The head of the Church of England has condemned the Government’s Illegal Immigration Bill that would dramatically limit the ability of asylum-seekers to enter Britain, calling the policy "isolationist, morally unacceptable and politically impractical."
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, made a rare appearance in Parliament in opposition to the bill. He told the House of Lords, the elected upper house of parliament, that the government's proposal was a "short-term solution" that could do a lot of damage to Britain's reputation.
The bill prohibits asylum claims for anyone arriving in the UK illegally and forces authorities to detain and then deport refugees and migrants "to their home country or a safe third country" such as Rwanda. Once deported, they cannot re-enter the UK.
Britain's Conservative government says the measure will annually prevent tens of thousands of people from trying to cross the English Channel in small boats in the hope of reaching Britain. Critics, including the UN refugee agency, have described the law as unethical and unenforceable. And some claim it violates international law.
The bill was approved in the House of Commons last month. It was on its second reading in the House of Lords on Wednesday. The Lords can amend the law but not block it.
Welby, who is also the spiritual head of Anglican churches around the world and presided over the coronation of King Charles III, said international protections for refugees were "not inconvenient obstacles to 'by any legal means necessary.'"
He said it would be wrong for the UK to hand over the responsibility of resettling refugees to other, often much poorer, countries.
“Of course we cannot take everyone and nor should we, but this bill has no sense at all of the long-term and the global nature of the challenge that the world faces,” Welby said. “This nation should lead internationally, not stand apart.”
The British government has asked the House of Lords to back the bill, which it says is "designed to meet the will of the British people."
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to “stop the boats” transporting refugees through the Channel.
More than 45,000 such migrants landed on England’s southern coast last year – up 500% in the past two years – and the government forecast that the number would rise to 56,000 this year.