Archbishop Of Canterbury Says Government's Rwanda Plan 'Cannot Stand Up To Judgment Of God'

Justin Welby uses Easter sermon to mount outspoken attack on Boris Johnson's asylum policy.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby
Gareth Fuller via PA Wire/PA Images

The government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda “cannot stand up to the judgment of God”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

In an outspoken attack, Justin Welby used his Easter sermon to say the controversial policy is “opposite of the nature of God”.

Boris Johnson has come in for widespread criticism since unveiling the scheme last week.

Home secretary Priti Patel signed an agreement on Thursday that will see illegal immigrants flown one-way from the UK to Rwanda.

The move is designed to prevent asylum seekers trying to cross the Channel from France in dangerous boats.

But it was confirmed the Home Office’s most senior civil servant has concerns about the value for money of the scheme.

An exchange of letters published by the department on Saturday night showed permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft warning Patel that although it was “regular, proper and feasible for this policy to proceed”, there was “uncertainty surrounding the value for money of the proposal”.

But issuing a rare ministerial direction compelling the plans to go ahead despite the concern, Patel said that “without action, costs will continue to rise, lives will continue to be lost”.

In his Easter sermon at Canterbury Cathedral, Welby said that Christ’s resurrection should be a time for “repentance and renewal”, not for “sub-contracting our responsibilities”.

He also called for a ceasefire in Ukraine and for peace talks to resolve the crisis.

The Archbishop said: “The resurrection of Jesus is not a magic wand that makes the world perfect.

“But the resurrection of Christ is the tectonic shift in the way the cosmos works. It is the conquest of death and the opening of eternal life – through Jesus, a gift offered to every human being who reaches out to him.”

He went on: “Let this be a time for Russian ceasefire, withdrawal and a commitment to talks. This is a time for resetting the ways of peace, not for what Bismarck called blood and iron. Let Christ prevail. Let the darkness of war be banished.

“And this season is also why there are such serious ethical questions about sending asylum seekers overseas.

“The details are for politics. The principle must stand the judgment of God, and it cannot. It cannot carry the weight of resurrection justice, of life conquering death. It cannot carry the weight of the resurrection that was first to the least valued, for it privileges the rich and strong.

“And it cannot carry the weight of our national responsibility as a country formed by Christian values, because sub-contracting out our responsibilities, even to a country that seeks to do well like Rwanda, is the opposite of the nature of God who himself took responsibility for our failures.”

As part of the deal, the UK will give Rwanda an initial ÂŁ120m for a trial scheme, while the Navy has also been put in in command of the Channel.

The prime minister has said the policy will be “fully compliant with our international legal obligations”, while insisting Rwanda is “one of the safest countries in the world” and is “globally recognised for its record of welcoming and integrating migrants”.

Responding to Welby’s comments, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of supporting those in need of protection and our resettlement programmes have provided safe and legal routes to better futures for hundreds of thousands of people across the globe.

“However, the world is facing a global migration crisis on an unprecedented scale and change is needed to prevent vile people smugglers putting people’s lives at risk and to fix the broken global asylum system.

“Rwanda is a fundamentally safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers. Under this agreement, they will process claims in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention, national and international human rights laws.”

Conservative MP John Redwood criticised Welby for his intervention. “I thought the Easter message was love conquers all. We should forgive and reconcile. Could the Archbishop help do that instead of sharpening political divisions?” he tweeted.

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting hit back: “It really isn’t for politicians to tell the head of our church what he should or shouldn’t say in his Easter sermon. Conservative MPs should reflect on it instead.”


What's Hot