Who put the bishops in charge of our borders?

An unholy alliance of unelected elites wants to thwart the will of the elected House of Commons.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

Topics Politics UK

The UK government’s Rwanda policy is facing its most formidable challenge yet. Having been blocked by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and declared unlawful by the UK Supreme Court, now it has supposedly fallen foul of the judgement of God – or at least of those who claim to be his representatives on Earth.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has been sermonising about the Rwanda scheme for several years now. In 2022, he denounced the plan to send illegal immigrants to central Africa as ‘the opposite of the nature of God’. Last month, he declared the government’s emergency Rwanda Bill contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Now he plans to lead a rebellion of bishops and other life peers against the bill when it returns to the House of Lords tonight.

The purpose of the UK government’s Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill is to nullify last year’s Supreme Court judgement, which declared Rwanda to be an ‘unsafe’ country for the purposes of processing and resettling migrants. The bill also disapplies sections of the Human Rights Act, gives ministers the power to ignore certain decisions by the ECHR and sets a higher bar for UK courts to delay or block deportations to Rwanda. The government hopes this will allow the first flights to take off before the next General Election, deterring would-be illegal migrants from crossing the English Channel in small boats.

Tonight, Welby will table a wrecking amendment to the bill. Should this pass, it would require parliament to gain the express approval of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) before any deportation flights could take off. As Welby is surely aware, this stipulation would neuter the policy entirely. After all, the UNHCR is the same UN body whose evidence was relied on to defeat the Rwanda scheme in the Supreme Court last year. Just last month, the UNHCR produced new legal advice declaring the Rwanda Bill to be contrary to international law. UNHCR head Filippo Grandi has said explicitly of the Rwanda Bill that ‘because you want to keep people away from your borders, then this will always meet [the UN’s] disapproval’. In other words, hell would freeze over before the UN gives the UK government the green light to send flights to Rwanda.

Now, you don’t have to be a fan of the government’s Rwanda scheme – we at spiked aren’t – to worry about what all this means for democracy. For good or ill, the Rwanda plan is one of the flagship policies of the elected government. The Safety of Rwanda Bill has passed comfortably in the elected House of Commons after being debated by MPs. It surely beggars belief that it could now be struck down thanks to the machinations of an unelected archbishop.

The Archbishop of Canterbury should have every right to preach to his flock about migration or any other issue. The trouble is that under the UK’s ancient constitution, he and 25 other bishops are empowered to do far more than just sermonise. They are given the right to meddle in and veto our laws from their pulpits in the House of Lords. This is an absurdity in a supposedly modern, secular democracy. Indeed, the UK is the only country outside of the Islamic Republic of Iran that makes special dispensations for religious clerics. None of the 26 ‘lords spiritual’ has ever stood for election. None is remotely accountable to the public for their decisions.

It also won’t have escaped most people’s notice that whenever Welby makes a divine intervention, the supposed word of God aligns almost perfectly with the views of our cloistered liberal establishment. It is telling that the archbishop’s amendment defers to the UNHCR, an unaccountable supranational quango, to carry out what he sees as God’s work.

It is equally revealing that Welby is leading the charge in the Lords alongside other elite luminaries such as Labour’s Baroness Chakrabarti and Baroness Hale – the former president of the Supreme Court who infamously blocked then prime minister Boris Johnson’s attempts to deliver a No Deal Brexit. Hale’s own amendment would hand power back to the UK courts to block deportation flights – again, nullifying the very purpose of the bill.

Enough is enough. The only question that matters here is ‘Who rules?’. Who gets to decide on the UK’s immigration policies? Is it the elected government and the elected House of Commons, who are at least accountable to the people? Or is it to be bishops, life peers, judges and UN bureaucrats? So long as this unholy alliance can lord it over our elected representatives, our democracy will be in deep peril.

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK


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