Conservative MPs have been criticised for their comments over the free school meals campaign.

It comes following a campaign by Marcus Rashford with over 660,000 people signing a petition calling for half-term stop-gap measures on free school meals in England. 

In a statement to BBC Newsnight, Rashford said: “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.”

Although Rashford has been praised, several Conservative MPs have been criticised for their comments. 

Tory MP for North Devon Selaine Saxby sparked anger after comments on local businesses giving free food away.

A screenshot of a since-removed post in her name on Facebook said: “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.”

The MP later claimed her comments were “out of context” and added: “I of course deeply regret any offence which may have been caused.”

Her party colleague Ben Bradley also said a tweet he sent, which prompted accusations that he was stigmatising working-class families, was “totally taken out of context”.

READ MORE: Row erupts over free school meal comments made by Tory MP Ben Bradley

Defending Mr Bradley, another MP Mark Jenkinson accused people of attempting to “score political points” as he claimed that in his constituency of Workington in a “tiny” minority of cases food parcels – not vouchers – are “sold or traded for drugs”.

The comments also sparked questions and demands for evidence, with Labour’s Jess Phillips writing: “Seriously Mark, let’s have a chat about this when in Parliament I’d love to see your evidence, I’d also like to talk to you about life living with those with substance misuse and what does and doesn’t help solve it.”

Meanwhile West Midlands Tory 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”.

“It should not be a last-minute thing, this should be planned for, there should be a national approach on this,” he said, adding that 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.

READ MORE: Ben Bradley defends tweet after he calls free school meals programme “£20 cash direct to a crack den and a brothel”

Downing Street declined to praise such outlets offering to provide free meals for vulnerable children over half-term.

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who voted in support of extending free school meal provision, called on Boris Johnson to meet Rashford to come up with a long-term strategy, calling such a get-together a “no-brainer”.

Rashford, described as a “hero of our times” by musician and fellow Mancunian Tim Burgess, will be back at his day job later as Manchester United play a home game against Chelsea.