It is very noticeable that now we are in the process of departing from the European Union at a speed that would concern anyone who can understand the challenges that we face, that problems are emerging as part of the journey. There have been two responses by a pair of Sussex Conservative MPs who clearly are under pressure to explain their actions, but what is much more concerning is the silence from the other eleven. A few days ago I wrote this blog regarding the votes by all 13 Sussex Tories to oppose the “European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill — Arrangements with EU about unaccompanied children seeking asylum”. The starting point for this which should have registered with these men and women came from Keir Starmer back before Christmas on 20th December when as part of a longer speech he stated:
“We have had a general election. There is a clear winner with a clear majority. I say this to Conservative Members: with that majority, be careful. Doing things because the Government have a majority does not mean that those things are right. Clause 37 of the Bill is an example. It concerns unaccompanied child refugees. Lord Dubs—Alf Dubs—launched an incredible campaign to protect child refugees post Brexit. It has been running for several years, and Members on both sides of the House have supported it and spoken powerfully about the issue of unaccompanied child refugees. The commitment that was in the previous Bill has been taken out, and that is a moral disgrace, majority or no majority. I know that Members will go into the Lobby to vote for this Bill, and I understand that, but many of them will feel strongly about unaccompanied child refugees, and I ask them just to reflect for a moment on that.”
So on Wednesday which was the second day back from their 2 week and one day break over Christmas Gillian Keegan (Chichester) made this comment in Parliament “I also congratulate my hon. Friend David Simmonds on his excellent maiden speech, showing not only that he understands in great detail the plight of refugees, including child refugees in particular, but that he has the experience and some of the solutions to make sure that we keep those people safe. We in the Conservative party always want to keep children—particularly refugee children—safe.” It is certainly true that David Simmonds speaking here claims that the Clause 37 of the Bill should not be amended and he sets out his reasoning. However his arguments are not sufficient and it is clear that he is attempting to justify a reduction in the support for vulnerable children by his Government from that which was offered in the previous version of the Bill which Gillian Keegan voted for on several occasions. It should also be appreciated that David Simmonds is a very experienced Councillor and so his views are based on what Councils are seeking to achieve, not what charities have seen as the reality on matters such as this!
The other MP in Sussex who has taken the time to respond is Caroline Ansell and her response is clearly a lot more limited because she has not yet spoken in Parliament and her response in Facebook is a great deal less specific than that of Gillian Keegan. However just to clarify what Rob Roberts had to say in his piece “Child refugees – we remain absolutely committed to the aims of the Dubs Amendment and we have and continue to stick to the important principle of reuniting families. We have no intention of abandoning refugee children. It has nothing to do with our Withdrawal from the EU and the opposition knows it.”
So the issue for us to continue to challenge all 13 of the Sussex Tory MPs along with the other 334 MPs across the rest of the country is that if the amendment is unnecessary, it was merely putting back into the Bill what the Tories had included in their previous version and it cannot do any harm to us as a nation if the words of Rob Roberts, David Simmonds and Gillian Keegan were reliable. However if we take Gillians words which I received twice and she posted to other people for their questions so it is clearly a well prepared comment, she is claiming that the protection for the unaccompanied children will in fact be achieved in a future Bill regarding immigration which is some time away and being realistic may not include the elements that were in the amendment that Gillian and Caroline along with David and Rob and the other 11 Sussex MPs and the other 332 non-Sussex MPs voted for. So there is a clear case for demanding that people like Caroline and Gillian stand up and call for an urgent response to this from all of their colleagues. If the amendment gets reconsidered and it is a belt and braces issue, there is no reason for ignoring it, even if it achieves little more than giving confidence to our nation. If it acts as a protection until the immigration Bill is formed, then that makes it even more vital and if by some prospect the immigration Bill does not deliver the provision for unaccompanied children, then that will make the amendment vital!