Lord Alf Dubs said he is “bitterly disappointed and angry” after Boris Johnson appeared to scrap his amendment supporting child refugees.
The Labour peer who came to Britain on the Kindertransport told Jewish News he is “absolutely shocked” by the move, accusing the government of “turning their backs” on the most vulnerable.
This comes after British Jews criticised the decision to “tear up” a pledge to negotiate a deal allowing refugee children in Europe with UK family to come to Britain after Brexit.
The revised wording of the Brexit Bill, due to be put before MPs on Friday, removes a Government commitment to strike a deal with the European Union so child refugees can be reunited with their family in the UK, even after free movement ends.
The terms – pushed for by Lord Alf Dubs, who fled the Nazis as a boy – had been accepted by Theresa May when she was in Number 10 but her successor Boris Johnson looks to have watered down the commitment to simply requiring a minister to “make a statement” to Parliament.
The change has been made in Clause 37 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, stating that a minister will “make a single statement to Parliament within two months” of it passing to explain progress on the arrangements for child refugees seeking their families in the UK.
Speaking to Jewish News, Lord Dubs said “the government said they were doing it for the sake of flexibility. I don’t understand that. How can you bargain the rights of child refugees? How can you use that as a bargaining chip? What else does flexibility mean except a bargaining chip?”
Branding the government’s argument “specious”, he said “it’s absolutely shocking that they’re doing it, and it’s in denial of all the basic human rights principles, and it’s too awful for words.”
He said his amendment was “passed both houses of Parliament. We thought this was absolutely right – and then at the eleventh hour yesterday, we heard that they were pulling it. I am totally taken aback.”
This comes after the Board of Deputies tweeted, that it was a “poor decision”, adding it has “repeatedly called for Government to alleviate the plight of child refugees, including as a policy ask in our Jewish Manifesto, and will continue to raise this issue.”.
The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE) said it is “shocked that one of the first pieces of proposed legislation of the new government is directed at one of the most vulnerable groups in society; young refugees who are desperate to be reunited with family members”.
Lord Dubs added he was “delighted” with the Board’s position, saying it has “always been good on refugees” and “the Jewish community has always been absolutely steadfast” on the issue.
The government’s move led to anger amongst Labour figures with Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, saying: “During the last Parliament, Labour’s Alf Dubs led the campaign to protect child refugees post-Brexit. The Tories now want to tear up those protections. As we leave the European Union we cannot abandon our values of human rights and internationalism.”
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who joined Dubs and the late Rabbi Harry Jacobi when the Dubs Amendment was submitted to Parliament in 2016 said there was “no reason at all” for the “utterly shameful decision”.
Safe Passage, a charity providing legal assistance to child refugees in Europe, accused Mr Johnson’s administration of causing “panic among refugee families”, while the PM’s spokesman told journalists after the Queen’s Speech on Thursday that the Government was “committed to reaching that agreement” with the EU, despite removing the wording from the Brexit Bill.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish News also produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.