THE Dubs amendment is a “moral bellwether” for the UK, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said, before MPs voted against it for a second time on Wednesday.
The House of Lords had passed the provisions for child refugees in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, as one of five defeats the Government suffered on its Brexit deal, this week, but the Lords passed the Withdrawal Agreement as a whole on Tuesday.
The child-refugee amendment, proposed by Lord Dubs, sought to enshrine in law the right to family reunification for refugee children, was one that peers passed on Tuesday.
On Wednesday afternoon, MPs voted against it 342 to 254, a majority of 88, as they declined to back any of the amendments that the House of Lords had passed.
On Tuesday, Lord Dubs said: “Either the Government is mean and nasty, or they are giving the impression of being mean and nasty; they could quite easily change that impression by accepting this amendment.
“We have shown very clearly that the Lords vote is based on humanitarian principles. It’s now the turn of the Commons to show what they’re made of.”
Last week, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, urged peers to back the Dubs amendment (News, 17 January).
Bishop Butler said: “This debate resonates with the nativity story, the story of a child fleeing persecution. The voices of these children are too often drowned out by conflict and violence, by traffickers and by political leaders. Let this House speak on their behalf by voting for the amendment.”
He told peers: “The law as it stands was hard fought for; it was not easily won. Thus, the proposed removal appears to be the Government saying, ‘Well, we never really wanted the Dubs amendments; so now here is a chance to remove them.’
“I note that in the Conservative Party manifesto there is a reference to welcoming refugees, but the lack of a specific reference to child refugees and family reunion simply adds to public concern.”
He continued: “My right reverend colleagues and I view this issue as a moral bellwether for the future of our country. We want to be known as a country that is welcoming, compassionate, and committed to playing our full part in responding to the deep issues that arise from the reality of refugees around the world.
“I believe that the Minister and the Government want to act with compassion; it is simply that what is proposed does not convey this. . .
“The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned that, for some, this is cast as an issue of trust. Do we trust that the Government will deliver their promises to vulnerable children without legislative assurance in the EU Withdrawal Bill? However, to my mind, this is a matter not simply of trust but of priority. Where do the Government’s priorities lie?”