Archbishop of Canterbury to criticise small boats bill in House of Lords

Justin Welby to join peers condemning measures that seek to criminalise people seeking refuge in UK

The archbishop of Canterbury will make a rare intervention in the House of Lords to join dozens of peers condemning the government’s flagship asylum bill.

Justin Welby will argue against measures championed by Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman that seek to criminalise people seeking refuge in the UK if they arrive on small boats.

The illegal migration bill is expected to face a series of demands for significant changes. Almost 90 peers are listed to speak at its second reading on Wednesday, with the chamber sitting earlier, from 11am, to allow for the many contributions.

The draft plans, which cleared the Commons last month, will change the law so that those who arrive in the UK without permission will not be able to stay to claim asylum and instead be detained and removed, either to their home country or a third country, such as Rwanda.

It will be the first time that Welby, the most senior cleric in the Church of England, has publicly criticised the legislation. He has previously criticised the way the debate over refugees has been conducted.

Speaking in the Lords in December, Welby urged politicians and the public to reject the “shrill narratives that all who come to us for help should be treated as liars, scroungers or less than fully human”.

His comments were widely thought to be criticising Braverman, who has previously described the increasing numbers of people coming to the UK to seek asylum as “an invasion”.

The home secretary has more recently claimed that many of those arriving have “heightened levels of criminality” – a claim she said was backed up by conversations with senior police officers but no data.

Braverman and the justice secretary, Alex Chalk, last night called for the Lords not to block the government’s radical immigration plans.

Braverman said: “The British people want us to stop the boats. That is exactly what this bill will help us do. It has been designed with the assistance of some of the country’s finest legal minds to ensure it delivers for the British public in a manner consistent with rule of law and robust to legal challenge.

“We are committed to ensuring that this legislation passes through parliament as soon as possible, and urge the Lords to back the bill, so we can get on with stopping the boats.”

Chalk said: “This bill gives us the robust but fair legal framework needed to remove illegal migrants swiftly and curb last-minute challenges, while ensuring proper opportunity to appeal remains.

“The rule of law is undermined if immigration rules set by parliament are not upheld.”

Peers are expected to call for the law to be altered to ensure more safe and legal routes are opened for those escaping war. Critics have pointed out that the bill will oblige the home secretary to detain tens of thousands of migrants every year.

It includes provisions that would limit the ability of the European court of human rights to prevent the deportation of asylum seekers.

The clampdown has been prompted by Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats” bringing people across the Channel. More than 6,000 people have been detected making the crossing so far in 2023.

The government plans to use disused military camps and a barge as accommodation centres. But critics argue the flagship immigration policy breaks international law and threatens modern slavery protections.

In a rare parliamentary move, the Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick, a former senior police officer, has proposed a so-called fatal motion to the bill, aimed at stopping it in its tracks at its first parliamentary hurdle.

However, the attempt is destined to fail without the support of the main opposition.


Rajeev Syal Home affairs editor

The GuardianTramp

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