Tory revolt deepens as Scottish Conservatives back Rashford over Johnson in free school meals row

Dan Sanderson
·3-min read
Douglas Ross has strongly backed Marcus Rashford's campaign for free school meals in England to be extended - Andrew Milligan/PA
Douglas Ross has strongly backed Marcus Rashford's campaign for free school meals in England to be extended - Andrew Milligan/PA

An internal Tory rift over Boris Johnson’s refusal to extend free school has deepended after the leader of the Scottish Conservatives publicly backed the footballer Marcus Rashford’s “extraordinary” campaign.

Douglas Ross said that the Manchester United and England striker was right to demand that free school meals were extended over holiday periods in England and said Rashford had the full support of the Conservatives north of the border.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, The MP, who was the only UK minister to quit the Government over Dominic Cummings’s lockdown trip to Durham, described providing free school meals as “good policy” and added: “I support what he’s fighting for and the Scottish Conservatives are behind his campaign.”

Marcus Rashford is calling for free school meals in England to be extended over the holidays -  Nigel French/PA
Marcus Rashford is calling for free school meals in England to be extended over the holidays - Nigel French/PA

The Prime Minister is facing a growing revolt from his own benches over his refusal to fund free school meals over the school holidays in England until 2021. Devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast have already introduced food voucher schemes.

On Monday, Mr Johnson again refused to give in to demands for a u-turn, saying he was “very proud” of the  support his government had given to low income families.

A top level football linesman who has officiated fixtures involving Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, Mr Ross compared Rashford’s campaign to his own experiences in sport.

He said: “Nothing I’ve seen on a football pitch has come close to what it has been like watching Marcus Rashford run his campaign for free school meals during the holidays.”

Mr Ross denied he had embarked on a “sudden political flip-flip” after the five other Scottish Tory MPs voted against a Labour motion calling for an extension of free school meals last week. He said he did not vote on the motion as he was in Scotland at the time.

In future, he pledged that Scottish Tory MPs would no longer vote on matters that only impact on England, with free school meals a devolved issue.

"The issue with voting on matters that relate only to England is one of accountability," he said. "In the same way I think it would be deemed inappropriate for MPs representing English constituencies to vote on issues explicitly devolved to the Scottish Parliament, surely the same applies to Scottish MPs voting on English matters."

Mr Ross, who took over as party leader in August and is to stand for a Holyrood seat at next May’s election, has said that he will be willing to take different positions to Mr Johnson, as he seeks to deny Nicola Sturgeon a Holyrood majority and a fresh mandate for an independence vote. 

Mr Johnson is seen by many Scottish Tories as a hindrance, with opinion polls repeatedly showing the Prime Minister remains deeply unpopular with the country’s voters.

Mr Ross recently backed the continuation of free tuition fees north of the border and is pushing Nicola Sturgeon to go further on free school meals by offering them at both breakfast and lunch to every primary pupil. Currently, only lunches are provided free by the Scottish government to younger primary pupils.

He said: “I’m going to keep cheering on Marcus Rashford’s campaign in England. But in Scotland, we’re going to go much further and force the SNP to act in his example – by deeds, not just words.”