I’ve had scores of emails in the last week demanding that I vote for amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill, the effect if which -in the understanding of my correspondents, was to preserve the rights of refugee children overseas to be reunited with family members who have made it to the UK.
(Most of the emails arrived after the debates in the Commons had concluded and the Bill was already on its way to the Lords).
I support re-uniting child refugees with any family they have in the UK, it is Government Policy to do so and we have an excellent record: In the last 12 months, the UK granted protection to over 7,500 children, and since 2010 to 41,000 children. This makes us third in the EU in terms of the numbers that we have accommodated, accounting for 15% of all claims from unaccompanied children in the EU.
In the year ending September 2019, 6,035 family reunion visas were issued to children and partners of those granted humanitarian protection or refugee status in the UK.
There is no intention for this to change following the UK’s exit from the EU. The Prime Minister has made it clear that we intend to ensure that unaccompanied children who are seeking international protection in an EU Member State can continue to be reunited with family members who are here, as well as children here in the UK with family in the EU. This is a negotiating objective of the Government for our future relationship with the EU.
The purpose of the bill now in Parliament is to give parliamentary approval to the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU which we signed up to in October last year, not to determine the future relationship which is still to be negotiated and agreed.
The misery of the last Parliament was that, the absence a Government majority enabled MPs to use any bill as a ‘Christmas tree’ on which to hang any number of obligations that would tie the Government’s hands in future EU negotiations. The current bill reverses that: it simply approves the agreement we’ve already made, and lets the Government get on with negotiating our future relationship unfettered by any imposed parliamentary negotiating mandate.
It is for this reason that the amendments supported by my email correspondents were so inappropriate.
To say that MP’s voted against refugee children being reunited with relatives living in the UK is just utter nonsense. We didn’t. The UK will continue to be one of most generous and accommodating European nations in our acceptance of refugee children.