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Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill and West Suffolk’s Matt Hancock on why they voted against Dubs amendment on child refugees

All of Suffolk’s MPs voted against an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill that would protect the right for unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with their family after Brexit.

Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill and fellow Conservative MP Matt Hancock, who represents West Suffolk, joined the majority of Tories in voting against it.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tabled the amendment, drawn up by party peer Lord Dubs, in the House of Commons on Wednesday, January 8.

Jo Churchill, Bury St Edmunds MP
Jo Churchill, Bury St Edmunds MP

But it was defeated by 348 votes to 252 - with those to vote against also including Tom Hunt (MP for Ipswich) Liz Truss (South West Norfolk) James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) and Peter Aldous (Waveney).

The pledge was included within a previous version of the Brexit bill, but under Boris Johnson’s leadership, the wording changed. Whereas it previously stated the government would negotiate with the EU on a child’s rights, the bill now says the government will make statements to Parliament on child refugee policy.

Labour county councillor Jack Abbott said: “It is an implication for what is to come from this government, that we will no longer be protecting rights of children who come to this country.

“I am angry and scared for children about what the consequences will be.

“We are not talking about large numbers of children. We have a proud tradition of taking in vulnerable children. By stopping, I fear what signal that will send.

“I do not get the justification for it as the (wording) before the election had cross party support.”

Councillor Jack Abbott took this image on a visit to the Calais 'jungle' refugee camp in 2015 (26386672)
Councillor Jack Abbott took this image on a visit to the Calais 'jungle' refugee camp in 2015 (26386672)

He added: “I have been to Calais at the height of the migrant crisis and seen what these conditions are like - it is not something that will ever leave me.

“I think MPs have acted disingenuously in voting against this amendment and I think some of them need to look in the mirror.”

Christina Birt, of Bury St Edmunds Open Britain group, said: "Jo Churchill and Matt Hancock's decision to vote down the Dubs amendment is devastating.

“Refusing child refugees the right to reunite with their families is utterly heartless. I am deeply depressed and disturbed seeing our politicians act this way.”

Martin Simmonds, spokesman for charity Suffolk Refugee Support, commented: “I think we are all disappointed.

“On a more general level, we see every day in our work with refugee families and children and want them to be best supported. We would call for a humane reunion policy.”

West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock
West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock

Jo Churchill said: “On the important question of child refugees there is strong support across government for the principle of family reunion.

“Our policy has not changed. This government is fully committed to both the principle of family reunion and to supporting the most vulnerable children.

“No vulnerable child should be left isolated from their family, which is why I was personally pleased to see the government commit to continue reuniting children with their families under the Dublin regulation during the implementation period.”

A spokesperson for Matt Hancock said: “Family reunification for unaccompanied asylum seeking children remains a government priority.

“New Clause 37 removes the requirement for the British government to negotiate with the EU and instead means the Government will have to lay a statement before Parliament on its policy regarding arrangements for future family reunification.

“This change will ensure more flexibility during EU negotiations as the statutory obligation to negotiate will not necessarily lead to an agreement with the EU. We remain completely committed to the wellbeing of these very vulnerable children.”

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