Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government suffered a fourth defeat on its Brexit legislation when members of parliament’s upper chamber voted on Tuesday to ensure protections for child refugees after Britain leaves the European Union.
Johnson’s Conservatives won a large majority in the lower chamber, the House of Commons, in a Dec. 12 election and earlier this month lawmakers there quickly approved the legislation needed to ratify his exit deal with Brussels.
But the House of Lords, where Johnson’s government does not have a majority, made three changes to the legislation on Monday, including over the rights of EU citizens after Brexit.
On Tuesday, the Lords voted 300 to 220 to ensure unaccompanied child refugees can continue to be reunited with family in Britain, a promise made by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May but stripped from his legislation.
“The signal the government is sending by this is a very negative one, it is not a humanitarian signal,” said Alf Dubs, an opposition Labour lord who fled to Britain as a child to escape the Nazis, and who proposed the change to the bill.
Johnson’s spokesman said the government would seek to overturn the changes made to the Brexit legislation when the bill returns to the House of Commons later this week.
(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Stephen Addison)
What is the Dubs amendment about?
A previous version of the Brexit bill required the government to seek agreement with the EU to ensure that unaccompanied children could continue to come to the UK to join a relative.
However, following Boris Johnson’s election victory, this guarantee was weakened, instead only requiring the government to make statements to Parliament on the subject after Brexit.
Lord Dubs – who came to the UK as a child to escape the Nazis – put down the amendment seeking to reinsert the original commitment.
Speaking during the debate, he urged the government not to “close the door” on refugee children, arguing that offering a safe, legal route into the UK would “thwart the traffickers”.
“I believe we are essentially on the side of public opinion and on the side of humanity,” he argued.
Supporting the Labour peer’s amendment, Liberal Democrat Baroness Hamwee said her party “will not stand by while the Conservative government uses Brexit to undermine the UK’s proud tradition of providing sanctuary to some of the world’s most vulnerable people”.
And the Bishop of Durham called the issue a “moral bellwether for the future of our country”.
“We want to be known as a country that is welcoming and passionate and committed to playing our full part in responding to the deep issues that arise from the reality of refugees around the world,” he added.