Tory MP Caroline Ansell quits her Government job after rebelling to back Labour and Marcus Rashford’s bid to offer free school meals to children during holidays until Easter 2021 as she says she could not ‘ignore’ her conscience
- Labour motion urged the Government to extend free school meals programme
- But bid backed by Marcus Rashford was defeated last night by 322 votes to 261
- Five Tory MPs rebelled to vote with Labour and Caroline Ansell was one of them
- Today she announced she had quit her junior ministerial role at Defra over issue
A Tory MP has quit her Government job after rebelling to back Labour and Marcus Rashford’s bid to offer free school meals to children during holidays until Easter 2021.
Caroline Ansell was one of five Conservative backbenchers to go against the Government and vote for the plan last night.
She said in a statement that while she believed extending the scheme was not a ‘long term solution’ she believed it could help people in the ‘immediate time ahead’ during the coronavirus crisis.
She said she ‘could not in all conscience ignore that belief’ as she announced she had resigned as a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Caroline Ansell, the Tory MP for Eastbourne, today quit her Government role after rebelling over free school meals
Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford blasted MPs for rejecting a plan to offer free school meals to pupils during holidays until Easter 2021
Who is Caroline Ansell, one of five Tory MPs who rebelled over free school meals?
Conservative MP Caroline Ansell was first elected to the House of Commons in 2015.
But she then lost her Eastbourne seat at the 2017 general election as the Liberal Democrat Stephen Lloyd retook the constituency he had lost to Ms Ansell in 2015.
However, Ms Ansell, 49, then took her revenge as she won the seat back at Boris Johnson’s snap national poll in December 2019.
The married mother-of-three served on Eastbourne Borough Council before becoming MP for the area for the first time five years ago.
Her role as a Parliamentary Private Secretary – the lowest rung on the ministerial ladder – at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs represented her first government role.
Labour’s motion calling for the Government to offer more help to struggling families was defeated by 322 votes to 261, a majority of 61.
England and Manchester United football ace Mr Rashford, who has been campaigning on the issue, slammed the outcome of the vote on Twitter as he said children would go to bed feeling hungry and worthless.
Ms Ansell, the Conservative MP for Eastbourne, broke the whip to vote for the motion and she said because of that she could not remain in her junior Government role.
She said in a statement: ‘In these unprecedented times, I am very concerned to be doing all we can to help lower-income families and their children who are really struggling due to the impact of the virus.
‘Therefore, last night, I voted for Labour’s motion on extending free school meal vouchers until after Easter 2021 for those families in receipt of Universal Credit or an equivalent benefit.
‘I do not consider this extension could be in any way a long-term solution to this need, which is complex. There are better ways to help children, including linking meals to activities so they can also benefit from extra-curricular learning and experience.
‘However, as we are still very much living in the shadow of the pandemic, vouchers are a lever – not perfect, not sustainable – but one which I thought could be used to reach families in Eastbourne and across the country in the immediate time ahead. I could not in all conscience ignore that belief.
‘Due to my decision not to support the Government in this debate, I have resigned as a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.’
Mr Rashford has vowed to continue campaigning to extend free school meals over the holidays despite last night’s parliamentary set back.
He told politicians to ‘stop stigmatising, judging and pointing fingers’ as he warned a ‘significant number’ of children will go to bed hungry and ‘feeling like they do not matter’.
He called on people to ‘unite’ to protect the most vulnerable children, adding: ‘For as long as they don’t have a voice, they will have mine.’
The other Tory MPs who rebelled to support the motion were Education Select Committee chairman Robert Halfon, Jason McCartney (Colne Valley), Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) and Holly Mumby-Croft (Scunthorpe).
Downing Street ruled out performing a late U-turn ahead of the vote, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson telling MPs that support will continue for children in low income families.
‘We will continue to use the benefits system and all the systems of income to support children throughout the holidays as well,’ he added.