significant number of MPs, including those on its own benches, and from the public.

“The Tory Government’s decision to turn its back on these children despite local authorities saying they want to help is utterly heartless and heartbreaking.”

Faith leaders and actor Toby Jones had joined a demonstration outside the Commons to increase pressure on the Government.

Announcing the refugee cap at 350 children – under the scheme inspired by Alf Dubs, a former refugee himself – the Home Office insisted there were no more spaces were available to accommodate them.

But freedom of information responses from dozens of UK councils found at least 368 more spaces available and potentially many more.

In the Commons yesterday, Home Office minister Robert Goodwill sparked anger when he told MPs he did “recognise the figures”.

“I suspect that some of the methodology behind them will not bear too much scrutiny,” Mr Goodwill claimed.

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