Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, 22, who championed the campaign, called on people to “unite” to protect the most vulnerable children

Mail Online: LONDON, England – More than 740,000 people have already signed a petition to end subsidised meals for MPs after they voted against extending free school meals.

Earlier this week, a motion to offer food aid to vulnerable families over school holidays until Easter 2021 was defeated in the House of Commons by 322 votes to 261.

But the defeat sparked fierce backlash with Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, 22, who championed the campaign, calling on people to ‘unite’ to protect the most vulnerable children.

The latest petition, which was launched on 38 Degrees, said: ‘MPs have voted against extending free school meals into the holidays for the poorest children in the UK, in the middle of a pandemic.

“They should under no circumstances benefit from free or subsidised meals out of public funds themselves.”

MPs are currently allowed to eat and drink alcohol in parliamentary restaurants and bars which, while not directly subsidised, run at a loss.

This means that public money is effectively spent subsidising the overall catering operation.

The petition has so far received more than 740,000 signatures out of its 800,000 target.

Portia Lawrie, who started the petition, said: “I only started this petition because I was so angry that some MPs had rejected the chance in parliament, and Marcus Rashford’s campaign, to extend free school meals into the school holiday.

“I wanted to point out the clear hypocrisy between that and the food and drink the public subsidise for MP’s whilst denying support to those most in need of it.’

“I couldn’t quite believe what I was watching unfold as hundreds of thousands of people threw their support behind it in less than 24 hours.

“It’s simply unfair that the government is refusing to use OUR money for one of the most basic responsibilities of a compassionate society – feeding hungry children. And the level of support this petition is getting shows clearly the level of hurt caused by those who voted against it.”

The link to the petition has since been shared by a range of famous faces including actors Angela Griffin and Tamzin Outhwaite

It comes after Rashford tonight tweeted to ask people to ‘rise above’ disappointment, describing abuse of MPs and their families in recent days as “unacceptable’ and unnecessary”.

He wrote: “I want to take a quick second to acknowledge that a number of MP’s, and their families, have received unacceptable abuse over the last couple of days, especially on Twitter.

“Believe me, as a Premier League player, I know all too well what that feels like, and it’s unnecessary. We are all bigger than that.”

He said he cannot and does not condone personal attacks on females in particular.

Calling for “collaboration” and “togetherness”, he added: “Disappointment is a natural reaction, but we must rise above it.”

Earlier this week the athlete told BBC Newsnight that he ‘couldn’t be more proud to call myself British’ after his campaign to provide free meals to children this Christmas sparked an outpouring of support on social media.

The Manchester United footballer thanked hundreds of cafes, pubs and restaurants which came forward to offer half-term food for vulnerable children following the vote.

In a statement released to the flagship programme, the ace also responded to criticism of his decision to start the campaign, saying those who wanted to talk about “celebrities” and “superstar”‘ would find them in his Twitter feed.

Dozens of hospitality businesses have shown they “stand with Rashford, not the 322” MPs who rejected the motion, by supporting families during the school holidays.

Pictured: Members’ Dining Room menu in September 2019

Speaking to BBC Newsnight, the England star said: “Growing up we didn’t have a lot, but we always had the safety net of the community. That community was my family.

“When we stumbled, we were caught with open arms. Even at their lowest point, having felt the devastating effects of the pandemic, local businesses have wrapped arms around their communities today, catching vulnerable children as they fell.

“I couldn’t be more proud to call myself British tonight. I am truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.

“You want to talk about ‘celebrities’ and ‘superstars’, look no further than my Twitter feed and that’s exactly what you’ll find.”

Some business giants are involved in the campaign, with McDonald’s set to deliver a million meals for children in the next few weeks.

Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson backed a campaign to provide free meals to vulnerable children, seeing it pass £35,000.

Ms Lawson tweeted: ‘It shouldn’t have to be this way, but it is more important to feed a hungry child than argue about how it’s done.

“Or rather, donate if you can and then do what’s necessary to stop those who make children going hungry policy.”

Councils including Redbridge Borough Council, Southwark Council, Hammersmith and Fulham Council and Liverpool City Council also said they would help out.

And smaller firms such as Aubergine Cafe in the Wirral, which is managed by Andrew Mahon and his wife May, have launched their own rescue missions for children.

Announcing plans for food vouchers via the Co-op, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham tweeted: “Was good to tell @MarcusRashford that we, his home city-region, aim to be the first in the country to achieve his vision.”

After unveiling a similar scheme in his city, Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson tweeted: ‘Families are struggling more than ever to make ends meet. No child should have to go hungry and in Liverpool we won’t let them. Thanks for your hard work and campaigning @MarcusRashford.’

A host of celebrities also offered their support to the England star, with journalist Caitlin Moran tweeting: ‘Marcus Rashford’s timeline swells your heart – people across the country doing something about feeding kids at Christmas.’

Musician Tim Burgess, a fellow Mancunian, tweeted: ‘Wow, @MarcusRashford is a true hero of our times. So many MPs should feel shame over the fact that a footballer is helping the needy, more than they are.’

Support also came from across the football world, with ex-England striker and Match of the Day host Gary Lineker posting: “Well played @MarcusRashford. Check his timeline. Extraordinary from a remarkable young man.”

A top regional Conservative politician has since waded in to the furore, blasting the Government’s ‘last-minute’ decision-making.

West Midlands mayor Andy Street said the Government should make ‘a clear decision’ on whether it would or would not fund free school meals over holidays ‘well in advance’.

Asked if the Government should have to fund half-term meals, he said: ‘I think – at the last minute – you probably do have to fund it, is the answer to that.’

He added: “It should not be a last-minute thing, this should be planned for, there should be a national approach on this.”

He said the lack of planning meant there was now an ‘indiscriminate arrangement’ across the country as to whether free school meals would be provided over the break.

McDonald’s funding will enable charity FareShare to redistribute food to families who need it most in the coming weeks.

UK and Ireland CEO Paul Pomroy said: “As a business we are committed to supporting and serving the communities in which we operate.

“In these challenging times, we know it’s more important than ever to support those most in need.

“When we temporarily closed our restaurants in March, our people, franchisees and suppliers rallied to provide surplus food and support to food banks and charities.

“We were pleased that we were able to donate surplus food through FareShare and other organisations earlier this year, and we admire the fantastic work that FareShare continues to do to support families facing very tough situations.

“I am pleased to support the distribution of one million meals to the families most in need this Autumn, and I wish to thank and congratulate FareShare for everything they’re doing.”

FareShare CEO Lindsay Boswell added: “McDonalds is showing real leadership in supporting the most vulnerable in society to get access to healthy food at this critical time.

“The funding will enable the equivalent of 1 million meals to be redistributed to our charity network very swiftly, and we are very grateful for their urgent support.'”