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.