Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 26 November 2020

MPs who voted against Marcus Rashford’s free school meals plan face bans from local cafes

Boris Johnson to defuse revolt over refusal to back footballer’s campaign

The backlash against Tory MPs who voted against Marcus Rashford's free school meals campaign is growing. EPA
The backlash against Tory MPs who voted against Marcus Rashford's free school meals campaign is growing. EPA

Some Tory MPs who voted against footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to provide free school meals over the holidays in England are being banned from eateries in their own constituencies.

The backlash comes as senior Conservative MPs warn that Number 10 has “misread the mood of the country” and would probably have to perform a U-turn over the refusal to extend free school meals at Christmas.

Labour’s motion to provide 1.4m disadvantaged children in England with £15-a-week food vouchers during holidays until Easter 2021 was voted down last week. A grassroots rebellion followed.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak was on Saturday banned from a pub in his Yorkshire constituency.

In Cornwall, two cafes united to ban local MP Steve Double from attending their establishments.

And in Lancashire, MP David Morris was “banned for life” from a shoe shop for voting down Rashford’s plan.

Meanwhile, dozens of empty plates were also left outside the office of Southend West MP David Amess to demonstrate children going hungry.

In an attempt to head off a growing Tory revolt, Boris Johnson hinted at extra support for the poorest families over Christmas.

Speaking during a visit to a hospital in Reading, Mr Johnson promised to do "everything in our power" to tackle holiday hunger.

He said: "We don’t want to see children going hungry this winter, this Christmas, certainly not as a result of any inattention by this Government - and you are not going to see that.”

The prime minister added that he had not spoken to Rashford since June but said "what he is doing is terrific".

He said: “We support the local councils - indeed we fund the local councils and many of the organisations that are helping in this period - but we are also uplifting Universal Credit by £1,000 and we think that is one of the best ways you can help families in this tough time.

“I totally understand the issue of holiday hunger, it is there, we have to deal with it.

“The debate is how do you deal with it.”

It comes after several Tory MPs broke ranks to demand a rethink.

Senior Tory Sir Bernard Jenkin said the government warned “misread the mood of Britain”.

“I think the government will probably have to think again.”

Defence minister Johnny Mercer also said the issue had been “poorly handled” by the government.

Ex-minister Tobias Ellwood admitted he was wrong to vote with the government, while fellow former minister Tim Loughton warned that Number 10 was making “a mistake”.

In another blow, children’s commissioner Anne Longfield accused Mr Johnson of treating the poorest children like Oliver Twist, adding she had been “horrified and really disappointed” by last week’s vote.

“We're a wealthy country, it's 2020,” Ms Longfield said.

"To have a debate about whether we should make sure that hungry and vulnerable children have enough to eat is something that is strikingly similar to something we'd expect to see in chapters of Oliver Twist – a novel published in the 19th century.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he would force another vote on free school meals if the government does not perform a U-turn before Christmas.

Rashford, who plays for Manchester United and in the England national side, said the backlash showed the UK cared about feeding hungry children, with support for a petition surpassing 800,000 signatures.

He wrote on Twitter:

The footballer had already forced the government to perform a U-turn on extending free school meals over the summer.

Refusing to wait for government help, local councils and businesses have pledged free food for children in need during this week’s half-term break.

Updated: October 26, 2020 07:30 PM

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