On Sunday, as he accepted a Bafta for I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach said his film told the truth about a callous Britain. “The most vulnerable and poorest are treated by the Government with a callous brutality that is disgraceful,” he said, “a brutality that extends to keeping out refugee children we promised to help, and that’s a disgrace too.”
A cause can be a worthy one even if it is supported by millionaire film directors. And Loach’s comments were only the most high-profile example of the widespread anger at the Government’s U-turn on accepting refugee children. Cardinal Nichols has described it as “shocking”. Lord Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, used the same word in a Guardian article.
It is only fair to hear the Government’s defence. It says that there has been no U-turn, but rather a prudent response to circumstances. Last year, the Labour peer Lord Dubs moved an amendment to the Immigration Bill, which bound the government to give sanctuary to child refugees.
At the time, Lord Dubs suggested a figure of 3,000. The Government now says that it will take 350 and then stop. It claims that ministers never officially committed themselves to a figure, which is just about true. But it was generally understood that 3,000 was the target, and ministers quoted the figure in both official and private communications.
The Government says that local authorities do not have the capacity to take any more child refugees. Baroness Williams, a Home Office minister, told the Lords: “If local authorities or community sponsorship groups were to come forward, we would certainly consider that.” She said local authorities are willing to receive 400 children. “We have revised it down to 350 because, if some of the family cases break down, the children will need local authority care and we need some capacity to provide it. Our consultation with local authorities is ongoing.”
In his statement, Cardinal Nichols said he has been told that local authorities are indeed able to take more children. The Government claims that it has consulted with local authorities, but the charity Help Refugees says the consultation was inadequate. It is planning a legal challenge, which will be heard in May.
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