By Ryan David Prosser, BA Chinese (Modern and classical)
The commitment to reunite child refugees with family members living in the UK after Brexit has been dropped from the EU withdrawal bill, after MPs voted against it with 348 votes to 252.
The proposals to guarantee the settlement of an estimated 4,000 unaccompanied children seeking asylum, which previously formed part of the Brexit deal agreed by the May Government, were the result of a successful campaign in 2016 by Labour peer Lord Alf Dubs. However, following its general election victory in December 2019, the Johnson Government retracted its support for all amendments to its withdrawal agreement ahead of the UK’s departure from the EU on 31 January.
Meanwhile Lord Dubs described the government’s decision to remove his provisions for child migrants as ‘very depressing’. His amendment, along with three other additions to the Brexit bill, was reinstated in the House of Lords by 300 votes to 220. However given the government’s 80 strong majority in the Commons, these inserts did not survive the bill’s third reading. Following convention, Peers backed down to the lower house after a brief phase of parliamentary ‘ping pong’.
In the Commons, the shadow minister for exiting the EU, Thangam Debbonaire, defended the plan to enshrine the rights of child refugees in law, declaring the decision to be about ‘who we want to be as a country’.
The amendment was also backed by the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green party, as well as the SDLP and the Alliance party of Northern Ireland. Speaking on behalf of the government, Robin Walker, the minister for Northern Ireland insisted that the government was still committed to reuniting families and that the policy ‘had not changed’ as a result of this vote, adding that this process would continue throughout the Brexit transition period.