Theresa May has been accused of a “very shabby cop out” as a mass petition opposing the end of the lone child refugee scheme was delivered to Number 10.
Labour peer Lord Dubs led a chorus of criticism against the Government as he urged them to continue providing a safe haven for unaccompanied minors.
Flanked by a group of children, local politicians and faith leaders, he delivered a 50,000-signature petition to the Prime Minister’s residence.
A storm of controversy has engulfed the Government over its decision to end the programme, which was expected to facilitate some 3,000 vulnerable youngsters.
Former refugee Lord Dubs originally strong-armed the commitment from Whitehall by adding an amendment to the Immigration Act in 2016, known as the Dubs amendment.
But despite the expected influx of thousands, ministers provoked fury by putting brakes on the scheme after 150 children joined the 200 who have already arrived on British soil.
After delivering the box of signatures to Number 10, Lord Dubs told the Press Association: “I was shocked and in disbelief, I couldn’t believe the Government could back off in quite that way.
“We want the Government to change their minds. The Government have said they don’t want to take more than 350 in total under the amendment, I think that’s a very shabby cop out.
“I believe that there are thousands of unaccompanied child refugees suffering greatly in Greece, Italy and some in France, the Government has said no more and I think that is an abdication of their responsibilities, it goes against public opinion and it goes against parliamentary opinion.”
A Home Office spokesman said the Government was “clear that behind these numbers are children” but that it needed to strike a balance between accepting minors and making sure local councils can support them.
A handful of local authority leaders roundly rejected this claim on Saturday afternoon – saying they were more than ready to accept children.
Hammersmith and Fulham council leader Stephen Cowan said: “We think the Government never wanted to take the refugee children.
“When we offered in Hammersmith and Fulham to take – on top of all the children we were currently taking in the national transfer scheme – an extra 10, instead of snapping that up, we found the Government saying they were very disappointed.
“They wanted us to add that number to the original figure we had promised to take.”
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said British and French authorities were concerned the scheme was acting as a “pull factor” for children to be drawn to the UK and that it provided opportunities for people-traffickers.
More than 900 unaccompanied children were transferred to the UK from Europe last year.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We are not giving up on vulnerable children who are fleeing conflict and danger.
“Thanks to the goodwill of the British public and local authorities in the last year alone, we have provided refuge or other forms of leave to more than 8,000 children.
“Our commitment to resettle 350 unaccompanied children from Europe is just one way we are helping.
“We have a proud history of offering protection to those who need it and children will continue to arrive in the UK from around the world through our other resettlement schemes and asylum system.”
The petition follows a stinging intervention from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who warned that halting the initiative would see more children being trafficked, exploited and killed.
The Most Rev Justin Welby added his voice to the heated political row by saying he was “saddened and shocked” at the move.
He said it would be “deeply unjust” to leave the burden of caring for such children on Italy and Greece, where thousands of refugees and migrants arrive from the conflict-ridden Middle East and north Africa.