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Archbishops will continue to resist Rwanda asylum plan despite Johnson attack

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby condemned the policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby condemned the policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Boris Johnson is locked in a dispute with the Church of England as the two most senior members of the clergy vowed to continue opposing his flagship immigration policy.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York object to the plan to send some asylum seekers on a one-way trip to Rwanda on “moral and ethical grounds”, Lambeth Palace said.

The response came after the Prime Minister accused Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby of being “less vociferous” in his condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin than he was in his attack on the policy.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson is said to have accused ‘senior members of the clergy’ of having ‘misconstrued’ the Rwanda policy (Matt Dunham/PA)

The criticism from Mr Johnson came in a private address to Tory MPs in Parliament after he was forced to repeatedly apologise over the fine he received from police for breaching coronavirus laws.

Mr Welby and the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, have publicly condemned Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as an “act of great evil”.

But Mr Johnson appeared angry at Mr Welby’s criticism of the plan to send some migrants who arrive in the UK by irregular means, such as on small boats across the English Channel, to Rwanda for processing and resettlement.

The archbishop raised “serious ethical questions” about the policy in his Easter Sunday address, saying it cannot “stand the judgment of God”.

In the sermon, the archbishop said “subcontracting 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”.

Sources at the meeting in Westminster said Mr Johnson accused “senior members of the clergy” of having “misconstrued the policy”.

The Prime Minister was said to have then added that the clergymen were “less vociferous” in their condemnation on Easter Sunday of Mr Putin than they were on the migration policy.

A Lambeth Palace spokesman said: “The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an act of great evil and spoken out repeatedly against it.

“In his Easter sermon the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the suffering and terror being experienced by Ukrainians, called on Russia to withdraw its forces and said ‘let the darkness of war be banished’.

“Speaking on Question Time this month, Archbishop Justin Welby said rulers responsible for war crimes in Ukraine would be held to account by God. He has described Russian atrocities as the ‘obscene killing of God’s precious children’ and said those leading Russia’s war of aggression must ‘rediscover their humanity’.

“On Good Friday, Archbishop Stephen Cottrell wrote in the Yorkshire Post: ‘We must all rise up to make sure Putin does not win. Peace is something we have to make and commit to each day.’

“Meanwhile both Archbishops, along with many other faith leaders, are gravely concerned by proposals to send migrants overseas.

“They will continue to speak out against these plans on moral and ethical grounds.”

The Church of England’s head of news John Bingham said if the reports of Mr Johnson’s behind-closed-doors comment were true, it was a “disgraceful slur”.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir Starmer invited Mr Johnson to “apologise for slandering the archbishop and the Church of England”.

The Prime Minister told the Labour leader: “I was slightly taken aback for the Government to be criticised over the policy that we have devised to end the deaths at sea in the Channel as a result of cruel criminal gangs.”

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