Former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan warns Tories risk 'nasty party' image over child refugee scheme

Ex-Education Secretary says Conservatives must work 'doubly hard' to avoid being seen as a party that knows the ‘value of nothing’

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Monday 13 February 2017 10:04 GMT
Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May (Getty)

Former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan has warned that the Conservatives risk being seen as a mean-hearted party following reports that it cancelled a scheme to help lone child refugees.

In words reminiscent of Theresa May’s famous speech warning how people believed the Tories were the “nasty party”, Ms Morgan said the Conservatives’ approach to child refugees goes “to the heart of the kind of party we want to be”.

The article from the ex-education secretary comes amid outrage at the Government’s decision to limit to 350 the number of unaccompanied refugee children to be welcomed to the UK under a scheme that had meant to help 3,000.

It will also further strain tensions between Ms Morgan and Ms May following clashes over Brexit, school places for immigrant children and even the Prime Minister’s leather trousers.

In her ConservativeHome piece published on Monday, Ms Morgan highlighted an email she received from one constituent who said the Tories seemed “hell-bent…on closing our doors to migrants in desperate need of our humanity”.

MPs had believed they were rescuing some 3,000 children when they passed the Dubs Amendment to the Immigration Act in 2016, but a low-key ministerial statement last week revealed the initiative would be limited at 350.

Ms Morgan wrote: “Across the UK, there are 217 upper-tier and unitary local authorities with responsibility for children’s services, meaning that the 400 Dubs children don’t even equate to two unaccompanied children per local authority.

“While the issues of immigration, integration, how we treat those seeking refuge and, in particular, how we look after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children matter as policy questions in their own right, our approach to them also goes to the heart of the kind of party we want to be. And the kind of country we want to lead and to live in.”

She added: “As a party known for strong economic management, the Conservatives must work doubly hard to avoid appearing to know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Yvette Cooper calls backtrack on Dubs amendment 'shameful'

Ms Morgan said the decision to limit the Dubs scheme and other government policies would lead to “a cumulative impact on the future decisions” of voters on whether to back the Conservatives.

She wrote: “Britain has always been a global, outward-facing country as well as being compassionate to those who need our help most. The Conservative Party now needs to demonstrate that combination in our approach to issues such as the Dubs children.”

The Labour Peer behind the child refugee scheme, Alf Dubs, has delivered a petition with 50,000 names to Downing Street calling for it to be extended. He branded the Government’s limit to the initiative a “very shabby cop-out”.

Before she became Prime Minister in 2002, Ms May made a controversial speech warning that the party’s reputation was in tatters.

Ms May said at the time: “Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us – the nasty party.

“I know that’s unfair. You know that’s unfair, but it’s the people out there we need to convince – and we can only do that by avoiding behaviour and attitudes that play into the hands of our opponents.”

She added: “We need to reach out to all areas of our society.”

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