Theresa May’s decision to withdraw the scheme helping refugee children demonstrates several attributes: Her dishonesty as a politician; her (and Amber Rudd’s) weakness in forming political arguments; and her cunning in trying to bury the news as Parliament goes into recess.

Dishonesty: The Dubs scheme was always intended to take 3,000 refugees – that is what the government agreed but Mrs May is going back on that agreement.

Weakness in forming arguments: Her reasons for ending the scheme are flimsy to the point of nonexistence, smearing innocent refugees by association with people traffickers and misleading about the amount of alternative help available.

Cunning: She clearly hopes that this matter will be buried in the churn of news that will take place during the Parliamentary recess and afterwards.

She has miscalculated. A backbench debate on February 23 will revive the issue – if it falls off the political agenda at all.

Theresa May was hit by a storm of criticism led by the Archbishop of Canterbury and a growing number of Tory MPs yesterday after her government’s decision to limit a scheme providing a haven in Britain to only 350 lone refugee children in Europe.

Justin Welby said he was “saddened and shocked” by the decision to limit the Dubs child refugee scheme to only 350, saying he believed ministers were “committed to welcoming up to 3,000 children”.

He was joined by a string of backbench Conservatives, as well as Labour politicians and aid workers, who said the prime minister should lift the cap on numbers, while local councils made it clear that they could take more refugees in Europe if more money was made available.

Heidi Allen, Tory MP for South Cambridgeshire, said she and other colleagues were angry and would be pressing for the Dubs route to remain open, starting with a parliamentary debate on 23 February.

In the House of Lords, Alf Dubs, the Labour peer who designed the scheme, accused May of breaching the “spirit of the commitment” she gave him during the passage of the Immigration Act last May, when she told him she would accept his amendment. He said ministers were “arbitrarily closing down the scheme”.

When [David] Cameron acquiesced to the scheme – introduced as an amendment to a bill cracking down on illegal immigration – the universal expectation was that help would be provided for at least 3,000 children. To date, there have been only 350 beneficiaries of the “Dubs amendment”, named after the peer who proposed it – himself once a child refugee from the Nazis.

Amber Rudd, the home secretary, told MPs yesterday that the scheme had become “a magnet for people traffickers” and that the government must avoid “incentivising” migration… This is a disingenuous way to frame the issue. It implies that cutting off the “pull” represented by miserly offers of sanctuary to the few can mitigate the “push” of a bloody civil war in Syria. Citing the nasty business of trafficking in this context smears innocent refugees by association with the criminals by whom they are exploited when terror drives them to flee their homes.

The government’s auxiliary argument is that other routes for asylum are available. This too is flimsy. Lord Dubs proposed his amendment because the scale of the refugee crisis vastly outweighed the volume of help being offered by Britain.

The numbers actually involved in the Dubs scheme are tiny, the least the government could do after every effort had been made to prick ministerial consciences. Now even that ember of compassion is to be extinguished.

The manner of its snuffing out – the news buried in a statement issued on the eve of parliament’s recess – proves that the government knows what it has done is shameful. That does not mean the prime minister or home secretary are truly ashamed. They hope the moment will pass; that not enough people will care about the cold-blooded cruelty of their actions; that the political cost of callousness is negligible.

Source: Rebellion threat grows over May’s bar on child refugees, Guardian front page (print edition), February 10, 2017.

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