Boris Johnson is planning to increase funding for England’s poorest families over Christmas in a bid to avoid a damaging Tory revolt over free school meals, according to insiders.
Downing Street sources told The Times that additional support for eligible pupils is to be provided outside term time, in what the newspaper describes as a “partial climbdown”. The prime minister is facing growing criticism of his handling of footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign for the government to continue providing the free meals over school holidays, with senior Conservatives accusing Johnson of “misunderstanding” the public mood.
Hinting at a new policy, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday that “what we are looking to do is put in place the structure that means even in the school holidays children can get access to the food they need”.
However, an unnamed minister said that the PM is “standing firm on the principle that there are broader and bigger reforms of child poverty required rather than another sticking plaster”, The Sun reports.
Labour has said it will table another motion if there is no U-turn, as three senior Tory MPs “warned they would vote with Labour on giving vouchers to parents of the poorest kids during school holidays”, adds the newspaper.
Tory MP Tobias Ellwood said he was wrong to vote with the government against a free school meals extension last week, with fellow Conservative Tim Loughton warning that Downing Street is making “a mistake”. Bernard Jenkin added: “I think we have to admit that we have misunderstood the mood of the country here.”
And those sentiments are reportedly shared by many other Tories.
The Telegraph says that up to 100 Conservative MPs are sharing “furious texts” over the government’s handling of the issue, “and the way it handed a political coup to Labour”. The angry MPs say the “shockingly inept” response and “hopeless communication” has created a “political disaster”, the paper reports.