Downing Street backs archbishop over immigration comments

Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, said it was ‘outrageous’ to label those who fear immigration as racist

Downing Street has said immigration is a legitimate public concern after Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, criticised the “outrageous” labelling of those who fear it as racist.

Welby made the comments in a magazine interview in which he argued that fear was a reasonable response to the “colossal migration crisis” facing Europe.

The remarks were immediately seized on by key figures in the campaign for Britain to leave the EU, including Iain Duncan Smith, the cabinet minister and former Tory leader, who said “elites” had suppressed the debate around immigration for too long.

“This is one of the greatest movements of people in human history. Just enormous. And to be anxious about that is very reasonable,” Welby told House magazine.

“There is a tendency to say: ‘Those people are racist’, which is just outrageous, absolutely outrageous.

“In fragile communities particularly – and I’ve worked in many areas with very fragile communities over my time as a clergyman – there is a genuine fear: what happens about housing? What happens about jobs? What happens about access to health services?

“There is a genuine fear. And it is really important that that fear is listened to and addressed. There have to be resources put in place that address those fears.”

He said the scale of migration was “such an enormous challenge that it can only be handled at a European level” but the lack of a Europe-wide solution was “deepening the crisis very, very significantly”.

Responding to Welby, Duncan Smith said: “These are rational comments from the archbishop, they’re to be welcomed, but you wonder just how late they’ve come from various people and institutions.

“So I congratulate him, but if you think back, for far too many years what’s happened is in a sense the elites have all said: ‘It’s terrible to talk about immigration; if you do, you’re racist’. So they shut down the debate for many, many years. I can even remember back at the time when Tony Blair was prime minister, to even mention immigration was to be accused of being a racist.”

Downing Street also agreed with Welby’s comments, saying David Cameron was trying to bring down immigration.

“He would agree with the archbishop that it is a legitimate concern,” Cameron’s official spokeswoman said. “Indeed, the prime minister has sought to respond to the concerns that the British people have about the levels of migration in this country.”

In the interview with House magazine, Welby also said a response to the great movement of people was needed at a European level and the UK must find a way of “taking its share of the load”.

Welby said people’s fears about migration should not be dismissed but communities can be “much more absorbent” than they get credit for and called for organisation at a “macro level” to address the crisis.

“A problem of this scale can only be dealt with by a response on an equally grand scale right across Europe, and we have to play our part,” Welby said.


Rowena Mason Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Iain Duncan Smith accuses PM of lying over EU immigration
Cameron’s claim about negotiating EU deal over jobseeker’s allowance is ‘clear attempt to deceive’, says former Tory leader

Rowena Mason Political correspondent

03, Jun, 2016 @5:41 PM

Article image
Iain Duncan Smith says Turkey is 'on EU ballot paper'
Former cabinet minister contradicts prime minister by saying Turkey’s accession to EU would bring more uncontrolled migration

Rowena Mason and Anushka Asthana

10, May, 2016 @12:06 PM

Article image
David Cameron claims victory in battle with EU over migrant arrival rules
No 10 says that UK pressure has stopped scrapping of the Dublin regulation, which states refugees must claim asylum in the first country they arrive in

Anushka Asthana and Jennifer Rankin

05, Apr, 2016 @11:01 PM

Article image
Juncker tells Cameron: you can’t destroy EU migration rules
Commission president warns PM over ‘irresponsibility’ as new poll reveals 56% support in Britain for remaining in union

Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent

22, Oct, 2014 @11:05 PM

Article image
Archbishop of Canterbury suggests Brexit 'in fascist tradition'
Justin Welby groups Brexit with election of Donald Trump and rise of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders

Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent

13, Feb, 2017 @7:31 PM

Article image
Cameron ready to give way over ban on in-work benefits for EU migrants
Prime minister signals flexible stance over mooted four-year ban after meeting Polish PM and opposition from other EU states

Nicholas Watt, Ian Traynor and Alex Duval Smith

10, Dec, 2015 @9:29 PM

Article image
Immigration minister pledges 'swift' processing of EU citizens' status
Brandon Lewis tells MPs each application for settled status after Brexit should take weeks not months

Alan Travis Home affairs editor

21, Nov, 2017 @3:20 PM

Article image
Britain says Irish won't be affected by benefits curbs on EU migrants
David Cameron’s demand for restrictions on EU citizens’ access to welfare will not apply to nationals from Ireland

Alberto Nardelli

13, Nov, 2015 @9:00 AM

Article image
David Cameron’s fatal mistakes on immigration threaten our country’s future | Owen Jones
A Brexit Britain would be down to the prime minister’s fuelling of anti-immigrant sentiment and his impossible promises on targets

Owen Jones

21, Jun, 2016 @10:27 AM

Article image
Claims of mass refugee immigration to UK branded 'false and bogus'
Migration Watch report that free movement rules will allow up to 500,000 refugees into the UK from elsewhere in Europe is criticised by remain campaigner

Rowena Mason Political correspondent

30, May, 2016 @11:01 PM