Veteran UK politician and World War II refugee Lord Dubs says Brexit has made the UK a “meaner and nastier country”.
The Labour peer, now 86, was one of the 10,000 Jewish children rescued and brought to the UK from Nazi-occupied Prague in 1939 via the Kindertransport programme organised by Nicholas Winton.
Now, he has told The Big Issue, the rhetoric of right-wing politicians is having a devastating effect on children whose experiences today reflect his own.
He said: “I think Brexit has certainly made us a meaner and nastier country. I knocked on a lot of doors during the referendum campaign and immigration was what they talked about.
“I pointed out that I had been in hospital and everybody who looked after me was an immigrant. People replied that ‘it’s not the ones that are here, it’s the ones that are going to come’.”
“There’s a fear factor built up by Boris Johnson and the Leave campaign saying that 80 million Turks were poised to enter Britain, which is complete nonsense. Brexit did poison the atmosphere.”
Dubs, 2016’s Humanist of the Year, sponsored an amendment to the 2016 Immigration Act in an effort to offer 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children safe passage to Britain. However, an arbitrary cap of only 480 was placed on the amendment by the Conservative government.
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Dubs now continues to campaign for child refugees in a bid to guarantee them the safe refuge he received as a child. He set up the Alf Dubs Children’s Fund with support from charity Safe Passage – continuing the Kindertransport legacy.
He said: “I had hoped the campaign for child refugees, which started before the Brexit referendum, would make us relaxed about all refugees and make it more acceptable. I think it was working, but the referendum set that back a bit.
“Some of the tolerance is gone.”
Speaking to The Big Issue before participating in a debate on the 80th anniversary of parliament’s decision to allow children to come to the UK, he revealed that he would argue the best commemoration would be a commitment to take 10,000 more child refugees over the next decade.
But he said his campaign work does draw his mind back to his own experience.
He revealed: “It has come back a bit. It’s hard not to when you’ve had a fairly dramatic experience, many people had much worse experiences than I did. I was six years old when I got on the train.
“Sometimes it makes me feel we’ve got to do something, we can’t leave children without hope in these terrible circumstances.”
Read the full interview in this week’s Big Issue, on sale now.