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Press: Matthew Parris’s Rwanda reasoning must be faced, even if it is depressing  

21 July 2023


SINCE it is so obvious to me — and, I suppose, to most readers — that the Archbishop of Canterbury is right to oppose the Government’s treatment of refugees, we need to read Matthew Parris’s defence of the Rwanda policy.

Mr Parris, writing in The Times, does not pretend that it will work, only that it might. He has no illusions about the present system: “‘Illegals’ are not ‘flooding in’ and the situation is not ‘out of control’. The figures are minuscule. You could quadruple the numbers and still end up with a small fraction of those who come here legally. And the situation is far from being ‘out of control’. Successive British governments have found a nasty way to control it: turn back as many as you can, to fester in squalid conditions on the French coast; treat those who get here miserably; and drown a few from time to time pour décourager les autres.”

So far, he is entirely in accord with the Church of England. But he rejects its (our) proposed alternatives. “The policy of most Western governments has for decades been to stymie international treaty law on asylum, without actually breaking it. Our tribunals usually decide in the applicant’s favour, but we couldn’t possibly take in all who would apply if applying were easy. So the world’s richer democracies do their best to stop people from ever getting to a tribunal.

“It is not morally brave to suggest an alternative — ‘safe and legal route’ — that we know no government will actually adopt. Nor is it morally brave to advocate a ‘Europe-wide’ agreement to share the burden, because no government that wants to be re-elected will take that path: it would land us with more, not fewer, refugees.”

I don’t like this. I don’t like what it says about human beings — something about original sin, perhaps. I find it enormously depressing about the future of climate refugees. But it is a grown-up statement of the underlying reasoning of any democratic politician on this matter; and, because I know Matthew to be a brave and decent man with very few illusions about his own side, it’s worth putting in front of readers who would never normally see anything to object to in the speeches of bishops on the subject.

ENOUGH of this distressing contemplation of honest and thoughtful conservatives. Let’s look at the columnists on The Daily Telegraph, instead. The historian Andrew Roberts used the death of Archbishop Welby’s mother, who had been one of Winston Churchill’s secretaries, to have a pop at St Paul’s Cathedral: “until recently and for over a year, the website of St Paul’s Cathedral — where Churchill’s funeral took place — stated that Churchill was ‘a white supremacist’.” This was, according to Roberts, “a filthy slur”. All you could say about Churchill, Roberts went on, was that “he believed that there was a hierarchy of the races, with white people at the apex.” According to Roberts, this view is “absurd and obscene”, but clearly distinguishable from white supremacy. The solution is obvious: St Paul’s must reword its description to call Churchill’s views on race “Absurd and obscene”. That will shut the Telegraph up.

The piece was otherwise a delightful illustration of the remorseless inflation of polemic indignation. No longer is it enough to denounce left-wing academics as “woke”. That’s so 2020. This year they must be ultra-woke. This kind of journalism is like toothpaste marketing: to keep your indignation selling, you have to find new names for the same ingredients; so, “ultrawoke” will be succeeded next year by “woke doubleplus.” As I read this, I started to hear the advertising copy in my mind: “Are you afraid your friends will cancel you because you only use last year’s ultrawoke?”; “Woke doubleplus seeks out the hidden racism that others miss”; “Woke doubleplus! It makes the patriarchy cringe!”; “Woke doubleplus, don’t settle for anything less!”

SOMETHING like this does, in fact, go on in progressive journalism, where last year’s indignation can be fatal to your reputation. But the Telegraph has definitely settled on a posture of hostility towards the Church of England. Under the headline “Britain is no country for Christians”, someone called Emma Webb wrote: “At a time when society is increasingly turning against Christians for their beliefs, they will find little sanctuary in the Church of England. . . The Church of England is becoming consumed by ideas that are not only extraneous to traditional Christian teachings, but, in some cases, are opposed to it. Those who hold to these teachings are being squeezed out. In some instances the leadership, eager to swallow every so-called ‘progressive’ pill, now seem to view Christ Himself as a problem.

“How else can we interpret Stephen Cottrell’s complaints that the Lord’s Prayer is problematic?” (14 July).

In this context, the last word must go to Carol Kellas, of Croydon, who wrote a perfect letter to The Times. “Sir, I’m surprised that Anglicans should find ‘Our Father’ problematic owing to the existence of abusive fathers. We Catholics have no difficulty with ‘Hail Mary’ even if our mothers were a nightmare.”

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