Theresa May has distanced herself from Donald Trump’s policy of separating child refugees from their parents, with No.10 pointing to Britain’s more “humane” approach.
In a clear bid to contrast the UK’s stance with that of the US, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that the welfare of children should be “at the heart” of the immigration system.
Downing Street’s words came as footage emerged of 1,100 youngsters held in cages in a detention warehouse in Texas, just over the border with Mexico.
Trump defended his new “zero tolerance” policy, and instead hit out at European countries, saying they had become a “migrant camp” and that children were being used by criminals like a “Trojan horse” to get into America.
But there was an international and domestic backlash against the policy as TV crews showed one cage had 20 children in it.
Jeremy Corbyn demanded a much tougher response and Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper urged the PM to directly challenge the US President on the issue ahead of his trip to the UK next month.
On Monday, the US Border and Customs agency released footage from inside the Texas warehouse, with children and adults marched into a fenced cage with only basic provisions including foil ‘blankets’ to sleep under.
Asked about the policy, the PM’s official spokesman steered away from direct criticism of the White House but made clear that Britain did not endorse the American approach.
“The UK’s own immigration policy does not apply these measures and we do not intend to do so,” he said.
“The welfare and safeguarding of children is at the heart of our immigration policy. We do not separate child asylum seekers or refugees from their families.
“The point is we believe that we have a humane system. I set out what that is. We are very clear that anyone who requires our protection will be granted it. These are the policies we chose to pursue as the United Kingdom government.”
Asked if May intended to raise the issue with Trump at the forthcoming Nato summit or during his visit to the UK next month, the spokesman replied: “I don’t know what conversations they are going to be having but I would point you to our own position in relation to this which I think is very clear.”
Pressed on whether the US policy breached international human rights laws, he said: “Our own position is guided by the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. That’s what we adhere to but I can’t speak for other countries.
“Our position on this is very clear. It’s a position we intend to maintain. Separating children in that way is not something you would expect to see in the United Kingdom.”
Jeremy Corbyn said: “It is tragic and shocking to see innocent children caged like animals and to hear their cries of anguish after being forcibly separated from their parents.
“It is immoral and goes against fundamental human rights we must always respect, no matter the situation.
“Whatever your political views on migration in the USA, there is no justification for such cruel and inhumane treatment of children and families.”
Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, told HuffPost: “Separating children from their parents is cruel and inhumane and the idea that a major ally is putting children and teenagers in cages is utterly horrifying.
“The Prime Minister needs to urge President Trump in the strongest possible terms to end this abhorrent and dehumanising treatment.”
Trump took to Twitter to defend the policy.
However, US website ProPublica obtained shocking audio clips of a border guard joking as a child was separated from their parents.
Referring to the crying children, he says: “Well, we have an orchestra here. What’s missing is a conductor.”
Trump has blamed Democrats amid mounting criticism, saying the crackdown was a result of inaction on border security in Congress. However, the family separations are entirely the result of Trump administration policy.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also falsely purported the claim that the Trump administration’s tactic of taking children from their families at the border was an enforcement of the law.
There is no law requiring immigrant families to be separated, even if they are crossing the border illegally. Previous administrations allowed families to face deportation proceedings together in civil court.
Nielsen said at a Monday press briefing that she did not hear the recording of the children and referred reporters to the department’s “standards” in treating the kids.