The Daily Mail's support for Britain taking in more child refugees has astounded the Labour peer fighting for it so much he "bought the paper for the first time in my life".
Lord Alfred Dubs, who is leading a fight to get Britain to take in unaccompanied child refugees who have fled to Europe, welcomed the tabloid's editorial that called for children to be given given "sanctuary", in marked contrast to its otherwise staunchly sceptical position on migration.
It comes as Lord Dubs hopes his amendment calling a "specified number" of children to be taken in will be approved by MPs, who voted to reject an earlier amendment calling for 3,000 children to be taken in on Monday.
“I welcome the Daily Mail’s support – so much so that when I heard about today’s editorial I went out and bought the paper for the first time in my life," Lord Dubs told HuffPost UK.
“Backing for the amendment and the wider campaign seems to be increasing and I sense the government is in real difficulty on how to proceed.
“With more Conservative MPs likely to come on board when the Commons considers the amendment in eleven days time, I hope the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister will be prepared to offer a more positive response.”
Former Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, who chairs Labour’s refugee task force, said: “The Mail’s editorial today shows the strength of support on all sides for Britain to do its bit to help child refugees alone and at risk in Europe. It’s time the Government sat up and listened.”
The Daily Mail was has been praised by campaigners for “putting partisan views aside”.
While the Thursday leader appeared to be a change of editorial stance for the anti-immigration newspaper, it made clear that Britain should only take a few hundred of the “most vulnerable” children from refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk, rather than the 3,000 demanded by the original Dubs amendment that was voted down in the House of Common.
The revised amendment was approved by the Lords on Tuesday and is due to return to the Commons.
A spokeswoman for charity Help Refugees told HuffPost UK: “The safety and protection of vulnerable children should never be treated as a political football and we welcome the Daily Mail’s ability to put partisan views aside and call for our country not to turn its back on the plight of these youngsters.
“When the revised Dubs Amendment goes back to the House of Commons we hope MPs will take heed and vote with their hearts and their conscience to offer safety to some of these refugee children alone in Europe and at risk of sexual exploitation, trafficking and harrowing living conditions through no fault of their own.”
The Mail began its editorial by speaking of the conditions endured by child refugees fleeing war zones, “some just six years old or even younger, will be sleeping in appalling squalor on the streets or in the makeshift camps of supposedly prosperous and civilised Europe”.
It highlighted their vulnerability to sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation, saying the conditions they faced were “a stain on our European partner nations which have shirked their treaty obligations” - but also made clear that under international law the UK has no duty of care to child migrants.
The newspaper said it sympathised with ministers, and understood the PM’s reluctance to “open the doors of these overcrowded islands to those who have no legal right to our hospitality”, and recognised the decision on Monday, by the Commons, to reject a Labour proposal to allow 3,000 unaccompanied child migrants into Britain.
However, despite understanding the arguments for “hardening our hearts”, the Mail wrote, the “exceptional circumstances” of the crisis could not be ignored.
While having no legal obligation, the Mail said, Britain’s “moral and humanitarian duty cannot so easily be shrugged off”.
Addressing the hypocrisy of its stance, the Mail made “absolutely clear” that “nobody has been more robust than this paper” in voicing concerns about the impacts of migration. In doing so, the Mail wrote that it had been viciously attacked, and labelled “racist by a bien pensant liberal elite”.
While the newspaper said it understood the argument that softening Britain’s stance could result in more refugees making the “dangerous journey” here alone, the situation had become “so harrowing that we simply cannot turn our backs”. Safeguards it wrote, could address these concerns.
“Every instinct of our hearts must surely be to play our part, looking after at least some of these neglected children until, God willing, conditions become safe enough to return them to their families in their homelands.”
The Mail said that the House of Lords had offered Cameron a “painless opportunity” to change his mind on child refugees, by voting to amend the Government’s proposals on Tuesday night.
The newspaper said population growth meant Britain cannot, however, afford to make more than a “gesture” in addressing the unaccompanied child refugee situation. It suggested accepting “perhaps a few hundred of the most vulnerable children” from the camps at Calais and Dunkirk.
“But every sinew of our hearts tells us it’s a gesture that must be made — while every child we take will mean a life of hope in place of despair.”