HODGES: Boris is right – Welby was softer on Putin than Rwanda plan

DAN HODGES: Boris is right – the Archbishop WAS far softer on Putin than he’s been on the Rwanda plan

  • The Church has hit out at Boris Johnson with biblical fury for ‘disgraceful slur’ 
  • But the Prime Minister was right – Welby slammed Rwanda plan more than Putin
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury said migrant plan is the ‘opposite of God’s nature’
  • He failed to note the cruel injustice of the migrant status quo – and war in Ukraine

The Church hit out at Boris Johnson with biblical fury. 

According to Lambeth Palace spokesman John Bingham, it was a ‘disgraceful slur’ for the Prime Minister to claim the Archbishop of Canterbury and other clergymen had been more vociferous in condemning the Government’s Rwanda policy than they had been in condemning Vladimir Putin.

The Archbishop’s spokesman may have done better to curb his indignation. Because what Boris said was absolutely correct.

What Boris said about the Archbishop (pictured at Easter Sunday mass) was absolutely correct

A fortnight ago, I appeared with the Archbishop on BBC’s Question Time. 

Asked about the unfolding atrocities in Ukraine, Justin Welby talked about his experience of visiting a mass grave in South Sudan.

 He talked of the need for a ceasefire. He talked of the length of time it would take to bring any possible perpetrators to justice. But he didn’t mention Putin.

‘At the heart of this, it’s not the rulers,’ he said. 

‘They will be held to account by God, if not before.’ 

He went on to explain how stopping the conflict ‘means sanctions, but it also means diplomacy. And sadly, it often means negotiating with people who have done pretty unpleasant things’.

Compare this hard-headed – some might say cynical – pragmatism to the tone he adopted on the Government’s immigration strategy, which involves sending asylum seekers who have illegally arrived in the UK to Rwanda while their claims are processed.

Delivering his Easter sermon, Welby declared ‘the details are for politics and politicians. 

The principle must stand the judgment of God, and it cannot… it cannot carry the weight of our national responsibility as a country formed by Christian values; because sub-contracting 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’.

As I pointed out in my Question Time response, Ukrainians cannot be expected to wait for Putin to face a reckoning in the afterlife. 

And with Rwanda – or any other issue – ‘God wouldn’t like it’ has never been an especially robust argument.

How will the new Rwanda migrant scheme work? 

Cross-channel arrivals assessed and anyone deemed an economic migrant rather than a refugee is sent to Rwanda

  • Initial agreement worth £120million over five years  
  • Failed immigrants urged to start new life in Africa 
  • Initially based at hostel in Kigali
  • Hope House is currently being used as budget accommodation for tourists
  • Privately owned, the East African nation’s government is understood to be in negotiations to lease the property 
  • Memorandum of understanding (MOU) says Government will screen asylum seekers ‘without delay’ after arrival in the UK
  • All requests will require approval from Rwanda before relocation
  • Nation can refuse to take people with criminal records 
  • People who cross the Channel in small boats will undergo initial checks at the Western Jet Foil facility in Dover
  • Further checks at a processing site in Manston, Kent. Where their claim is deemed inadmissible, they may be removed to a ‘third safe country’. 
  • Royal Navy to lead Channel policing role, helping Border Force from today
  • PM attacked ‘a formidable army of politically motivated lawyers’ who have thwarted previous action
  • PM: ‘Our compassion may be infinite but our capacity to help people is not. We can’t ask the British taxpayer to write a blank cheque to cover the costs of anyone who might want to come and live here.’ 

BUT when he clambered up into his pulpit to denounce the immorality of the Government’s new migration policy, Justin Welby wasn’t alone. His criticism was widely echoed, including from several of Boris’s own MPs.

Criticism that’s misplaced. First, let’s consider the immorality of the status quo.

In 2018, 539 people tried to cross the Channel in small boats. In March this year alone, that figure was 4,000.

That’s 4,000 people a month being entrusted to the tender mercies of the people traffickers.

Last year, one of them spoke about their experiences. 

‘It’s a kind of slavery,’ he said. 

‘Poor refugees work as house servants for smugglers; women sell their bodies; others are made to be lookouts or drivers, and can then be arrested and thrown in jail. But they do it because it is their best chance at a safe life.’

And they still represent the lucky ones. Last year 44 people died, or were reported missing, while attempting the crossing. 

In one incident, 27 people drowned trying to cross in what French officials described as a ‘boat’ that resembled a child’s inflatable pool. The youngest victim was seven.

Then there is the argument the UK is ‘sub-contracting out’ its ethical responsibility to provide sanctuary. 

But paying other countries to support refugees has always been an accepted – indeed lauded – part of British Government policy.

One of the biggest critics of the Rwanda plan was former Minister Rory Stewart. ‘I think they are offshoring a British problem and they’re trying to put it out of sight and out of mind,’ he said. 

‘It’s very strange and very disturbing.’

But in 2019, the same Rory Stewart travelled to the Zaatari refugee camp to announce a £55 million payment to the Jordanian government to support 22,000 refugees from Syria. 

Rather than condemn that initiative as ‘offshoring’, he said the money was part of ‘a story of improvement, and of some hope’.

And then there are the attacks on Rwanda itself.

Justin Welby spared the country his wrath. But others did not.

During last Tuesday’s Commons statement, Labour MP Paula Barker condemned Rwanda’s ‘authoritarian regime’. Florence Eshalomi said the Foreign Office website ‘states that Rwanda is not a safe place and that it is frowned on for people to be LGBT’. 

Her colleague Afzal Khan demanded to know ‘how can the Home Secretary possibly tell the House with a straight face that Rwanda is a safe country to send people seeking asylum to’.

If such criticism of an African country had come from politicians on the Right, the charges of racism and neo-colonialism would have swiftly followed. But as ever, amid the storm of liberal righteousness, the rules have been inverted.

Rwanda is not a model of perfect governance. 

But given the genocide that tore the nation asunder less than 30 years ago, that’s hardly surprising. 

And to claim it cannot provide security for refugees is to fly in the face of the facts.

According to the UNHCR, Rwanda has provided sanctuary to 74,000 Congolese refugees. 

It opened its borders to provide a haven for thousands more from Burundi, and taken refugees from Afghanistan, Angola, the Central Africa Republic, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. 

At no time did the Commons benches ring with denunciation at their treatment.

Yes, there are huge practical and logistical complexities to the proposal. As one Minister said: ‘We can’t even manage to deport foreign criminals who have been caught doing all sorts of terrible things. The idea we’ll manage to successfully pack off a load of refugees to Rwanda is a joke.’

Yet whether or not the scheme succeeds is ultimately an operational question, not a moral one. 

There are people who deserve condemnation from our clergy and legislators. 

But it’s not the Ministers who are trying – however imperfectly – to find a solution to a complex humanitarian crisis.

How about a sermon castigating Bashar al-Assad for perpetrating and prolonging Syria’s agony? 

Or the people smuggler who boasted to The Guardian: ‘A growing obstacle course on the border made crossing alone impossible for migrants. 

This attracted mafia groups who studied the controls and found ways around them, knowing what desperate people would pay for these ways. We thank your government for our full pockets.’

If Russia’s leader is off limits, is there any chance of a word or two of reproach for Emmanuel Macron, who cancelled a meeting between his interior minister and Priti Patel after last year’s mass drowning because he objected to the tone of one of Boris’s tweets?

It would appear not.

Although Boris doesn’t seem unduly alarmed. 

While he reacted with genuine anger at Keir Starmer’s inaccurate allegation that he had criticised the BBC for their Ukraine coverage, he and his press team had no qualms about doubling down on his attacks on the clergy.

That should give Justin Welby and his colleagues pause for thought. 

There would have been a time not so long ago when a Conservative Prime Minister would have been terrified at the prospect of becoming embroiled in an Easter row with senior clergy. 

Now it’s a golden political opportunity.

Which is especially remarkable given the week Boris has just had. Even his closest allies wouldn’t claim he is a politician who gravitates easily towards the moral high ground. 

Yet he feels comfortable going head to head with the Archbishop of Canterbury on an issue of morality. 

From the Church’s perspective, that should be troubling.

At the end of his Easter sermon, Justin Welby said: ‘Maybe there can be an ending of a world where we turn away from the refugee, the end of a world where we don’t care, the end of the world where propaganda wins.’

Maybe there can. But some direct words of admonishment for the likes of Vladimir Putin would be a good place to start.

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