Labour today forced David Cameron into a u-turn over his controversial refusal to accept child refugees into Britain.
The prime minister has backed down on his previous position – in which he maintained the Government was doing enough for unaccompanied children seeking asylum – to commit to taking more from the continent.
With a series of elections fewer than 24 hours away, Cameron capitulated amid pressure from Lord Dubs – himself a former child refugee – and following fears of a significant Conservative rebellion when the issue returns to the Commons.
Cameron had previously agreed to take children from Syria and the surrounding regions but voted against an amendment from Labour’s Lord Dubs to take 3,000 children without parents or guardians from Europe.
Since then Labour has led the campaign for the UK to accept more child refugees, with Lord Dubs tabling an additional amendment to request the Government reconsiders taking unaccompanied children, with the exact number to be determined with local authorities.
Today the Government accepted the amendment, though has not indicated how many children they expect the UK to accept.
Lord Dubs hailed the u-turn.
“I welcome the government’s decision, as it will help ease the plight of some of the unaccompanied child refugees in Europe”, he told the Huffington Post.
“I trust the Prime Minister will be true to his word and move swiftly to ensure the Home Office works closely with local authorities to find foster families to give these young people a stable and secure home.”
Yvette Cooper, chair of Labour’s Refugee Taskforce, said the decision was a “huge tribute” to campaigners.
“I strongly welcome this major change in principle. Now we need to make sure it turns into practice and that enough places are provided.
“For the first time, the Government has accepted that Britain should do its bit and help child refugees who are at risk within Europe – having refused even a week ago to countenance this. And they are accepting the Dubs amendment that the Prime Minister rejected last week.
“This has only happened because of the huge strength of feeling that Britain should help children sleeping rough, at risk of harm and prostitution, meaning Ministers realised they would have lost the vote. It shows that cross party campaigning can make a real difference.
“However the Government hasn’t said how many children will be helped and hasn’t said whether this will be close to the 3,000 places we originally called for. So we will keep up the campaign to make sure it delivers in practice.
“In Athens today we’ve met unaccompanied child refugees as well as families in extremely difficult situations and government officials who have told us that children’s homes are all full and yet there are so many more children in need. These kids need proper shelter, to be cared for and to be in school. Now we have the chance to help achieve this, but the Government must deliver in practice.”