LONDON – The Archbishop of Canterbury attacked a British government plan on Wednesday that would significantly restrict refugees’ capacity to seek asylum in the UK, calling the idea “isolationist, morally unacceptable, and politically impractical.”
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby spoke out against the measure in a rare speech in Parliament. He told Parliament’s unelected upper house, the House of Lords, that the government’s proposal was a “short-term fix” that risked causing significant damage to the UK’s reputation.
Anyone who enters the UK illegally is barred from claiming asylum, and officials are required to detain and then deport refugees and migrants “to their home country or a safe third country,” such as Rwanda. They would be barred from ever returning to the UK if they were deported.
The Conservative government in the United Kingdom claims that the policy will stop tens of thousands of individuals from crossing the English Channel in small boats each year in the goal of reaching the United Kingdom. However, critics, including the UN refugee agency, have called the proposal unethical and unrealistic, and others claim it would violate international law.
Last month, the bill was passed by the House of Commons. It was given a second reading in the House of Lords on Wednesday, where it was met with fierce hostility. The Lords can amend but not repeal legislation.
Welby, who officiated over King Charles III’s coronation and is also the spiritual head of Anglican churches worldwide, said international refugee rules were “not inconvenient obstructions to get ’round by any legislative means necessary.”
He went on to say that it was inappropriate for the UK to delegate responsibility for relocating migrants to other countries, sometimes much poorer ones.
“Of course, we cannot and should not take everyone, but this bill has no sense of the long-term and global nature of the challenge that the world faces,” Welby added. “This country should lead internationally, not stand apart.”
The government of the United Kingdom has urged the House of Lords to support the bill, which it claims “is designed to meet the will of the British people.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has committed to “stop the boats” transporting asylum seekers across the Channel, making it one of his main priorities during his tenure.
More than 45,000 migrants landed in Britain in small boats last year, including those from Afghanistan, Iran, and Syria, up from 8,500 in 2020.