The government is getting hammered for backtracking on child refugees – so why did they do it?

The Archbishop of Canterbury and Tory MPs are among the critics


Criticism of the Home Office decision to discontinue the Dubs scheme for relocating child refugees has continued today, despite attempts to sneak the announcement out during the Article 50 debates.

This morning, Barbara Winton — daughter of Nicholas Winton, the organiser of the kindertransport — has published an open letter calling on Theresa May to review her government’s decision.

She writes that:

“…the most appropriate way of honouring his [Winton’s] memory would be to show the same concern and compassion he did then, for those in danger and in need now.”

Lord Dubs, the originator of the current scheme and one of the child beneficiaries of Winton’s efforts, agrees that

“…it would be a terrible betrayal of his legacy if as a country we were unable to do more than this to help a new generation of refugees.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has also said he was ‘shocked and saddened’ by the move, surely a blow for Theresa May, who is a devout Anglican.

Welby commented:

“I very much hope that the government will reconsider this decision, and work with church groups and others to find a sustainable and compassionate solution that allows those most in need to find sanctuary in our country.”

But perhaps most worryingly for the government, a string of Tory MPs have harshly criticised the government’s decision, and have worked with opposition members to secure a debate on the issue on 23 February.

In a fiery critique in the Telegraph, Heidi Allen MP writes that it was ‘a proud moment for the Conservative Party’ when David Cameron accepted the Dubs amendment last year, challenging May to prove the substance behind her rhetoric.

“I am determined to prove Brexit has not changed us.  The Prime Minister has vowed that Brexit will not mean we retreat from the world, pledging to ‘build a truly Global Britain’, and fulfilling the Dubs amendment would be a testament to that ambition.  In my heart, I know we are still an outward-looking, compassionate country – and we are better than this. Who is with me?”

One clear question emerges from all of this: why has the government abandoned the Dubs scheme?

Surely they knew it wouldn’t be kept quiet, no matter what else was going on. Both May and Amber Rudd were in the government last year when Cameron was forced to back down and accept the amendment in the face of a Tory rebellion — did they think that resistance had gone away?

And the PM must also know she’s personally liable, having been the Home Secretary when the scheme began. Indeed, Dubs said yesterday in the House of Lords that:

“…the Prime Minister, when she was Home Secretary, told me that the Government were prepared to accept the amendment, and on the same day the then Immigration Minister said to me that the Government would accept the letter and the spirit of that amendment.”

What’s more, the scheme was being implemented so half-heartedly that it was scarcely costing the government anything, but still gave them cover when criticised for not doing enough for lone refugees in Europe.

So why, given the negligible cost, the numerous potential pitfalls, and in the same week that the government was struggling to prevent rebellions on Article 50, did Rudd and May press ahead with this clearly controversial announcement?

We must entertain the possibility that the simplest explanation is the correct one: that the prime minister simply does not want refugees in Britain, for the most crass and xenophobic of reasons. That faced with thousands of suffering children across Europe, she is unmoved, happy to believe that because those children aren’t British they’re not her problem.

‘How do you live with yourself,’ Diane Abbott asked Amber Rudd in the House of Commons yesterday, as the home secretary defended the decision.

It could be that Rudd and May live quite easily with themselves, because they don’t much care.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

See: Tories shut down Dubs scheme to bring child refugees to the UK – after relocating just 350

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