Justin Welby spearheads defeat of government over Illegal Migration Bill

The Archbishop of Canterbury appeared in the House of Lords in May to denounce the Illegal Migration Bill. Credit: PA Images

The government has suffered another series of defeats over its Illegal Migration Bill in the House of Lords, with the Archbishop of Canterbury spearheading one amendment.

On Wednesday, peers voted to demand a number of key changes to the Bill, which Rishi Sunak has said is a key part of his pledge to stop small boats of migrants from crossing the English Channel.

The Bill aims to ensure those who arrive in the UK without permission will be detained and promptly deported, either to their home country or a third country such as Rwanda.

Wednesday's defeats in the House of Lords were as follows:

  • Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, led a cross-party move, backed by 186 votes to 131, which would force the government to draw up a 10-year strategy for collaborating internationally to tackle both the refugee crisis, driving unauthorised migration to the UK, and human trafficking.

  • The House of Lords voted 188 by 158, in favour of a Labour frontbench amendment that would give the National Crime Agency (NCA) a legal responsibility for tackling organised crime across the Channel.

  • A Tory-led move putting a legal duty on ministers to create safe and legal routes to the UK for refugees by spring of next year was backed by 232 votes to 169.

  • Another defeat involved age assessments for migrants claiming to be children. Peers voted 235 to 185, in favour of an amendment by the Bishop of Durham that would reinstate the right of appeal of an age assessment and allow that to be a barrier for removal.

In a letter to The Times newspaper earlier in the day, faith leaders warned the draft legislation to stop small boat crossings to the UK “falls short of our obligation to the most vulnerable”.

Rabbi Charley Baginsky, Rabbi Josh Levy, Senior Imam Qari Asim, Chief Imam Dr Sayed Razawi, Hindu Forum of Britain president Trupti Patel, Network of Sikh Organisations director Lord Singh, Bishop of Durham Paul Butler and Territorial Commander of the Salvation Army Commissioner Anthony Cotterill also signed the letter published in The Times.

It reads: “As faith leaders, we represent people and communities whose belief, worship and action point us towards the kind of society we wish to build for the common good.

“The Illegal Migration Bill falls short of our obligation towards the most vulnerable. It fails to meet the basic test of an evidence-based and workable policy. We need an alternative approach that reflects our country’s history, values and responsibility.

“With more than 100 million people displaced around the world, this crisis will not be solved without significant collective endeavour.

“To improve the Bill, we support an amendment requiring the government to produce a ten-year strategy, collaborating internationally to stop the boats here and globally, and tackle refugee crises and human trafficking.

“The UK should take a lead in setting out a just, compassionate approach, ensuring that people seeking sanctuary are protected, claims decided quickly and justly, human traffickers are punished, and the root causes of mass migration are properly addressed.”

A graph depicting the arrivals of people in small boats via the English Channel. Credit: PA Graphics

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been an outspoken critic of the Illegal Migration Bill during its bruising passage through Parliament, having previously described it as “morally unacceptable” and “politically impractical”.

The plan to send migrants to Rwanda was dealt another blow recently after the Court of Appeal found it was unlawful, although the government intends to challenge this ruling.

Ministers say action is needed to stop people making the dangerous sea crossing but critics argue the draft legislation is unworkable.

The Lords has previously voted against parts of the Bill that would weaken detention limits for children and pregnant women in a series of amendments.

They can be overturned when the Bill goes back to the House of Commons, where – unlike in the Lords – the government has a majority.

Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt said the Bill will return before MPs in the Commons on Tuesday, July 11, and Monday, July 16, where they will consider the Lords amendments.

If necessary, Ms Mordaunt said the Bill will return to the Commons for an additional two days.

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