Boris Johnson is facing a growing Tory rebellion over free school meals as bars, restaurants and the local council in his constituency joined the ranks of those offering help.
The Prime Minister is facing a continuing backlash over the refusal to extend free meals in England during the school holidays, with a series of senior Conservatives warning they could vote against the government on the issue.
The government has so far resisted demands for a u-turn on the subject, despite a groundswell of public support for the campaign spearheaded by footballer Marcus Rashford.
More than 800,000 people have also signed a petition calling for MPs to be stripped of their subsidised food after a motion to offer food aid to vulnerable families over school holidays until Easter 2021 was defeated in the Commons last week.
Businesses and councils across the country have made their own offers of free food which have been shared by Rashford on his Twitter feed - including offers from the Prime Minister’s own Uxbridge and Ruislip constituency.
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They include Bar Italia in Uxbridge, which has started providing free meals for children, as well as Hillingdon Council, which also sits in Johnson’s constituency.
Bar Italia owner Lawrence Santi told Yahoo News UK: “Life is not just about doing the right thing at the right time it’s sometimes about doing the right thing at the wrong time; MLG are a hospitality business struggling like all other hospitality businesses across the UK.
“However tough it’s been, or going to be, we still have food in our bellies. Many children don’t even have that. We couldn’t just stand by and let that happen.”
In a tweet on Friday, Hillingdon Council said it would be supporting children during half-term and would release more details on Monday.
Hillingdon Council will be offering free school meals to eligible children during the half-term holiday. Full details of the scheme and how to claim will be made available on Monday.
— Hillingdon Council (@Hillingdon) October 23, 2020
Sir Keir Starmer has confirmed that Labour will force another vote on the issue if the government does not make a u-turn before Christmas.
Johnson is also facing criticism from his own MPs, with Sir Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the Commons Liaison Committee of senior MPs, telling Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme that the government had “misunderstood the mood of the country”.
He said: “The public want to see the government taking a national lead on this.
“I think the government will probably have to think again on that, particularly if there’s going to be more votes in the House of Commons.”
Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood said he regretted voting with the government last week and extending free school meals offered a “practical vehicle” for providing support to families.
Another former minister Tim Loughton said it had been a “mistake” not to continue with free meals during the holidays following the summer and he was prepared to vote against the Government if there was another vote.
“Free school meals is just one of those totemic things – it is like the NHS, it can do no wrong,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.
But despite a growing backlash, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis defended the government’s position on Sunday, telling BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I think we’ve got the package in place that means people have got the support they need during school holidays.
“I know this is a very emotive issue. It is a sensitive issue. It is something that affects families in my constituency as well as round the country,” he said.
“What we are looking to do is ensure that we deal with child poverty at the core, putting the structure in place that means even in school holidays children can get access to the food that they need.”
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