What kind of government breaks a promise to give shelter to 3,000 of the most desperate people on Earth, children fleeing war and devastation? What kind of government sneaks out an announcement that the 3,000 places it had reserved for child refugees will be shrunk to 350 and, after that, the doors to this peaceful and prosperous country will be slammed shut?
The question is not rhetorical. The first answer is: a government that knows it has the press on its side. Theresa May reckoned she could get away with reneging on her pledge to Alf Dubs – himself a child refugee in 1939 – because the papers have switched sides on the issue, taking much of the public with them.
There was a time, traceable to that photograph of the small, lifeless body of Alan Kurdi washed up on a Mediterranean shore, when these children could expect the sympathy of Britain’s popular press. In April 2016, even the Daily Mail endorsed the Dubs scheme to give 3,000 a haven in Britain.
But then little Alan was erased in the public mind, replaced by images of children who were both alive and bigger, refugees arriving from Calais who the Sun and others believed looked older than 18. The “moral and humanitarian duty” the Mail had spoken of so eloquently was swiftly shrugged off. Refugee kids? They’re all scam artists.
Dubs is surely familiar with this kind of thinking. These days, we look back on the Kindertransport – which saved nearly 10,000 Jewish children who, like Dubs, were fleeing…