UK

Tory MP accuses archbishop of Canterbury of ‘sharpening political divisions’ after Rwanda intervention

A veteran Tory MP has accused the archbishop of Canterbury of “sharpening political divisions” for suggesteing the government’s Rwanda asylum policy would not stand up to the scrutiny of God.

In an attempt to defend the controverisal proposals, unveiled by Boris Johnson and Priti Patel last week, cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg also claimed Justin Welby had misunderstood the policy.

Delivering his Easter Sunday sermon, the head of the Church of England criticised the plan to send some asylum seekers on a one-way ticket over 4,000 miles away to the east African country.

In a scathing intervention, Archbishop Welby accused the government of “sub-contracting” its responsibilities, adding there were “serious ethical questions about sending asylum seekers overseas”.

Speaking at Canterbury Cathedral, Mr Welby said the measures “cannot carry the weight of our national responsibility as a country formed by Christian values”.

He added: “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.”

Later the archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said in his Easter sermon: “We can do better than this. We can do better than this because of what we see in Jesus Christ, the risen Christ, with a vision for our humanity where barriers are broken down, not new obstacles put in the path.”

He said he had found it “so depressing and distressing this week to find that asylum seekers fleeing war, famine and oppression from deeply, deeply troubled parts of the world will not be treated with the dignity and compassion that is the right of every human being, and instead of being dealt with quickly and efficiently here on our soil will be shipped to Rwanda”.

The proposals have also been condemned by charities while a former Conservative cabinet minister said it was “immoral”, “impractical” and likely to involve “astronomic” costs, beyond an initial £120m deal singed between the UK and Rwandan governments.

But John Redwood, the Conservative MP for Wokingham, asked on social media: “So what is the Archbishop’s proposal on how to stop the lucrative and illegal trade by people traffickers? Why does he want to live with law breaking and dangerous voyages?”

“I thought the Easter message was love conquers all,” he added. “We should forgive and reconcile. Could the Archbishop do that instead of sharpening political divisions?”

The Brexit opportunities minister Mr Rees-Mogg told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend programme: “I think he [Mr Welby] misunderstands what the policy is trying to achieve, and that it isn’t an abandonment of responsibility, it is in fact a taking on of a very difficult responsibility.

“The problem that is being dealt with is that people are risking their lives in the hands of people traffickers, to get into this country illegally. Now, it’s not the illegal bit of it, it is the encouragement of people traffickers that needs to be stopped.”

Another Conservative MP, Andrew Bridgen, also claimed on Sky News that the head of the Church of England’s comments represented “a little bit of naivety really.

“I don’t think he’s in step with his congregation, I don’t think he’s in step with the views of the country,” he said. “But of course he’s perfectly entitled in a free and open democracy to espouse whatever views he may have.”

Wes Streeting, the Labour frontbencher, responded: “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”.

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.”

In his Easter sermon, Mr Welby also said families across the country were “waking up in fear” due to the pressures of the cost of living crisis, with a hike in energy bills, increasing taxes and record inflation.

“Families across the country are waking up to cold homes and empty stomachs as we face the greatest cost of living crisis we have known in our lifetimes,” he said. “And because of this they wake up with fear.”

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine now in its seventh week, the archbishop of Canterbury added: “Ukrainians have woken up to the end of the world as they knew it. Now they are awakened by the noises of war, and the sickening reality of terror.

“They wake up to mortal fear. Let this be a time for Russian ceasefire, withdrawal and a commitment to talks”.

In his own Easter message, the prime minister paid tribute to “the Christians of Ukraine, whether they’re marking Easter today, or its orthodox equivalent later this month, for whom Christ’s message of hope, the triumph of life over death and good over evil, will resonate this year, perhaps more than any other”.

Speaking in Ukrainian, and referencing a psalm, he said: “Be strong and have courage in your heart, you all who trust in the Lord.”

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