Archbishop condemns UK immigration bill, prompting government backlash
A row has broken out in the UK over immigration policy between members of the government and senior clerics in the Church of England.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby denounced the proposed Illegal Migration Bill as “morally unacceptable” legislation that would do “great damage” to the UK’s reputation, adding that it “fails to live up to our history, our moral responsibility, and our political and international interests.”
The bill, which passed the House of Commons earlier this year, includes mechanisms to make it easier to detain and deport people who enter the UK illegally, especially those who do so via small boats across the English Channel, to their home country or third countries, including Rwanda in East Africa, even as their asylum applications are ongoing.
At least 45,755 people made such trips last year, and more than 6,000 are known to have done so this year, with numbers expected to increase as the summer months approach.
The archbishop, speaking in the House of Lords, said: “We need a bill to reform migration. We need a bill to stop the boats. We need a bill to destroy the evil tribe of traffickers. The tragedy is that, without much change, this is not that bill.
“This bill fails utterly to take a long-term and strategic view of the challenges of migration and undermines international cooperation, rather than taking an opportunity for the UK to show leadership.”
His thoughts were echoed by the bishop of Durham, the Rt. Rev. Paul Butler, who told members of the House of Lords he was concerned by parts of the bill, including proposals to detain children.
“I am reminded of Jesus’ words: ‘It would be better to have a millstone around the neck and be cast into the sea than to cause a little one to stumble.’ This responsibility needs to bear upon us heavily,” he said.
The interventions were criticized by Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick, who told the BBC: “Firstly, there’s nothing moral about allowing the pernicious trade of people smugglers to continue ... I disagree with (Welby), respectfully.
“By bringing forward this proposal, we make it clear that if you come across illegally on a small boat, you will not find a route to life in the UK ... That will have a serious deterrent effect.”
House of Lords member Simon Murray agreed with Jenrick and told the House of Lords: “We simply cannot continue with a situation whereby, year-on-year, tens of thousands of people make the dangerous, illegal, and unnecessary journey across the Channel in circumvention of our immigration controls.”
Another member of the House of Lords, Michael Dobbs, a former adviser to ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, also rejected the archbishop’s claims, saying that it was vital that steps were taken to prevent people traffickers operating with impunity in British waters.
He said: “They trade in lies; they trade lives. It is our moral obligation to stop them, to bring an end to the unimaginable pain of mothers and fathers watching their children drowning in the Channel. No amount of handwringing or bell ringing is going to do that.”
Former government minister and now House of Lords member, Michael Forsyth, said: “People are drowning in the English Channel now. People are leaving a safe country (France) in order to come here, and it is fatuous to try to present this as in the way that many have done.”
Conservative MP Mark Jenkinson said the Church of England’s leadership was “increasingly detached” from the opinions of worshippers in the UK.
“Allowing people to be endangered, and in some cases die, at the hands of vile people smugglers is as far from Christian as it gets,” he added.
A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “The prime minister does not think it is compassionate or fair to allow people who are jumping the queue over some of the most vulnerable people who are seeking to come here through safe and legal routes.” They added that the PM believed the bill to be “compassionate and fair.”