The amendment to the Brexit bill would have guaranteed unaccompanied young refugees the right to be reunited with families living in the UK after Brexit.
This had been part of the previous government’s version of the Brexit bill, but had been removed after the Conservatives’ landslide general election victory in December.
The amendment to guarantee child refugee rights was rejected by MPs by 348 to 252 votes.
Thangam Debbonaire, the Labour whip speaking in support of the amendment, said that the removal of rights for child refugees in the Brexit bill was “an astonishing breach of faith with some of the most vulnerable children in the world”.
Labour leadership candidate Keir Starmer and Labour peer Lord Dubs had written to Conservative MPs urging them to back their party’s amendment.
“It’s up to you Conservative MPs – to take a moral stance and force the government to rethink its approach on this vital issue,” stated their letter.
“You have the power to right this wrong.”
Johnson's decision to tear up the commitment to family reunion for unaccompanied refugee children after Brexit is a disgrace.— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) January 7, 2020
Tory MPs should take a moral stance and force the Government to rethink its approach on this vital issue. My letter with @AlfDubs. #Scrap37 pic.twitter.com/vg5KLvoZZQ
The government’s bill instead includes a lesser commitment to make statements to MPs on child refugee policy after Brexit rather than commit itself to guaranteeing young people’s rights.
However, during the debate Northern Ireland minister Robin Walker said the government is still committed to guaranteeing family reunification rights for child refugees.
“This government are fully committed both to the principle of family reunion and to supporting the most vulnerable children. Our policy has not changed,” he told MPs.
Conservative backbench MP and former children’s minister Tim Loughton indicated that such a commitment could be enshrined in law in an immigration bill instead.
“I trust the government and that this commitment will be stuck to in the appropriate place – an immigration Bill,” he said.
He added that the process of family reunification “needs to be properly overhauled and just bunging it into this (Brexit) bill is not necessarily the best way of getting the best result that we all want”.
The charity Safe Passage is sceptical that child refugee rights will be guaranteed in future legislation after they were rejected this week by MPs and has urged Lords to reinstate the commitment when they debate the Brexit bill.
Media suggesting our amazing supporters are making an impression on government, who might be considering an amendment in the future Immigration Bill.— Safe Passage (@safepassageuk) January 8, 2020
BUT as our CEO says, this is not a guarantee. We need commitment in THIS bill, not the future.
Keep up the pressure all! ✊🏾✊🏼✊🏿 https://t.co/tTHY5jeKkl