A Tory MP has said she “very much” hopes businesses offering to feed hungry children for free “will not be seeking any further government support”, as the row over free school meals continues.
In a now-deleted Facebook post Selaine Saxby, who represents North Devon, wrote: “I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown they are able to give away food for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further government support.”
Saxby is one of more than 300 Tories who voted against extending free school meals to the UK’s poorest children through the half term and Christmas holidays on Wednesday.
After facing intense criticism online for her comment Saxby insisted her words had been taken “out of context”, but did not explain the context they should have been read in.
She added: “The portrayal of my recent comments on social media, out of context, does not accurately convey my views – I of course deeply regret any offence which may have been caused.”
Leaders in North Devon – where the hospitality industry has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic – have responded furiously to Saxby’s comments, with the North Devon Liberal Democrats’s spokesperson telling Devon Live: “I am stunned at what I have read from Saxby.
“Not only has she tried to justify the fact that she has voted in a way that could see children go hungry, but she’s also attacked the hospitality industry in North Devon who have taken one of the biggest beatings during this pandemic, but still step forward to support children.”
The North Devon MP’s Facebook post began to circulate just ours after fellow Tory MP Ben Bradley, suggested free school meal vouchers for the children in his constituency “effectively” went to crack dens and brothels.
Bradley, who represents Mansfield, claimed on Friday evening that one of the kids in his constituency “lives in a crack den” while another “in a brothel” and that extending free school meals would not reach these children.
When one Twitter user responded suggested a ”£20 cash direct to a crack den and brothel” could be “the way forward”, the MP said: “Thats what FSM vouchers in the summer effectively did.”
The conversation has since been deleted from Twitter, but not before it was screenshotted and met with huge backlash on social media. Like Saxby, Bradley has also claimed his comments were taken out of context.
Saxby and Bradley are amongst 112 MPs who signed letter to Labour leader Keir Starmer claiming that Angela Rayner’s “scum” comment had provoked “widespread abuse” towards Tories.
The letters calls for the opposition leader to “publicly apologise for Angela Rayner’s record of unparliamentary behaviour”, complaining that the deputy leader’s use of the word “scum” (for which she has since publicly apologised) had led to it trending on Twitter and sparking abusive phone calls.
But critics of the government have accused the Tories of trying to shift the blame for public anger onto Labour, instead of addressing the widespread unpopularity of their vote against a motion to extend free school meals.