On 12th May the House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Boswell of Aynho “That the Virtual Proceedings do consider the Report from the European Union Committee Beyond Brexit: How to Win Friends and Influence People”. The Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, spoke in the debate, and highlighted concerns about how the Dublin Regulation will impact refugee children after Brexit.
Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, we must consider this report in light of the global pandemic. Decisions about our future relationship with the EU must be informed by Covid-19, recognising our international interdependence rather than being driven by ideology. Our European neighbours remain our friends and allies. This must continue for the sake of all, and especially for vulnerable children.
Concluding talks by the deadline under present circumstances will be very challenging. I am particularly concerned about the impact on refugee children and our continued co-operation with European nations through the Dublin Regulation. Can the Minister outline the Government’s plans to ensure separated asylum-seeking children in Europe continue to be reunited with family members in the UK, whatever happens to negotiations?
I am anxious too about the impact on vulnerable children who are already here. The success of the EU settled status scheme may be compromised by the pandemic. Local authorities have a duty to apply for their looked-after children. However, the Children’s Society found that just one in 10 of local authorities’ looked-after children has been awarded status. Considering Covid-19, what assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the feasibility that all looked-after children will have applied to the EUSS by June 2021?
We must consider whether we can achieve a new, fruitful, negotiated relationship with the EU by December under current constraints. Will the Government set out criteria against which Parliament can evaluate the progress of negotiations? Do the Government accept that any trade deal must be negotiated by October at the latest if it is to be ratified before the deadline? At this time, when businesses are facing significant economic uncertainty, we must be mindful that these negotiations are an additional source of concern.”
Baroness Ludford, the Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Exiting the European Union, agreed with the Bishop of Durham in his concerns. She asked the Government, “Can the Minister confirm that there will be flexibility and humanity, not least for the looked-after EU children to whom the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham referred?”
Lord True, Minister of State for the Cabinet Office, assured the Bishop of Durham that he would respond to the concerns raised about refugee children.