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Tue, 27 October 2020

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Boris Johnson hit by fresh Lords Brexit defeat as peers demand guarantees on child refugees

Boris Johnson hit by fresh Lords Brexit defeat as peers demand guarantees on child refugees
3 min read

Boris Johnson has been handed a fresh defeat in the House of Lords after peers backed calls to reinstate protections for child refugees in his flagship Brexit bill.


Peers voted 300 to 220 to reintroduce measures into the Prime Minister's Withdrawal Agreement Bill which would ensure migrant children can continue to be reunited with relatives in the UK after it leaves the EU.

The family reunification protections were originally included in Theresa May's version of the key Brexit legislation, but were later dumped by Mr Johnson in the wake of his December election victory. The Government has insisted that it remains committed to guaranteeing their rights.

But the defeat on the amendment, drawn up by Labour peer and former child refugee Lord Dubs, is the fourth inflicted by peers on the Prime Minister's flagship Brexit bill, which seeks to enshrine the UK's exit from the EU on 31 January into law.

Speaking ahead of the vote, Lord Dubs said his amendment sought to ensure the "very simple and basic" mechanism, which allows children in one EU country to be reunited with relatives in another, would be retained after Brexit.

"It is a very simple point, and I would have thought family reunion is one of the basic things that we would all have to believe in," he told peers.

"If young people have worked their way, sometimes in hazardous and dangerous conditions, from half-way across the world, from war and conflict in Syria or Afghanistan.

"And if their incentive is they have family here, surely it is right we should take note of that and not close the door on them."

'SHOCKING'

The Government has already pledged to introduce further legislation to ensure the protections, and has argued that including the measures in the Brexit bill could tie their hands in future negotiations with the bloc.

Responding to the debate, Home Office minister, Baroness Williams of Trafford, said the government had already given a "statutory guarantee" to set out their new policy on child refugees within two months of the UK's exit date as she urged peers not to back the amendment.

She added: "This demonstrates our commitment to report in a timely manner and guarantees Parliament the opportunity to provide scrutiny."

But Lord Dubs dimissed the assurances, saying he found it hard to trust the Government and accused them of "seeking to delete" the protections.

The Labour peer, who was forced to flee from Nazi Germany as a young boy, said refugee children had been left in "shocking" conditions in migrant camps in Greece and northern France where they were at risk of sexual assualt or violence.

And he added that the debate on reunification risked sending a "dangerous signal" to young people who would be forced to continue paying traffickers to smuggle them into the country.

"By giving young people legal routes to safety, we are thwarting the traffickers as well as being humane in terms of giving them an opportunity to join family members here," he said.

The amendment will now go back before MPs, where the Conservative-majority Commons could strike out the changes imposed by the Lords.

A previous attempt by Labour to amend the bill in the Commons was defeated by 348 votes to 252 earlier this month.

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