Government wants to ‘barter’ child refugee rights in Brexit negotiations, suggests peer

Lord Alf Dubs is continuing to press for an amendment to the WAB that would enshrine key rights for

Lord Alf Dubs is continuing to press for an amendment to the WAB that would enshrine key rights for unaccompanied refugee children. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Archive/PA Images - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Ministers have met Lord Alf Dubs in attempts to argue that his amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), which protects child refugee rights, would weaken the government's negotiating hand in EU trade talks.

Home Office ministers tried to persuade the peer into dropping the amendment, which aims to ensure unaccompanied refugee children have the right to be reunited with their families in the UK.

Having scrapped the amendment from the WAB directly after the election, the government won its vote in the Commons - but it must still pass in the House of Lords, which is currently considering whether to reinstate the amendment.

Earlier this week Lord Dubs suggested that the amendment has enough support from lords, including Conservatives, to be reinstated in the bill.

MORE: 'Behind the scenes' hope that Lords will insist on child refugee rights in Brexit billIn moves that signal the government fears losing the vote, Lord Dubs was called in yesterday to meet Home Office ministers Brandon Lewis, Lady Williams and Victoria Atkins, reports the Guardian.

He told the paper: "They know there is a wave of support for this. I have spoken to quite a few Tories, and there are enough who don't understand why the government is doing this."

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The amendment was initially agreed to by Theresa May's government, and had been included in the WAB during the 2019 general election campaign period.

But Boris Johnson stripped it from the bill - along with other legislation designed to ensure parliamentary oversight of the Brexit negotiations overall - as soon as he secured an overwhelming majority in the election.

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This majority ensured him the votes of 328 Tories for his bill in early January.

MORE: Here's who voted against protecting key child refugee rights after BrexitBut Lords seem less compliant on the issue of child refugees, Dubs said, saying that several Conservative peers had urged him to fight on.

The Guardian reports Dubs as saying ministers had tried to persuade him that the legislation would weaken the government's negotiating hand with the EU.

"That suggests they are going to barter unaccompanied child refugees for something else, which is absolutely disgraceful," he told the paper.

The government has also said that it intends to include the protections Dubs seeks in forthcoming immigration legislation later this year.

Lord Dubs, who himself was a child refugee rescued by the Kindertransport from the Nazis, is reported to be sceptical of this, asking what will happen to refugee children in the intervening months.

"If they are not departing from the policy, then why not keep it in the bill?" he said.

Responding, Lewis said: "I welcomed the opportunity to meet with Lord Dubs and reaffirm our commitment to seeking an agreement with the EU for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We do not require the withdrawal agreement bill to achieve this.

"We have a proud record of helping vulnerable children in this country, including granting protection to 41,000 unaccompanied minors since 2010, and this will remain our priority."

The House of Lords is expected to vote on the amendment next Monday or Tuesday. If the bill fails, it will be sent back to the Commons.

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