MPs have expressed dismay at the decision to “tear up” a pledge to negotiate a deal allowing refugee children in Europe with UK family to come to Britain after Brexit.
The revised wording of the Brexit Bill, due to be put before MPs on Friday, removes a Government commitment to strike a deal with the European Union so child refugees can be reunited with their family in the UK, even after free movement ends.
The terms – pushed for by Lord Alf Dubs, who fled the Nazis as a boy – had been accepted by Theresa May when she was in Number 10 but her successor Boris Johnson looks to have watered down the commitment to simply requiring a minister to “make a statement” to Parliament.
The change has been made in Clause 37 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, stating that a minister will “make a single statement to Parliament within two months” of it passing to explain progress on the arrangements for child refugees seeking their families in the UK.
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, said: “During the last Parliament, Labour’s Alf Dubs led the campaign to protect child refugees post-Brexit. The Tories now want to tear up those protections.
“As we leave the European Union we cannot abandon our values of human rights and internationalism.”
Senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the home affairs committee before the general election, said there was “no reason at all” for the Government to alter its original commitment.
“Utterly shameful decision by Government to ditch their responsibility to let lone refugee children re-join their families,” she tweeted.
“Hits the most vulnerable and desperate children. No reason at all for Govt to do this. They chose to. Shows what kind of PM this really is.”
Utterly shameful decision by Government to ditch their responsibility to let lone refugee children rejoin their families. Hits the most vulnerable and desperate children. No reason at all for Govt to do this. They chose to. Shows what kind of PM this really is. https://t.co/o5k1OFh7Gf
— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) December 19, 2019
Safe Passage, a charity providing legal assistance to child refugees in Europe, accused Mr Johnson’s administration of causing “panic among refugee families”.
Chief executive Beth Gardiner-Smith said: “For the Government to take the first opportunity it has to water down vital protections for unaccompanied child refugees is truly shocking.
“For the Government to seek to remove these protections now risks causing panic amongst refugee families currently separated in Europe with potentially tragic consequences.”
The PM’s spokesman told journalists after the Queen’s Speech on Thursday that the Government was “committed to reaching that agreement” with the EU, despite removing the wording from the Brexit Bill.