Justin Welby launched a stinging attack on the government’s Illegal Migration Bill, branding it “isolationist, morally unacceptable and politically impractical”.
The Archbishop of Canterbury made the withering intervention as the flagship legislation on plans to tackle the small boats crisis faced its first test in the House of Lords.
It came just a day after the Church of England (CoE) said it had “lost confidence” in energy giant Shell’s plans to tackle the climate crisis and was preparing to vote against its directors.
Speaking in the upper chamber, the Most Rev Welby, head of the CoE, told peers refugees were “not inconvenient obstructions to get round by any legislative means necessary”.
He lambasted home secretary Suella Braverman’s controversial plan to detain and deport those who get to the UK illegally, including via small boats, to Rwanda or their home nations.
You can watch Justin Welby’s address in the Lords here:
“It is isolationist, it is morally unacceptable and politically impractical to let the poorest countries deal with the crisis alone and cut our international aid,” he said.
“This Bill is an attempt at a short-term fix. It risks great damage to the UK’s interests and reputation at home and abroad, let alone the interests of those in need of protection.”
The UK’s interests are “closely linked to our reputation for justice and the rule of law… our measured language, calm decisions and careful legislation”, the top cleric said. “None of those are seen here.”
Welby called for a rethink of the legislation and said he would bring forward amendments.
The clampdown has been prompted by Rishi Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats” bringing migrants across the English Channel, with more than 6,000 detected crossing so far in 2023.
Small boats plan
Critics have argued plans – including accommodating detainees in empty military bases and a floating barge – risk breaking international law and threatening modern slavery protections.
The Archbishop said he agreed with the “sentiment” of Liberal Democrat peer Lord Paddick’s attempt to block the legislation, but added: “It is our duty to change, not to throw out the Bill.”
He urged the government to reconsider the law, much of which he said “fails to live up to our history, our moral responsibility and our political and international interests”.
Home Office minister Lord Murray of Blidworth shouts of “shame” in the Lords as he argued the Bill was a “compassionate response” to the small boats problem.
While Labour frontbench peer Lord Coaker warned: “We have a government playing fast and loose with our place in the world and our respect for international law. This must change.