Lord Dubs helped to amend the Immigration Act last year to allow a number of unaccompanied children to come to the UK as refugees and to be settled in local councils here. So far, 200 children have arrived under the terms allowed and a further 150 are due shortly. 700 who came to be re-united with their families are already here. The aim, said Lord Dubs, was to help about 3000 children. This number was, however, never formally agreed by Parliament.
In fact, the UK has taken nearly 5000 Syrian refugees, including a great number of children so it would be wrong to overstate, as Lord Dubs does today, that the Government is “shutting the door on some of the most vulnerable refugee children”.
I have no doubt we could do more.
More than that, I have great respect for Lord Dubs who was very generous with his time when we were fighting Necati’s adversaries in the Greek navy. I also deeply respect his background as one of Nicky Winton’s kindertransport children. He knows from personal experience about “vulnerable refugee children” and he is right to urge that we do more. He is wrong, however, to be too prescriptive.
I am afraid, therefore, that the story appearing in the Press today is a bit of a paper tiger, designed by the newspapers to stir up trouble rather than to provide solutions. In a time when racism and islamophobia are daily on our doorstep, it serves no purpose to put such a negative slant on the statement by Robert Goodwill.Robert Goodwell is not issuing a Trumpist decree! I also have no doubt that Mrs May agrees we should keep doing all we can to help those dispossessed who turn to us for assistance but – there cannot be a single solution.
This is, in fact, the flip-side to the labour amendments put forward unsuccessfully to the Article 50 bill. Amendment 6 was fine in principle but 8 was utterly absurd. Both amendments were calculated to cause maximum political chaos and neither really was, therefore, realistic. I am pleased the issue of granting citizenship to current resident EU citizens, however, is being voiced properly, but like the refugee crisis, there is a difference between what can be agreed politically and what is simply a moral fact. It does not and should not take an act of Parliament to make a moral decision.
Moreover, I believe to tie the future of EU citizens to negotiations after triggering Article 50 runs the risk of seeing these people as nothing more than pawns in a giant game of chicken. We are infinitely better than that.
So, when the Bishop of Croydon says, “The Dubs amendment, as Alf Dubs originally put it forward, proposed a commitment to 3,000 children and ministers signalled that the Government would abide by the spirit of the original amendment. There is a huge question over how about 400 is in the spirit of 3,000,” the fact remains that the commitment to take 3000 children was never agreed to be part of the law. That may have been the proposal. It was never the law. And more importantly, bashing on about numbers like this, we run the risk of scuppering any goodwill at all.
Goodwill is bigger than bureaucracy and I worry that we often miss the point trying too hard to cross the “t”s and dot the “i”s.