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I dare MPs who voted down the Dubs Amendment to look a child refugee in the eye

Police in Calais are burning the sleeping bags of child refugees. The UK's response is to build more walls. 

On Monday, I visited Calais and Dunkirk to meet refugees and the volunteers who work day and night to help them.

Less than 24 hours later, the UK government crushed an attempt to restart the Dubs scheme, the one chance these refugee children had of a secure family life, safe from war and persecution.

The UK has a proud history of helping refugees – the Kindertransport programme under which the UK took in 10,000 refugee children before World War II is just one example. The closest we have come to any kind of similar action is the now defunct Dubs scheme. Despite aspirations to take in at least 3,000 children under the scheme, we have given refuge to just 350. But this is a tiny fraction of the 30,000 unaccompanied children who arrived in Greece and Italy last year alone. It is the equivalent of every big local authority in the country taking in just two of these youngsters.

While the 287 MPs who voted down the proposal went home to sleep in their beds, volunteers in Calais were handing out 100 sleeping bags – and will do so every night – to ensure that refugees have more than just the clothes on their backs to protect them from the cold. Even having a sleeping bag is no assurance of a warm, restful night. During my visit, volunteers told us stories of police waking up children in the middle of the night, taking away their sleeping bags and burning them. I later met two boys who had their bedding forcefully taken and, as a result, spent the rest of the night running to keep warm.

The government keeps bleating on about costs and a limited capacity to support refugees, but the reality is the UK is pouring money into building walls in Calais (the Calais jungle wall alone cost £2m). Making it harder to cross borders does not reduce numbers of refugees. This money could do so much good, feeding and clothing refugees, giving them somewhere safe and warm to sleep, and reuniting them with their family members in the UK.

We also could be spending the money on improving services on the ground. The Dunkirk refugee camp is home to two shipping containers that were intended to be used solely as community kitchens but also now have 40 people sleeping in each of them. The number of hot meals handed out by volunteers in Calais is growing every night, despite the mayor’s attempts to crack down on food distribution. She has declared herself “personally opposed” to humanitarian efforts. This is the kind of person the UK government is colluding with.

The Dunkirk camp also has a children’s centre, which an average of 40 to 50 children visit each day. From the inside, it could be any classroom or nursery in the UK. Adorned with children’s artwork and abuzz with noise, it is a small haven from its bleak surroundings. One of the regular users of the centre is a five-year-old boy – when I met him, he was quietly doing a Fireman Sam jigsaw puzzle. Volunteers at the centre believe he is on the autistic spectrum but do not have the resources to get an accurate diagnosis. In the UK, his life could be so different.  

It is clear the UK’s response in Calais has been ineffective, inhumane and counterproductive. For example, many of the young people who were taken to other centres around France following the demolition of the jungle camp have simply made their way back to Calais. Their applications for transfer to the UK were rejected by the Home Office and they have nowhere else to go. 

Amber Rudd has claimed “fake news” is being spread about child refugee numbers. Yet, as I have seen for myself, it is anything but. That she needs to borrow rhetoric from Donald Trump highlights a desperation to spin the story and steer attention away from the government’s utter failure to help these children. 

This government is on the wrong side of history and now is the time for action. Reinstating the Dubs scheme is the bare minimum. In addition, the Green Party is calling on the Home Secretary to widen the family reunification rules, so that family members fleeing war, torture and persecution can stay together.

I will never forget the two young girls I met just outside the children’s centre in Dunkirk, one of them wearing a grubby pink sheep onesie. These are the faces of the refugee crisis. My words will never be enough to convey their stories. I challenge Amber Rudd and any of the Conservative politicians who voted against the Dubs amendment to meet these children - smiling and hopeful despite their terrible circumstance – and bear witness to the devastating effects of UK policies. I do not believe any MP would be able to look them in the eye and still cast a vote to condemn them to a life of danger and uncertainty.

Jon Bartley is the co-leader of the Green Party. 

Photo: Getty
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A Fox among the chickens: why chlorinated poultry is about more than what's on your plate

The trade minister thinks we're obsessed with chicken, but it's emblematic of bigger Brexit challenges.

What do EU nationals and chlorinated chickens have in common? Both have involuntarily been co-opted as bargaining chips in Britain’s exit from the European Union. And while their chances of being welcomed across our borders rely on vastly different factors, both are currently being dangled over the heads of those charged with negotiating a Brexit deal.

So how is it that hundreds of thousands of pimpled, plucked carcasses are the more attractive option? More so than a Polish national looking to work hard, pay their taxes and enjoy a life in Britain while contributing to the domestic economy?

Put simply, let the chickens cross the Atlantic, and get a better trade deal with the US – a country currently "led" by a protectionist president who has pledged huge tariffs on numerous imports including steel and cars, both of which are key exports from Britain to the States. However, alongside chickens the US could include the tempting carrot of passporting rights, so at least bankers will be safe. Thank. Goodness. 

British farmers won’t be, however, and that is one of the greatest risks from a flood of "Frankenfoods" washing across the Atlantic. 

For many individuals, the idea of chlorinated chicken is hard to stomach. Why is it done? To help prevent the spread of bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter. Does it work? From 2006-2013 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an average of 15.2 cases of salmonella per 100,000 people in the US (0.015 per cent) – earlier figures showed 0.006 per cent of cases resulted in hospitalisation. In 2013, the EU reported the level at 20.4 cases per 100,000, but figures from the Food Standards Agency showed only 0.003 per cent of UK cases resulted in hospitalisation, half of the US proportion.

Opponents of the practice also argue that washing chickens in chlorine is a safety net for lower hygiene standards and poorer animal welfare earlier along the line, a catch-all cover-up to ensure cheaper production costs. This is strongly denied by governing bodies and farmers alike (and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who reignited the debate) but all in all, it paints an unpalatable picture for those unaccustomed to America’s "big ag" ways.

But for the British farmer, imports of chicken roughly one fifth cheaper than domestic products (coupled with potential tariffs on exports to the EU) will put further pressure on an industry already working to tight margins, in which many participants make more money from soon-to-be-extinct EU subsidies than from agricultural income.

So how can British farmers compete? While technically soon free of EU "red tape" when it comes to welfare, environmental and hygiene regulations, if British farmers want to continue exporting to the EU, they will likely have to continue to comply with its stringent codes of practice. Up to 90 per cent of British beef and lamb exports reportedly go to the EU, while the figure is 70 per cent for pork. 

British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths says that the UK poultry meat industry "stands committed to feeding the nation with nutritious food and any compromise on standards will not be tolerated", adding that it is a "matter of our reputation on the global stage.”

Brexiteer and former environment minister Andrea Leadsom has previously promised she would not lower animal welfare standards to secure new trade deals, but the present situation isn’t yet about moving forward, simply protecting what we already have.

One glimmer of hope may be the frozen food industry that, if exporting to the EU, would be unable to use imported US chicken in its products. This would ensure at least one market for British poultry farmers that wouldn't be at the mercy of depressed prices, resulting from a rushed trade deal cobbled together as an example of how well Britain can thrive outside the EU. 

An indication of quite how far outside the bloc some Brexiteers are aiming comes from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's current "charm" offensive in Australasia. While simultaneously managing to offend Glaswegians, BoJo reaffirmed trading links with the region. Exports to New Zealand are currently worth approximately £1.25bn, with motor vehicles topping the list. Making the return trip, lamb and wine are the biggest imports, so it’s unlikely a robust trade deal in the South Pacific is going to radically improve British farmers’ lives. The same is true of their neighbours – Australia’s imports from Britain are topped by machinery and transport equipment (59 per cent of the total) and manufactured goods (26 per cent). 

Clearly keeping those trade corridors open is important, but it is hard to believe Brexit will provide a much-needed boon for British agriculture through the creation of thus far blocked export channels. Australia and New Zealand don’t need our beef, dairy or poultry. We need theirs.

Long haul exports and imports themselves also pose a bigger, longer term threat to food security through their impact on the environment. While beef and dairy farming is a large contributor to greenhouse gases, good stock management can also help remove atmospheric carbon dioxide. Jet engines cannot, and Britain’s skies are already close to maximum occupancy, with careful planning required to ensure appropriate growth.

Read more: Stephen Bush on why the chlorine chicken row is only the beginning

The global food production genie is out of the bottle, it won’t go back in – nor should it. Global food security relies on diversity, and countries working and trading together. But this needs to be balanced with sustainability – both in terms of supply and the environment. We will never return to the days of all local produce and allotments, but there is a happy medium between freeganism and shipping food produce halfway around the world to prove a point to Michel Barnier. 

If shoppers want a dragon fruit, it will have to be flown in. If they want a chicken, it can be produced down the road. If they want a chlorinated chicken – well, who does?