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Tory MPs reject bid to help child refugees as Commons overturns Lords changes to Brexit Bill

Tory MPs reject bid to help child refugees as Commons overturns Lords changes to Brexit Bill
3 min read

MPs have overturned a bid by a veteran Labour peer to let child refugees settle with their families in the UK.

In a major boost for Boris Johnson, MPs voted to reject five amendments to the flagship Withdrawal Agreement Bill formalising the UK's departure from the EU.

They included Lord Dubs's amendment calling on the Government to give greater protection to unaccompanied children coming to the UK.

But despite a last-minute plea by the peer for the Commons to back it, MPs voted by 342 to 254 to reject his plan.

It means the Brexit bill, which seeks to enshrine the UK's 31 January exit date into law, is likely to come into force unamended.

On Monday, peers had backed an amendment demanding EU citizens be given physical proof of their right to stay in the UK after Brexit - but MPs voted 338 to 252 to reject that move.

The Lords had inflicted two further defeats on measures related to EU court of justice rulings - rejected by the Commons 348 to 246 - and the independence of UK courts, which MPs voted 350 to 247 against.

A narrow Lords vote had also seen peers backing a commitment to the Sewel Convention, which orders Parliament not to legislate on devolved issues without the consent of devolved authorities. That was comfortably defeated in the Commons by 349 to 246 votes.

Speaking ahead of the vote, Brexit Minister Steve Barclay urged MPs to "resist" the amendments, saying in response to concerns over the child refugees: "I can only say again... that the Government's policy is unchanged, delivering on it will not require legislation.

"The Government has a proud record on supporting the most vulnerable children. The UK has granted protection to over 41,000 since the start of 2010."

Responding, Labour shadow Brexit minister, Thangnam Debbonaire, said: "I ask [MPs] opposite, and particularly those newly elected, do they really think this is what voters wanted? Their voters may have voted for Brexit and the opposition accepts that, but did they vote for the Government to break trust with the country on child refugees?"

She added: "This government has asked us to trust them, and on all of these matters, why should we need to rely on trust?"

The Brexit bill will now return to the House of Lords as part of the so-called "ping-pong" process, but is unlikely to face further amendments after the emphatic rejection of the changes by MPs.

The result on child refugees will come as a bitter blow to campaigners hoping to reinstate protections for unaccompanied minors that had been dumped from the latest version of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

Writing for PoliticsHome ahead of the vote, Lord Dubs had urged MP to defy Boris Johnson and show "what they're made of" as he claimed public opinion was behind his plans.

"A petition requesting the government rethink its position on refugee children has been signed by almost a quarter of a million people and I met supporters in parliament square who had travelled from as far as Dewsbury and Devon to lend their voice," he wrote.

The Government has already committed to introducing new legislation within two months to protect the mechanism, which allows refugee children in one EU country to be reunited with relatives in another.

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