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Prime Minister accuses senior clergy of misconstruing Rwanda proposal

21 April 2022

A spokesman for the C of E told the BBC that, if true, the comments were a ‘disgraceful slur’

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The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, with the Rwandan Foreign Minister, Vincent Birutaare, after signing the partnership agreement in Kigali, Rwanda, on Thursday of last week

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, with the Rwandan Foreign Minister, Vincent Birutaare, after signing the partnership agreement in Kigali, Rwanda, on T...

THE Prime Minister has accused the Archbishop of Canterbury and other senior clergy of misconstruing the Government’s proposal to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda for processing and resettlement, it was reported this week.

In his Easter Day sermon, Archbishop Welby said that the plan raised “serious ethical questions”, and “cannot stand the judgement of God”. His concerns were echoed by bishops and other faith leaders.

An unnamed MP, quoted in The Times on Wednesday, reported that, at a meeting with Conservative MPs on Tuesday evening, Boris Johnson “said that the hierarchy of the Church of England had . . . failed to construe the difference between legal immigration and people illegally entering the UK at huge personal risk across one of the busiest shipping channels in the world”.

It was also reported that Mr Johnson said that Archbishop Welby and other bishops had been “less vociferous in their condemnation on Easter Sunday of Putin than they were on our policy on illegal immigrants”.

A spokesman for the Church of England told the BBC on Wednesday that, if the reported comments were true, they were a “disgraceful slur”. The spokesman noted that Archbishop Welby and the Archbishop York had denounced the invasion of Ukraine as “an act of great evil” (News, 24 February). In his Easter Day sermon, Archbishop Welby also called for a “Russian ceasefire, withdrawal, and a commitment to talks”.

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who unveiled the deal with Rwanda last week, has accused critics of not offering any alternatives that would thwart the people-traffickers who send migrants across the English Channel in flimsy boats, risking their lives.

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said that, on the contrary, peers, including bishops, had been proposing alternatives during debates on the Nationality and Borders Bill as it went through the House of Lords (News, 25 March, 8 April). All of these had been dismissed by the Government. 

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, who wrote to the Home Secretary on Monday expressing her concern about the scheme, Tweeted on Wednesday: “Criticism of policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda in no way undermines vociferous condemnation of Russian invasion of Ukraine. These are separate issues, both equally important and both addressed by [Archbishop Welby] and other faith leaders.”

The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd Andrew John, told The Times on Wednesday that he also had concerns about the Rwanda plan. “The scheme proposed by the Government outsources a moral and legal problem which should have a solution closer to home,” he said. He suggested that the international aid budget should be restored to its former level of 0.7 per cent of GDP, and called for “closer working relationships with the French government”. 

Read more on the story from Angela Tilby, Stephen Bates, and in this week’s leader comment

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