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Free meals: North Devon MP Selaine Saxby urged to quit

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image copyrightSelaine Saxby
image captionSelaine Saxby's position is "untenable", according to the Liberal Democrats in North Devon

A Conservative MP is facing calls to stand down over her "mocking" message on Facebook to businesses offering free meals for children during half term.

Thousands of people have signed a petition calling for North Devon MP Selaine Saxby to quit.

Ms Saxby said she hoped that if local businesses were able to offer free food, then they would not be seeking further government help.

She later said her comments had been been taken "out of context".

The government last week rejected a Labour motion to offer free school meals during holidays until Easter 2021.

Her Facebook post, which has since been deleted, said: "I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown that they are able to give food away for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further government support."

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In a later Facebook post, she said: "The portrayal of my recent comments on social media, out of context, does not accurately convey my views. I, of course, deeply regret any offence which may have been caused."

She went on to criticise the behaviour on social media of "a small but hostile element" towards her and her staff as "aggressive and personally abusive".

Petition creator Paul Trueman, from Braunton in North Devon, said: "We all felt proud of every individual and business, big and small, who volunteered this week to help feed them [children].

"But when dozens of our local businesses, already hit hard by months of restrictions and closure, stepped up with offers to help feed hungry kids, we saw them mocked by our own MP here in North Devon, posting from her own Facebook account."

image copyrightFacebook
image captionMs Saxby has since deleted this post

Alex White, spokesman for the Liberal Democrats in the constituency, said: "Her position has become completely untenable.

"In some parts of North Devon, one in three children live in poverty - her comments are an insult not only to inspirational local eateries, but to parents and children across this constituency."

Children of all ages living in households on income-related benefits may be eligible for free school meals.

In England, about 1.3 million children claimed free school meals in 2019 - about 15% of state-educated pupils.

Analysis by the Food Foundation estimates a further 900,000 children in England may have sought free school meals since the start of the pandemic.

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