Conservative MP backs church leaders on right to criticise Rwanda asylum plan

Church leaders criticising Government policy over its plan to send asylum seekers to live in Rwanda provides a favourable contrast to Russian religious leaders supporting Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, a Conservative MP has suggested.

South West Bedfordshire MP Andrew Selous made the remarks as he answered questions in the House of Commons in his capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner, whose role is to provide a link between Government, Parliament and the established Church.

He was asked about condemnation of the Government policy by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York by Labour MP Rachael Maskell, who represents York Central.

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Ms Maskell said: “The Archbishops of both Canterbury and York have, rightly, been outspoken about the plight of refugees. Does the Honourable Gentleman agree that church leaders have an important role to play in contributing a prophetic voice, a voice of conscience, as part of the process of providing the nation with checks and balances, advocacy and accountability, in respect of refugees and other vulnerable groups?”

A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, following a small boat incident in the Channel.A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, following a small boat incident in the Channel.
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dover, Kent, following a small boat incident in the Channel.

Mr Selous replied: “The Archbishop of Canterbury published what I thought was a very balanced article about these issues in The Daily Telegraph yesterday.

“The Honourable Lady has made a valid point: while the Church will cause discomfort to all Governments and, if I remember rightly, did so to her party just before the last general election, I would far rather live in a country where that is the case than in Russia, where the Church is unstintingly supporting an illegal and barbaric invasion.”

In his recent Daily Telegraph article, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby defended his intervention on the issue alongside Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell and said the focus on Government should be on tackling people traffickers rather than asylum seekers.

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He wrote: “This may come as a surprise, but there is much in migration policy on which the Church of England and the Government agree. The global asylum system is broken. We must destroy the deadly trade of people trafficking. We need innovative solutions to stop the suffering of millions of people – and the devastating deaths in the English Channel, the Mediterranean and elsewhere. We agree on those common ends, which are urgent and compassionate, but we profoundly differ on the means to achieve them.”

The Archbishop added: “The Church of England is not a passive observer of migration policy. Some of my fellow bishops, clergy and worshippers came to the UK escaping persecution or conflict.

“We welcome and serve asylum seekers at every level of society – from providing housing, food banks, social support and friendship, to scrutinising legislation in the Lords.”

Conservative MP Chris Loder asked Mr Selous: “In Dorset we are taking care of 20 orphaned children who have lost their trafficked parents in illegal but also fatal crossings of the English channel.

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“Now that the Church of England bishops are making co-ordinated political statements, can my hon. Friend tell me what advice the Archbishop of Canterbury is offering to prevent such situations from happening in the first place so that no more children are orphaned during illegal channel crossings?”

Mr Selous replied: “Let me first thank all those in Dorset who are caring for the children who lost their parents while they were being trafficked across the English channel. Our hearts go out to them, and we must do everything possible to prevent further such fatalities. The bishops in the House of Lords have called for more safe routes for allowing asylum seekers to apply at UK embassies, and for better co-operation with the French on the processing of applications across the channel.”

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