Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby waits to receive guests at Westminster Abbey ahead of the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla on May 6, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Andrew Milligan – WPA Pool/Getty Images)
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has criticised the UK government’s plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda. He called the policy ‘morally unacceptable’ and urged the government to abandon it.
Welby spoke out in his role as a lawmaker in the House of Lords, where the government’s plans are being debated. He said that the policy would ‘risk great damage” to the UK’s reputation and interests.
Welby urged prime minister Rishi Sunak’s Tory government to make a U-turn.
The government’s plan would see asylum-seekers who arrive in the UK illegally sent to Rwanda to have their claims processed. It has been met with widespread criticism from human rights groups and opposition parties.
Welby is not the first high-profile figure to criticise the plan. The UN refugee agency has said that it is “contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention.”
It remains to be seen whether the government will be persuaded to change its plans.
“It risks great damage to the UK’s interests and reputation at home and abroad, let alone the interests of those in need of protection, or the nations who together face this challenge,” Welby told other peers during a debate.
“I urge the government to reconsider much of the bill, which fails to live up to our history, our moral responsibility, and our political and international interests,” he added, calling it “isolationist”.
Welby, speaking just days after overseeing King Charles III’s coronation in his role as Anglican leader, has previously slammed the plans, accusing ministers of “harmful rhetoric” and “cruelty” in their asylum policies.
Asked about his comments, Sunak’s spokesman told reporters: “There is nothing compassionate about allowing vulnerable people to die in the Channel”.
The British leader has vowed to “stop the boats” used by tens of thousands of migrants each year to make the treacherous trip to Britain’s shores from northern Europe.
More than 45,000 arrived last year, continuing a trend that took off in 2018.
His government, which has been languishing in the polls and lost heavily in local elections in England last week, has been under domestic pressure to curb the crossings.