We will do what we can to protect child refugees
Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy writes for the Voice
MPs are now back in Parliament after the General Election, and the reality of what happened on December 12 is starting to sink in. The Palace of Westminster is buzzing with eager new Tory MPs who have taken seats from former Labour colleagues. There’s a lot more space on the Opposition benches, while on the Government side, it’s standing room only. It’s when the results of divisions are read out that it really hits home. The Prime Minister, who lost seven votes in the Commons in a row when he took over from Theresa May last year, now has a very comfortable majority indeed.
This became starkly obvious when MPs voted on the so-called “Dubs amendment” to the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, which many constituents had urged me to support.
This came to a vote in the week when MPs were marking Holocaust Memorial Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau with a Commons debate and signing a book of remembrance, as we do every year.
(Lord) Alf Dubs fled Prague on the eve of the Second World War. His Jewish father had escaped to London earlier, when the Nazis arrived in Czechoslovakia, and six-year-old Alf made the journey on the Kindertransport organised by Sir Nicholas Winton, to be reunited with his father at Liverpool Street Station.
Alf went on to become a Labour MP, director of the Refugee Council and, now, a Labour peer and a champion for child refugees, especially those who have been orphaned or lost contact with their families because of war and conflict. Under “the Dubs scheme” in the last Parliament the Government – somewhat reluctantly – agreed to take in 3,000 unaccompanied children, but have dragged their feet and taken in fewer than 500.
The Dubs amendment would have allowed unaccompanied migrant children to join their families in the UK. I voted for this in the Commons but, sadly, that was not enough; the Tory majority meant that it was easily defeated. It was then reintroduced in the Lords, and this time the Government could not command a majority, as the Lords are far less likely to obey party whips, and there are a considerable number of independent-minded cross-benchers too. But the Bill returned to the Commons, and once again, the Government whipped its troops to vote the amendment down.
I was very proud of my Labour colleague Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West, who, as a new member of Labour’s Brexit team, took to the Despatch Box to make the case for supporting the Dubs amendment. We didn’t win on this occasion, but we will carry on trying to do all we can to protect child refugees in this Parliament.