Tory MP quits government over refusal to extend free school meals

Caroline Ansell says ‘conscience’ led her to back Marcus Rashford’s efforts to tackle hunger – and resign her role as parliamentary private secretary

Adam Forrest
Thursday 22 October 2020 14:19 BST
Tory MPs vote against plan to extend free school meals over holidays

A Conservative MP has quit her government job in protest at Boris Johnson’s refusal to back Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meal vouchers during the holidays.

Caroline Ansell – one of only five MPs to side vote with Labour on the failed bid to tackle child food poverty – announced she had resigned her position as a parliamentary private secretary.

The MP for Eastbourne and Willingdon said she could not ignore her “conscience” on the issue in a statement explaining why she had sided with the opposition.

"I am very concerned to be doing all we can to help lower-income families and their children who are really struggling due to the impact of the virus,” Ms Ansell said, adding that she did not believe vouchers were “long-term solution” to food poverty.

“However, as we are still very much living in the shadow of the pandemic, vouchers are a lever – not perfect, not sustainable – but one which I thought could be used to reach families in Eastbourne and across the country in the immediate time ahead. I could not in all conscience ignore that belief.”

On Wednesday night MPs rejected a Labour motion to extend free meal vouchers during the school holidays until Easter 2021 by a majority of 61 – sparking outrage from Mr Rashford and fellow campaigners.

Mr Johnson had whipped Tory MPs to vote against the plan, arguing that it was not the job of schools to “regularly provide food during the school holidays”.

After several Tory MPs spoke out against his campaign on social media, England international Mr Rashford said: “A significant number of children are going to be tonight not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter because of comments that have been made today.”

The footballer also shared some of the briefing lines Tory MPs were told to take by party whips and said he “despaired” at what he called political one-upmanship.

On Thursday morning Tory MP Jeremy Hunt suggested he had voted with the government because it was too early to provide emergency help, despite the half-term holiday being only days away.

“I think we have to wait and see where we’re at over the Christmas holidays, if we’re at a lockdown situation, if families on the breadline need extra help,” he told Good Morning Britain. “I don’t think we’re quite there yet.”

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