'Morally unacceptable': Archbishop Justin Welby tears shreds out of Illegal Immigration Bill

The intervention of the most senior cleric in the country on the morality of a key government policy is a serious moment for the PM, ITV News political correspondent Harry Horton reports

The Archbishop of Canterbury has torn shreds out of the Illegal Immigration Bill, labelling it "isolationist, morally unacceptable and politically impractical", with "too many problems" to highlight in one speech.

Justin Welby attacked Rishi Sunak's plan to 'stop the boats', which is facing its second major Parliamentary hurdle, with peers in the House of Lords scrutinising the controversial proposal.

"This bill has no sense at all of the long term and the global nature of the challenge that the world faces," the religious leader said.

"It ignores the reality that global migration must be engaged with at source as well as in the Channel as if we as a country were unrelated to the rest of the world."

The archbishop added the Bill does not address issues that are causing mass migration, including wars and climate change, saying it is "isolationist, it is morally unacceptable and politically impractical" to leave those problems to poorer countries.

Justin Welby attacks the Illegal Immigration Bill

He added: “Even if this Bill succeeded in temporarily stopping the boats, and I don’t think it will, it won’t stop conflict or climate migration.”

It is not the first time he has criticised government immigration policy, previously labelling the rhetoric of ministers as "harmful" and the Rwanda deportation policy as "ungodly".

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has implored Lords to back the Bill, telling them "the British people want us to stop the boats. That is exactly what this Bill will help us do".

She sought to ease concerns by assuring peers the law has been "designed with the assistance of some of the country’s finest legal minds to ensure it delivers for the British public in a manner consistent with rule of law and robust to legal challenge".

Critics of the Bill are worried it will breach the UK's obligations to the European Court of Human Rights - and Ms Braverman has already admitted it "pushed the boundaries of international law".

Speaking on the Peston show on ITV1, Tory MP Chris Skidmore criticised the Illegal Migration Bill, saying by making claiming asylum illegal, the government would be breaking international law.

He told ITV News political editor Robert Peston: "Churchill would be turning in his grave if he thought that we were going to be taking the UK out of the processes of international law, and that's just simply something that I'm not prepared to do, which is why I've not participated in the bill."

When asked if he thought it was a sensible bill in the first place, he said: "No, I've got reservations on whether this is morally the correct thing to do, whether the long-term implications of this have been thought through.

"Whether [it is] sort of creating a Windrush Mark Two.

"A number of individual cases I can see going horrifically wrong if this legislation was in place, which I doubt it will be - we've just seen the U-turn on EU retained legislation."

Peston asked Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry if she thinks we should repeal the Illegal Migration Bill.

The Labour MP said: "I think we should repeal it, yes of course I do. But I mean, we'll see what happens.

"We have been completely against it, we have voted against it in every way, we have tried to amend it, we have tried to make it better, we've tried to knock the edges off.

"But there's so much legislation we disagree with, if we spend all our time repealing Conservative legislation we won't be able to put forward our positive agenda. But yeah, this would be on my list of things to repeal."

Earlier today, former child refugee Lord Dubs, who escaped the Nazis on the Kindertransport in 1939, said he was “very concerned” about the lack of judicial review, which is a “fundamental safeguard,” adding the Bill would no longer treat unaccompanied children “in a humane way”.

Lord Dubs told peers: “The minister says we will hold children here until they are 18 and then we can remove them. But previous Governments have said ‘No, children will be treated in a more humane way’ – but that appears no longer to be the case.”

He concluded: “There are so many ways in which our refugee system is a mess, but yet the Bill is tackling virtually none of those.”

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Paddick said the Bill "seeks to systematically deny human rights to a group of people desperately seeking sanctuary" and would "breach our international obligations".

He tabled a motion which seeks to throw out the Bill from the House of Lords but Labour is not expected to back it so it is likely to fail.

Immigration minister Baron Murray of Blidworth told the House of Lords the government "takes our international treaty obligations incredibly seriously".

He said the Bill must be implemented to cut crossings from last year's record of over 45,000, pointing out that the UK is spending £3 billion a year on asylum seekers and over £6 million a day on hotel accommodation.

He ended by telling peers they live in a country which is "welcoming, compassionate and generous nation" but the Bill is a "necessary, urgent and indeed compassionate response" to the UK's immigration crisis.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has previously insisted the Illegal Immigration Bill will stay within the European Convention on Human Rights but if challenged "we will fight that hard because we believe we’re doing the right thing and it is compliant with our obligations".

Despite reservations, the Bill recently passed the House of Commons with a majority of 289 votes to 230.

If Lords approve the legislation, it will progress to the Committee Stage where peers will carry out a detailed clause-by-clause scrutiny of the Bill, provisionally starting at the end of May.

What policies are in the Illegal Migration Bill?

  • There will be a duty placed on the home secretary to detain anyone who arrives in the UK illegally, except the seriously ill and children

  • It will no longer be possible for people who enter the UK illegally to claim asylum

  • Anyone who crosses the English Channel to enter Great Britain will be deported, either to a safe third country, Rwanda - which the government has signed an asylum deal with - or back to their home nation if it is not dangerous. Only those too ill to fly, people under 18 or migrants at serious risk of irreversible harm if they are deported will avoid relocation

  • Those who do enter illegally will be banned from ever returning

  • New safe routes for asylum seekers to apply to resettle in the UK will be established but only once the problem of small boats is resolved

  • The law could take months to be implemented but will be applied retrospectively, meaning anyone who arrives after its announcement will be subject to the consequences

  • A limit will be placed how many refugees can be accepted, with Parliament to agree the number

Downing Street has said it still cannot put a “deadline” on when it will stop small boats crossing the English channel.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Given that there is still legislation going through the House and given that there is still pending judgments on some aspects of our policy approach to this, we’re not putting a deadline on it.”

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