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Archbishop of Canterbury to condemn UK Government’s Illegal Migration Bill in Lords

09 May 2023 4 minute read
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Photo Gareth Fuller PA Images

The Archbishop of Canterbury will make a rare intervention in the House of Lords on Wednesday to condemn the UK Government’s Illegal Migration Bill as it faces its first test in the upper chamber, according to reports.

Justin Welby is set to argue against the flagship legislation aimed at ensuring people who arrive in the UK in small boats would be detained and promptly removed, either to their home country or a third country such as Rwanda.

The intervention, first reported in the i, would mark his second major rebuke of the Government’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers.

The unelected chamber will sit earlier from 11am to consider the Bill at second reading after it passed the Commons, with almost 90 speakers including the Archbishop listed.

Ahead of the legislation returning to the red benches, Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk have urged peers not to stand in the way of the “will of the British people” by blocking the UK Government’s migration policies.

Writing jointly for Times Red Box, the two Cabinet ministers said: “We urge the House of Lords to look at the Illegal Migration Bill carefully, remember it is designed to meet the will of the British people in a humane and fair way, and back the Bill.”

Fatal motion

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

His amendment argues the draft legislation would see Britain fail to meet its international law commitments, allow ministers to ignore the directions of judges and undermine “the UK’s tradition of providing sanctuary to refugees”, while failing to tackle the backlog of asylum cases or people smuggling gangs.

However, the blocking bid is destined to fail without the backing of the main opposition.

A Labour source said: “We’re not supporting the motion. If successful, which they never are, the Government could just Parliament Act the Bill in the next King’s Speech and peers would lose the opportunity to make any amendments.

“It is therefore an irresponsible way to deal with legislation that has already gone through the the elected House.”

The two Green Party peers will be among those supporting the fatal motion, with Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb saying: “This Bill is illegal because it breaks international law and should be opposed for that reason alone. It is also immoral and plain nasty.

“It effectively makes all asylum seekers criminals unless they are from a few select countries where the UK has approved pathways and safe routes for immigration such as Hong Kong.”

Lady Jones added: “It is hugely disappointing that Labour are failing to oppose this legislation outright, but unsurprising given their recent track record of caving in on Voter ID and the Public Order Bill. If we are to save our democracy, we need an opposition that is up to the job.”


The Bill includes provisions that would limit the ability of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to prevent the deportation of asylum seekers.

The clampdown has been prompted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to “stop the boats” bringing migrants across the English Channel.

More than 6,000 migrants have crossed the channel so far in 2023.

To cope with the numbers, the Government plans to use disused military camps and a barge as accommodation centres.

But critics argue the flagship immigration reforms break international law and threaten modern slavery protections.

The Archbishop, in a speech to the Lords last year, warned against “harmful rhetoric” that treats those arriving in the UK as “invaders”.

He has previously called for a better system based on “compassion, justice and co-operation across frontiers”.

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