On 8 February 2017, the Government said it will transfer just 350 more unaccompanied children from refugee camps in France, Greece and Italy to live in the UK. This is only 10% of the number that they had previously committed to.
This announcement represents a hardening of attitudes against immigration in the wake of the Brexit referendum vote, setting up a disturbing trajectory which could end with the virtual exclusion of all refugees even unaccompanied children, some of the most vulnerable.
In May 2016, then Prime Minister David Cameron had agreed to Lord Dubs’ amendment to the Immigration Bill which called for 3,000 children to come. Dubs revised his target to say the UK should take a “specified number” of lone children, the number to be agreed later in discussion with local authorities. But, certainly, Dubs’ expectation was that the figure would be around 3,000.
Alf Dubs, a Labour peer, was himself saved from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938 as part of the “Kindertransport” that rescued and brought 10,000 Jewish children to the UK from areas of Europe under Nazi control. A total of 900 children were brought to the UK from Calais in 2016, 200 under the “Dubs amendment”. Most came, under a different regulation, to join immediate family members.
Announcing the Government’s decision, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said that local authorities do not have the capacity to take any more children. She also disgracefully argued that the scheme was a lure to traffickers. If the problem is traffickers, deal with traffickers, don’t punish children! The Government’s announcement must be fought. The Dubs scheme itself represents only a small part of what should be done to help refugee children and their families across the world. But it should be supported.
In Calais alone, since the French authorities have closed down the notorious Jungle camp, Help Refugees estimates that 200 children are living in the surrounding woods. They told the Guardian newspaper: “They are not in tents because it makes them more visible to the police; they want to stay secret and out of sight. But it is quite dangerously cold. We give out sleeping bags and blankets at night; when we come back the next day the blankets are frozen.”
The Dubs amendment and the Government’s backtracking on it demonstrate two different approaches we can take to our fellow humans: we can turn our backs, or we can recognise and respond to people’s need. We must fight the Government and insist it funds local authorities to take in refugee children. We must push the Labour Party to take a far stronger line on this issue. We must argue back against those who say the UK is “full up”, who say that refugee children, alone or with their families, should stay put in their home countries, regardless of war or desperate economic conditions. We must resist the rising tide of xenophobia.
Socialists fight for a better world without war or economic hardship. Until we can bring that world about, socialists should help refugees from war and economic hardship, and fight against the prejudice and nationalism that would stop them seeking sanctuary! A campaign to get the Government to re-open the Dubs scheme has been launched. The charity Help Refugees is mounting a legal challenge. Dubs delivered a 50,000-signature petition to the Prime Minister on 12 February. There will be a demonstration at Downing Street at 2pm on Saturday 25 February.
Labour should argue for migrants’ rights
On Tuesday 7 February, the Brexit Bill passed its third reading in parliament by 494 votes to 122. Fifty-two Labour MPs broke the whip and voted against Brexit. This is not a left-right split in the Labour Party, nor was it a calculated attempt to oust Corbyn by anti-Corbyn MPs.
Solidarity argued that Labour should vote against Article 50, and we think MPs like Clive Lewis were right to vote against. Unfortunately Labour had already stated in advance that they would vote for the bill even if the amendments did not pass. All of Labour’s amendments to the Bill were defeated, and shamefully five Labour MP’s even voted against their Party’s amendment seeking to secure the rights of EU migrants — Gisela Stuart, Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins and Ronnie Campbell.
A YouGov poll published on the day of the third reading showed that 45% of people who voted Labour in 2015 would be “pleased” or “delighted” if Labour promised to reverse Brexit. Only 28% responded that they wanted to see a “hard Brexit” — the Brexit it looks like the UK is about to get. Corbyn has now declared in a tweet that the “real fight starts now”, going on to say that “over next two years Labour will use every opportunity to ensure Brexit protects jobs, living standards and the economy”.
The next day, Labour Party press briefings stated that the Tories do not have a “blank cheque” over Brexit. Except that Labour had already voted for May’s Bill to give her precisely a blank cheque. After the vote Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson proposed a liberal policy on inward migration for London combined with tougher restrictions for the rest of the county. This policy makes little sense.
How would such internal controls work? Would we need borders at the entry points to the M25 and mainline railways?
Watson’s main game here is to draw attention to the divisions in the Labour Party on this question — how Labour’s London MPs in constituencies that voted Remain, are divided from northern ones where majorities voted to Leave — so that he can pose as the man who can heal divisions. It’s a bit late for that — it’s no great secret that Watson has worsened division in Labour by seeking to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
The government has said that the Brexit deal will be put before Parliament at the end of the two-year period. However it insists that any deal with be presented as take-it-or-leave it, with no opportunity to amend or send the government back to negotiations. An extension to the two-year negotiations could be sought but the government would have to ask, and it would have to be agreed by all 27 EU member states — an unlikely scenario.
The alternative to voting for the deal could only be a no-deal scenario where World Trade Organisation rules become the default. Labour needs to reject nonsense ideas like that put forward by Watson, and not compromise on migrant rights. It should argue clearly in favour of rights everywhere, even where it may be unpopular, to win people over and pressure the government to keep freedom of movement.