Tory MP Caroline Ansell resigns from government over free school meals rebellion

Published: 22 October 2020

Post Desk : A Tory MP has quit her junior government role after rebelling to support extending free school meals over the coming school holidays.

Caroline Ansell resigned as a parliamentary private secretary to the environment secretary, saying she “could not in all conscience ignore” her belief the policy would benefit families struggling during the pandemic.

She was one of five Conservatives to back Labour’s motion, following a campaign led by England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford.

It was heavily defeated in the House of Commons last night, by 322 votes to 261.

In a statement released the following morning, the MP for Eastbourne said she had resigned from the frontbench “due to my decision not to support the government in this debate”.

Ms Ansell explained: “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.”

Earlier, policing minister Kit Malthouse told Sky News ministers weren’t trying to “take on” Rashford.

And after a memo allegedly from government figures with suggested lines for MPs to combat Labour’s motion were leaked, he said it was “standard practice” for party whips to put out briefings opposing Labour motions.

But Labour said the government had “badly let down more than one million children and their families”.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green added: “No child should go hungry over the holidays, but the government is blocking the action needed to prevent this.

“We pay tribute to Marcus Rashford and others for shining a spotlight on this incredibly important issue.

“This campaign is not over and the government must reconsider.”

Rashford himself spoke out on Wednesday night, saying: “Put aside all the noise, the digs, the party politics and let’s focus on the reality.

“A significant number of children are going to bed tonight not only hungry but feeling like they do not matter because of comments that have been made today.

“We must stop stigmatising, judging and pointing fingers. Our views are being clouded by political affiliation.

“This is not politics, this is humanity.”

Earlier this year, he successfully got the government to U-turn and provide free school meals vouchers to struggling parents through the summer holidays.

Facing MPs in the Commons on Wednesday, Boris Johnson resisted calls for a change in approach.

“We support kids on low incomes in school and we will continue to do so,” he said during Prime Minister’s Questions.

“But the most important thing is to keep them in school and not tear off into another national lockdown taking them out of school.

“We will continue to use the benefits system and all the systems of income to support children throughout the holidays as well.”

And a Number 10 spokesman said: “While schools continue to play an integral role in the community, it’s not for them to regularly provide food during school holidays.”