Norfolk Tory admits he made a mistake in vote on free school meals

George Freeman says he was wrong to vote again free school meals during half term Credit: ITV News Anglia / Press Association

A Norfolk Conservative MP says his party "misjudged the mood" on free school meals and has urged the government to change its mind.

George Freeman was one of 322 MPs who voted against a call by Labour last week to extend the provision of free lunches to families during the half-term holiday.

Five Conservatives rebelled against a three-line whip to oppose the motion but the government has faced growing criticism since then as communities step in themselves to offer support to those in need.

Communities across Anglia have been stepping in to provide free meals to children during half term Credit: ITV News Anglia

Mid Norfolk MP Mr Freeman says he now realises he made a mistake - and has urged the government to not only u-turn on its refusal to fund meals this holiday but to continue to do so through to Easter 2021.

He said last week's vote was an example of "tribal political games" which should not have got in the way of a serious conversation about how best to support families.

George Freeman, MP for Mid Freeman Credit: Press Association

We should have had a proper debate about how best to target support quickly to the most in need. Last week’s tribal parliamentary politics let down a nation looking for a spirit of joint working for the common good. Having funded 'eat out to help out' this summer, I cannot see why the £20m cost of free school meal vouchers for half term is prohibitive.

George Freeman MP, Mid Norfolk, Con

Mr Freeman also urged the government to:

  • Accept it misjudged the mood and got this wrong last week;

  • Thank Marcus Rashford for his work, and thank the many businesses and residents providing food to local food banks;

  • Commit to funding free school meals this half term and through to Easter;

  • And continue to ensure all children and families are supported through extra funding already pledged to the benefits system, local councils and the new School Fund.

England football star Marcus Rashford visiting FareShare Greater Manchester at New Smithfield Market Credit: Fareshare/Mark Waugh/PA

In a statement, published on his website, Mr Freeman explained his decision to vote against Labour's motion.

He said there was always a "three-line whip" - meaning MPs are expected to obey their party or possibly face expulsion - to vote against a motion by the opposition "attacking the government".

Before deciding how to vote, he said he sought reassurance from ministers that sufficient support was already in place for vulnerable families and that they believed that was the best way to get help to where it was needed.

In hindsight, he said he had made the wrong decision.

The nation is looking for the government to match the spirit of community support for the most vulnerable. Whilst there are genuine policy challenges with how to target the right help through the benefits system to those most in need, this week - when parents face half term without school meals - is not the time to have the debate. The immediate priority should be avoiding any child going hungry.

George Freeman MP, Mid Norfolk, Con

Read more:

Communities across the Anglia region step in to provide meals to those in need

Norfolk pub offers free half term lunches so children won't go hungry