10 MAY 2023 | NEWS
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has publicly spoken out against the Government’s controversial Illegal Migration Bill as it begins its passage through the House of Lords.
The Bill would cause “great damage” to the UK’s reputation internationally, the Archbishop said in a rare intervention in the House of Lords. Various other peers have also tabled amendments in a bid to block its passage through Parliament, with a view to consigning it to “the dustbin of history”, in the words of Liberal Democrat Lord Scriven.
But Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick defended the Bill, saying the Archbishop was “wrong” to condemn it and adding: “There is nothing moral about allowing the pernicious trade of people-smugglers to continue.”
He told World at One on BBC Radio 4 that this Bill was “the only way to stop” the people-smuggling trade, adding that critics of the Bill in Parliament had not suggested “any viable alternatives”.
The Illegal Migration Bill would serve to ensure that people who arrive in the UK via an illegal route would not be allowed to stay, and would instead be deported with no possibility of ever obtaining UK citizenship. It is designed to deter people from using routes other than those that are deemed safe and legal by the Government.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has included stopping small boat crossings of the English Channel as one of his five pledges in governance. Among its cornerstones is a legal duty imposed upon the Home Secretary to detain and remove people arriving in the UK illegally to Rwanda, or another third country deemed to be “safe”.
The Archbishop said the Bill “fails utterly” to take into account longer-term issues around migration globally, adding that it was a “short-term fix” that would mean a “dramatic departure” from conventions established internationally. Calling the Bill “isolationist”, he further described it as “morally unacceptable and politically impractical”, while noting that it runs alongside a cut in the UK’s overall foreign aid spending.
But several Conservative peers also defended the Bill in the Lords. Lord Forsyth called for further scrutiny, but said it was “not reasonable to criticise the Government for trying to deal with this problem” and that he was “yet to hear” a different solution from critics of the Bill.
A motion put forward by Liberal Democrat Lord Paddick to decline the Bill entirely – which would force the Government to reintroduce it in the Commons after it previously passed there – is unlikely to pass, as Labour Lords have been directed not to support it.
Instead, according to Labour peer Lord Coaker, the party will do “all it can” to amend the Bill, rather than blocking its passage through the Lords entirely. The Government would be in a position to use the Parliament Act to force the Bill through the Parliament in the latter instance.
Former Labour Home Secretary Lord Blunkett has also attacked the Bill, saying: “The Government is not concerned with the legalities or practicalities.
“They’re intent on sending signals to asylum-seekers, traffickers and the public. They’re really only interested in those three things; you can see that in the way the Home Secretary has behaved.”
He added that the proposed measures were merely “part of the national conservatism playbook”, attacking the Government for attempting to seem as though it had made every effort to respond to people’s wishes, while then blaming Opposition factions for blocking them. He called this “a very dangerous game” to play.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk have nonetheless written in The Times that this Bill is “designed to meet the will of the British people”.
The Government is expecting to introduce several amendments of its own that are designed to placate both peers in the Lords and its own backbenchers in the Commons, some of whom have also spoken out publicly against the Bill.
The Bill itself saw its second reading in the House of Lords today, and will now pass on to the committee stage.