UK Lords slam Brexit bill for not addressing child migrants
LONDON – Britain’s Parliament has urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to rethink part of his key Brexit bill and restore a promise to reunite child refugees with family members in the U.K.
Parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, voted 300-220 on Tuesday to ensure that post-Brexit Britain continues letting unaccompanied migrant children elsewhere in Europe join relatives living in the U.K.
The promise was made in 2018 by former Prime Minister Theresa May but it was removed from the Brexit legislation after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives won a big parliamentary majority in an election last month.
Alf Dubs, a Labour Party member of the Lords who came from Nazi-occupied Europe to Britain as a child refugee, said the government was sending a “very negative” signal.
He implored it not to use migrant children as "bargaining chips" in the negotiations on future relations between the European Union and the U.K.
“If the government wants to disprove the accusation that it is mean and nasty, then surely the thing to do is to accept the amendment,” Dubs said.
The prime minister's office said the government would not accept any changes the House of Lords makes to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which sets out the terms of Britain’s departure from the 28-nation bloc at the end of the month.
The government says it intends to continue resettling child migrants in Britain after the country leaves the EU but argues that the issue does not belong in the withdrawal bill.
The legislation must be passed by both houses of Parliament before Jan. 31 if the U.K. is to leave the EU on schedule.
The vote was one of several defeats for the government over the bill in the House of Lords. The chamber's members, known as peers, voted Monday for amendments to bolster the rights of EU citizens in Britain and to protect the powers of U.K. courts. They also voted Tuesday to stress the need for approval from the governments of Scotland and Wales for any legal changes affecting those regions.
The defeats in the Lords — where the Conservatives don't have a majority — won’t stop the bill becoming law because the House of Commons has already approved the legislation, and the elected lower chamber can overturn decisions by the non-elected Lords. But it means the bill must return to the Commons later this week rather than automatically becoming law once it's passed by the Lords.
The EU parliament also must approve the Brexit divorce deal with Britain before Jan. 31. A vote by the European Parliament is expected next week.
The U.K. voted narrowly to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, but after years of negotiations lawmakers repeatedly defeated attempts by both Johnson and predecessor May to secure backing for their Brexit plans.
That changed when Johnson’s Conservatives won the Dec. 12 election, giving the government the ability to override the objections of opposition parties.
Despite Johnson’s repeated promise to “get Brexit done” on Jan. 31, the departure will only kick off the first stage of the country's EU exit. Britain and the EU must then head into negotiations on future ties, racing to strike the terms of their new relationship in trade, security and a host of other areas by the end of 2020.
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