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A Senior Tory Says The Government "Misread" The Country's Mood On Free School Meals After Labour Threatened To Force Another Vote

Labour has threatened to force another vote on free school meals (Credit: PA)

3 min read

Labour has threatened to force another vote on free school meals if ministers refuse to U-turn before Christmas - and a Tory backbencher has suggested the government may not have enough to support to defeat the move.

Sir Keir Starmer tweeted on Sunday that it was "not too late to do the right thing" after a campaign to extend free meal provision to children living in poverty during the school holidays, spearheaded by Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford, prompted an outpouring of support. 

Conservative MPs voted against a Labour motion to introduce the measures this week, arguing that a rise in Universal Credit and extra cash handed to local authorities should be enough to help struggling families.

"The Labour Party are not going to give up on young people and children who are going to bed hungry," shadow mental health minister Rosena Allin-Khan told Sky's Sophy Ridge. 

"And the fact that 322 MPs made the morally reprehensible decision to vote against free school meals this week is deeply saddening.  But what has played out over the ensuing days is the very best of what it means to be British."

Hundreds of businesses across the country announced they would offer free food to hungry children during the half term holiday, with many councils also confirming they would cover the cost of keeping the scheme running when schools are closed.

Conservative backbencher Sir Bernard Jenkin said ministers had "misunderstood the mood of the country" by voting down the Labour motion, suggesting some on the government benches might back the opposition if there were another vote.

The liaison committee chair, who supported Boris Johnson's bid to become PM, added that the row had become "a touchstone of how little faith a lot of people now have in the government's conduct".

Five Tory MPs, including education select committee chair Robert Halfon, rebelled against their party and Sir Bernard said he would "wait to see how the government responds" before deciding if he would back them in a second vote.

He added: "I think the public want to see the government taking a national lead on this and I think the government will probably have to think again on that, particularly if there is going to be more votes in the House of Commons.

"I think when you have got the chairman of the education select committee not supporting the government on this, and he's a Conservative, I think the government has to listen to the Conservative party.

"It's understandable that the government wants to get back the idea that there isn't a bottomless pit of money and there has got to be some financial discipline. But I think again, they've got to manage the situation and balance the pressure and the urgency that people feel on this."

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis said ministers did not intend to change their minds on the policy. 

"I think we've got a package in place which means people have got the support they need during school holidays," he told the BBC.



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