Devon MP expresses 'deep regret' after Facebook post suggesting businesses giving free meals don't need government help

The MP for North Devon has since removed the post from Facebook.

A Devon Conservative MP is facing backlash after she voted against free half term meals for children and then caused controversy with a post on a local Facebook group.

Selaine Saxby, the MP for North Devon, posted in North Devon News Facebook group on 23 October as businesses across the region announced they would be supporting families of vulnerable children during the holidays.

She said she was "delighted" that local businesses are doing well enough post-lockdown that they can offer free meals.

The MP added she hopes they will not be seeking further financial support from the Government. The post, which has now been deleted, attracted a torrent of criticism.

The post in full:

"I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown they are able to give away food for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further government support. I would like to express my grave concern at the nature of "news" on this site and the level of inaccuracy that has been posted on here in recent times.

"I do not get free lunches or dinners in Westminster, I take my own packed lunch as I did when I taught. Our canteens and dining rooms are subsidised as are many workplaces, and most are used by the entire House staff, which include the security forces for example, which we have to have so many of, because of the posts on social media platforms like this one.

"I am aware tonight [23 October] a Conservative councillor has written to the Chief Executive of North Devon Council to request some of the additional government funding, announced yesterday, is used to help the most needy families in North Devon, which I fully endorse, as this is what the money has been to councils by government for.

"Letters in response to every email I have received on this matter are already in the post and very unpleasant language used towards myself and my staff in the last few days is not going to be of benefit to any children in North Devon. There are numerous ways to help the most in need in North Devon way beyond free school meals over a half term holiday, and I am committed to working towards finding them, in a polite manner, barring as few people as possible from my social media feeds!"

Saxby was voted in during the December 2019 General Election.

A petition calling for the MP to resign has now been signed by more than 2,000 people, after she initially voted against the Labour motion to provide disadvantaged children with food vouchers during the October break.

On Wednesday 21 October, after the vote, Saxby described the situation as "Punch and Judy politics". She said on Twitter, "We are doing so much to help families in need. As a former teacher, I am very aware that trying to ensure children don’t go hungry is far more complicated than today’s Punch and Judy politics at Westminster would suggest."

After receiving heavy criticism for the Facebook post, Saxby has issued a statement on her Twitter page in which she expresses "deep regret" for any offence caused.

She also said her comments were taken out of context.

You can read the full statement below:

On Wednesday there were 261 votes in favour of the meal voucher extension and 322 against.

England footballer Marcus Rashford has publicly backed the campaign to continue support throughout the holidays, which has now encouraged businesses across the region to support families themselves.

Most of Devon and Cornwall's Tory MPs voted against the measure, with the exception of Newton Abbot MP Anne Marie Morris.