Jacob Rees-Mogg has defended a government policy to send migrants to Rwanda after the Archbishop of Canterbury described the plans as “the opposite of the nature of God”. Head of the church of England Justin Welby told his Easter Sunday sermon that there are “serious ethical questions about sending asylum seekers overseas”.
Rejecting the criticism, minister for Brexit opportunities Mr Rees-Mogg told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend that the Archbishop had “misunderstood” the policy and insisted it was about “fighting organized crime”.
The government plans announced earlier this week to curb migrant crossings of the English Channel in small boats. People who are deemed to have entered Britain by unlawful means since January 1 may be sent to Rwanda where they will be permitted to apply for asylum in the African country.
READMORE: Rwanda plans which will see migrants given one-way ticket ‘opposite of nature of God’, Archbishop of Canterbury says
The proposed measures have faced a fierce backlash from opposition parties, some within the Conservative Party, charities, and religious figures. The Archbishop told this morning’s service that “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”.
“The details are for politics,” he said. “The principle must stand the judgment of God, and it cannot. It cannot carry the weight of resurrection justice, of life conquering death. It cannot carry the weight of the resurrection that was first to the least valued, for it privileges the rich and strong.”
Mr Rees-Mogg said he disagreed. He said the plans presented an “opportunity” for Rwanda.
“The problem being dealt with is that people are risking their lives in the hands of people traffickers to get into this country illegally,” he told BBC Radio 4. “It is not the illegal bit of it, it is the encouragement of people traffickers that needs to be stopped.”
He said 90 per cent of people arriving in the country via such means are young men “who by coming via people traffickers are jumping the queue.” “Not only are they risking their lives, they are supporting organized crime,” he added.
Mr Rees-Mogg said the UK supporting Rwanda in its recovery from the “most appalling and horrific” 1994 genocide “must be a good thing”.
“Within Christianity, intention is always very important and the intention of the government is to do good,” Mr Rees-Mogg said. “It is to help those in genuine need of asylum and to make it harder for crime to prosper. That I think is fundamentally important.
“We are standing up for our responsibility to help those in the greatest need and to make a provision for those who have been exploited by criminals in a way that doesn’t help and aid the criminals.”
The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, echoed Revd Welby’s comments in his own sermon at York Minster, telling the congregation he found the policy “depressing and distressing”.
He said: “We can do better than this. We can do better than this because of what we see in Jesus Christ, the risen Christ, with a vision for our humanity where barriers are broken down, not new obstacles put in the path.
“After all, there is in law no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker. It is the people who exploit them that we need to crack down on, not our sisters and brothers in their need. We don’t need to build more barriers and cower in the darkness of the shadows they create.”
It comes as it was confirmed that the Home Office’s most senior civil servant has concerns about the value for money of the scheme. An exchange of letters published by the Home Office on Saturday night showed the department’s Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft warning Home Secretary Priti Patel that although it was “regular, proper and feasible for this policy to proceed”, there was “uncertainty surrounding the value for money of the proposal”.
Issuing a rare ministerial direction compelling the plans to go ahead despite the concern, Ms Patel said that “without action, costs will continue to rise, lives will continue to be lost”.
In his letter, Mr Rycroft warned the Home Secretary: “I do not believe sufficient evidence can be obtained to demonstrate that the policy will have a deterrent effect significant enough to make the policy value for money. This does not mean that the (measures) cannot have the appropriate deterrent effect; just that there is not sufficient evidence for me to conclude that it will.”
But Ms Patel said it would be “imprudent in my view, as Home Secretary, to allow the absence of quantifiable and dynamic modeling – which is inevitable when developing a response to global crises influenced by so many geopolitical factors such as climate change, war and conflict – to delay delivery of a policy that we believe will reduce illegal migration, save lives, and ultimately break the business model of the smuggling gangs”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of supporting those in need of protection and our resettlement programs have provided safe and legal routes to better futures for hundreds of thousands of people across the globe.
“However, the world is facing a global migration crisis on an unprecedented scale and change is needed to prevent vile people smugglers putting people’s lives at risk and to fix the broken global asylum system. Rwanda is a fundamentally safe and secure country with a track record of supporting asylum seekers. Under this agreement, they will process claims in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention, national and international human rights laws.”
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