DOMINIC LAWSON: What’s really ungodly is people smugglers growing rich

DOMINIC LAWSON: What’s really ungodly, Archbishop, is people smugglers growing rich while asylum seekers drown in the Channel

As a non-believer, I am ill-placed to debate Christian ethics with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, so it’s best to stick to the facts when responding to his Easter sermon.

From his pulpit yesterday, the Archbishop denounced as ‘ungodly’ the Government’s plans to send to Rwanda those migrants landing on our southern shore in dodgy vessels organised by people‑smuggling gangs.

Welby (whom I first met, and immediately liked, when he was an oil company executive) pontificated that the Government’s scheme, agreed with the Rwandan authorities, ‘cannot carry the weight of the resurrection that was revealed first to the least valued, for it privileges the rich and the strong’.

But isn’t the main aim of the Government’s plan to break the (immensely profitable) business model of the people-smugglers? This is a business that trades in lives without scruple, something that was appallingly demonstrated a few months ago when 27 people drowned after one of those boats sank.

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby (pictured), spoke about the Government’s new illegal migrant scheme with Rwanda, calling it ‘ungodly’ and said it was ‘sub-contracting our responsibilities’

Dominic Lawson argues the idea of the scheme is to prevent traffickers profiting and dangerously smuggling people into the UK (pictured: migrants sit in a dinghy as they illegally cross the English Channel)


The Government’s idea is that if those paying the traffickers realised they would end up in Central Africa, they would be much less likely to risk that hazardous trip across the Channel.

So my text for the day is from the Christian Science Monitor, headlined ‘Huge profits fuel smuggling routes across the English Channel’. It argued that ‘at a minimum, smuggling organisations this year (2021) have netted £69 million for the crossing. That’s £2 million per kilometre.’

Since that was published, numbers have only increased, and significantly.

As for what Archbishop Welby calls ‘the rich and the strong’, the fact that those dinghies charge around £7,000 per passenger, and almost 70 per cent of those on board are men between the ages of 18 and 40, suggests they are not the poorest and certainly not the weakest.

It does seem a bit, well, random, to choose Rwanda as a destination. But it is certainly less attractive as a refuge for asylum seekers (the Government’s unstated point, otherwise it would not have any value as a discouragement). However, the fact is that those in the boats had already safely arrived in France.

I know the French can be annoying, but theirs is a civilised country, no less than our own. Asylum seekers, whatever their problems in their country of origin, are as safe in France as they would be here.

Archbishop Welby does not address that, nor the fact that his own church has been wilfully naive in this matter. That is partly because it has a special sympathy for refugees, stemming from the Gospel story itself — Jesus’s family having been warned to leave Bethlehem for Egypt to avoid the child’s possible slaughter by the forces of King Herod.

How this admirable sympathy can be exploited was demonstrated by the case of Emad Al Swealmeen, who blew himself up very near Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral just before 11am on Remembrance Sunday last year. His bomb had been packed with nails and screws; had it gone off as and when intended, there would have been carnage.

People-smugglers advertise claims that converting to Christianity will help lead to a successful asylum claim (pictured: Swealmeen (right) at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral with the bishop Right Reverend Cyril Ashton)

Swealmeen was one of hundreds of asylum seekers from Muslim countries who had been confirmed as Christians in that cathedral.

The Home Office had regarded this as something of a scam: when conversion to Christianity is regarded as genuine by a tribunal, asylum is granted on the grounds that ‘apostates’ are at deadly risk if they are returned to their country of origin.

Not surprisingly, people-smugglers placed advertisements on Instagram claiming that conversion to Christianity is a way of achieving a successful asylum claim ‘in the shortest possible time, with the lowest cost’.

Swealmeen had arrived here in 2014 claiming to have come from war-torn Syria. This was found not to be true: his family was from Jordan. It was after having lost this case at a tribunal that Swealmeen ‘converted’ to Christianity in 2017.

This, too, didn’t convince the Home Office, yet somehow he was able to remain in this country up until the moment he detonated his bomb (and had returned to regular prayer at his local mosque).

I am not saying that Swealmeen was anything other than highly unusual and untypical. But his case also demonstrated the extreme difficulty the system has in removing asylum seekers shown to have no legitimate reason to remain. Which, in turn, is a great advertisement for the business model of the people-smugglers.


This is something of which the public seems to be aware. That might explain why the Government’s somewhat startling plan is rather popular (at least, judged by polls that have been carried out).

And it is less startling than it seems — in the sense that Denmark has been negotiating an identical deal with Rwanda.

The scheme also has a — failed — British precedent. In 2003, Tony Blair’s administration attempted to negotiate the transfer of asylum seekers here to an African country (Tanzania). The proposal was rejected by the Tanzanian government.

Then there is the fact that at the height of the Syrian civil war in 2016, the EU negotiated a scheme in which so-called ‘irregular’ migrants attempting to reach Greece would be sent back to Turkey.

Just as the British Government is proposing to pay Rwanda a fee, so the EU nations combined to pay the Turkish government £6 billion in return for it agreeing to take those seeking asylum within their territory.

What do you think about that, Archbishop Justin? 

Who’s actually lost his moral authority?

One of the first Tory MPs off the blocks to call for Boris Johnson to resign, after news of the Downing Street ‘lockdown parties’ emerged, was Andrew Bridgen. This was hardly surprising. Bridgen has a desire for publicity extraordinary even by the standards of his trade.

He declared back in January that he didn’t need to see the result of any investigation ‘to know that for me, Boris Johnson has lost the moral authority to lead the country . . . He should do the honourable thing and depart.’

North West Leicestershire MP, Andrew Bridgen, called for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign over his Partygate fine 

Those of us familiar with Bridgen’s role in the grotesque attempt (at millions of pounds of public expense) to prove the late Sir Edward Heath to be a child-abuser already knew he was not a person to be taken seriously as a moralist. Now we discover that a High Court Judge, no less, has determined that Bridgen is a liar.

This stems from a legal action brought by the MP relating to his family’s potato business (which turns over almost £30 million a year).

Bridgen had asked Inspector Helena Bhakta, the commander of the neighbourhood policing team for his constituency of North West Leicestershire, to investigate what he claimed was a fraud against him by his brother, Paul.

The MP later told the court he had not made such a request ‘as it would not have been proper’. But Inspector Bhakta produced her own contemporary notes from October 16, 2017: ‘As NPT commander I have regular contact with Andrew Bridgen over constituent matters. Today he asked me to call him. On doing so, he informed me that he suspects his brother is committing fraud.’

Judge Brian Rawlings concluded that Bridgen’s denial, under oath, of making this call was deliberate dishonesty. He also declared that Bridgen had ‘lied’ in claiming to have been dismissed as a director of his family company, rather than quitting voluntarily, ‘in the hope that this may reduce the settlement that he had to pay his wife in his divorce’. Judge Rawlings’s devastating conclusion was that any assertions by Bridgen required confirmation by an independent witness, or documentary evidence, before they could be trusted.

Perhaps it is Andrew Bridgen’s own unfortunate constituents who should ask him to ‘do the honourable thing and depart’.

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