David Cameron was accused on Wednesday of abandoning child refugees after MPs voted against an attempt to allow 3,000 of them into the UK from Europe. MPs applauded as the Tory leader was accused of “putting this country to shame” by not bringing youngsters to Britain if they have already reached Europe. In a vote in the House of Commons on Monday night, the Government narrowly defeated a cross-party amendment to the Immigration Bill, tabled in the House of Lords, that would have seen the UK accept 3,000 child refugees. Ministers are under mounting pressure to U-turn and accept a relocation plan drawn up by Lord Dubs, 83, who fled the Nazis to Britain as a child.
Lord Dubs said : “Will the Prime Minister please reconsider his opposition and stop walking by on the other side?”
But Mr Cameron insisted refugee children are in “safe European countries” – inviting the fury of Labour’s refugees spokeswoman Yvette Cooper. Visibly angry, she told MPs: “The Prime Minister has just suggested that child refugees alone in Europe are safe.There are children’s homes full in Italy and Greece and over 1,000 children will sleep rough in Greece alone tonight. How are they safe? Ten thousand children have disappeared in Europe. How are they safe? The agencies say the children are committing survival sex. They are being abused, subjected to prostitution and rape. It’s not insulting other European countries to offer to help. They want us to help. So will he reconsider his position on Alf Dubs’ amendment before it comes back to the vote and stop with his attitude to lone child refugees putting this house and this country to shame?”
The Prime Minister insisted his alternative plan – to take 3,000 more children from camps near Syria instead – was the answer.
He added: “We have a proud record and nothing to be ashamed of.”
And he told Mr Robertson: “Those people who are in European countries are in safe European countries. To compare children or adults who are in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal or Greece with children stuck in Nazi Germany is deeply wrong.”
MPs will vote again on Lord Dubs’ amendment to the Immigration Bill next week after peers passed it overwhelmingly in the House of Lords.
The Labour peer’s original plan, to take 3,000 stranded children within Europe, was defeated by Tory MPs and the set number of children was dropped as a compromise. Downing Street indicated there would be no compromise.