Justin Welby shares thoughts on Illegal Migration Bill
Ministers said the Archbishop of Canterbury was “wrong” for attacking government attempts to tackle illegal migration.
In a highly political intervention, Justin Welby said planned new laws to stop small boats arrivals were impractical and would damage Britain’s international standing.
But the “hand wringing” top cleric was told there is “nothing moral” about allowing people to be smuggled across the English Channel.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick hit out saying Mr Welby’s assessment was “wrong on both counts”.
“Firstly there’s nothing moral about allowing the pernicious trade of people smugglers to continue,” he said.
“I disagree with him 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.”
Unelected peers are expected to try and make significant changes to the illegal migration bill drawn up to stop the small boats crisis by giving the government the power to ignore some European court rulings.
Mr Jenrick said: “It’s important that the House of Lords plays its constitutional function scrutinising legislation but I strongly disagree with some of the comments that have been heard in the House of Lords today. This is the right approach.
“We have to tackle illegal migration and we have to bring control back to our borders.”
Downing Street insisted the legislation is “compassionate and fair” and would provide an effective solution to the crisis.
“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,” Rishi Sunak’s spokesman said.
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Conservative MP James Daly, a member of the Home Affairs committee, said: “The unelected archbishop should stick to religion and keep out of politics. He moralises but comes up with no solutions.
“This intervention neither helps the people being smuggled across the Channel in dangerous small boats or the working class communities put under strain by illegal migration.
“This government was democratically elected to implement policies like this.”
Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson said: “The upper house would do well to remember that any attempt to block it will reveal them to be out of touch the vast majority who voted to control immigration.
“Lords should not forget the will of the British people and back the bill.”
Former Tory Cabinet minister Lord Forsyth said he had “yet to hear a remedy from anyone who opposes this Bill as to how we are going to stop the boats” and branded the Archbishop’s approach as “fatuous”.
“People are leaving a safe country in order to come here and it is fatuous to try and present this as in the way that many have done,” he told peers.
The Conservatives do not have a majority in the House of Lords, which has 83 Liberal Democrat peers despite the party having just 14 MPs.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman urged peers to back the bill, insisting it is the “will of the people” that measures are introduced to stop small boats.
Mr Welby, one of 25 bishops in the Lords, has become a prominent critic of the government.
As the bill reached its second reading today, he said: “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.
“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 or the nations who together face this challenge.
“Our interests as a nation are closely linked to our reputation for justice and the rule of law and to our measured language, calm decision and careful legislation.
“None of those are seen here.
“This nation should lead internationally, not stand apart.”
The legislation, which cleared the Commons last month, aims to ensure those who arrive in the UK without permission will be detained and promptly removed, either to their home country or a third country such as Rwanda.
It also includes provisions that would limit the ability of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to prevent the deportation of asylum seekers.
Lord Dobbs, a former adviser to the Thatcher government and author of the House of Cards political novel, warned the Archbishop neither “handwringing or bell ringing” will solve the misery of the channel crossings.
The Tory peer warned about the impact of people smuggling gangs facilitating crossings, telling the Lords: “They trade in lies, they trade lives.”
He also warned peers that they should not try to block the measures contained in the bill.
“It is our moral obligation to stop them, to bring an end to the unimaginable pain of mothers and fathers watching their children drowning off our shores in the channel.
“No amount of hand wringing or bell ringing is going to do that.”
“I can’t quite get my mind around the ethical nature of this bizarre proposition that unelected parliamentarians should without any real discussion destroy a Bill that has been passed by our elected House of Commons, he said.
Home Office minister Lord Murray faced jeers and shouts of “shame” in the upper chamber as he argued the Illegal Migration Bill was a “compassionate response” to the small boats problem.
Peers are expected to table a series of amendments to radically water down the bill when it reaches its next stage in the next few weeks.
Tory former chancellor Norman Lamont warned against cramming legislation aimed at tackling the small boats crisis with so many “loopholes, exemptions and get-out-clauses” that it becomes unworkable.
He said migrant Channel crossings were “an acute problem” that needed addressing.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick said the Illegal Migration Bill was “part of the solution”.
Former Tory leader Lord Howard said he supported the Bill because the “first duty of a Government is to protect the borders of its state”.
Lord Howard dismissed arguments about the lack of safe and legal routes for asylum seekers as “irrelevant”.
He said: “Unless everyone, and I mean everyone, who applies for leave to enter the UK through a safe route is granted that right, there are some who are refused, and some of those who are refused will be able to acquire the means to pay the people smugglers and the people smugglers will continue to put them on boats to cross the Channel.”
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