It would have been a bit hypocritical for me to appear at an Easter service in the Anglican Church given the comments of its leader on Sunday about the UK Government’s proposals to tackle illegal immigration from Europe. Every week, hundreds of people hand over money to people smugglers and risk their lives to enter Britain illegally from France. People smugglers exploit those who want to travel, while making huge sums of money. Lives are put at risk and sadly lost on dangerous crossings in leaky boats. We can all agree this is a bad thing. The UK Government has spent a long time trying to find ways to prevent people from making these crossings but so far nothing has worked. The new policy is to remove those who arrive illegally to a safe third country - Rwanda. Those who are genuinely fleeing persecution will be provided with safe accommodation and the opportunity to build a new life. Those who are economic migrants seeking a better country to live in will think twice about handing over money to criminals and putting their lives at risk. The idea is not to punish people but to discourage them from dangerous and illegal crossings.
A few years ago, I spent the day at the then notorious ‘Jungle’ migrant camp in Calais where people openly told me they wanted to come to the UK because it provided a better chance of getting a well-paid job. There is nothing wrong with this, but as a government we cannot simply open the borders to anyone from anywhere in the world who wants to come here. The reality is those who are coming by boat from France are already in a safe country and have decided Britain would be a better place than France or anywhere else in mainland Europe. My objection to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments is that he is happy to attack the government for not being Christian, but he has failed to make the case for the open border policy which is the only logical alternative. I presume he has not done so because he knows this would be unpopular and would be subject to scrutiny – and possibly criticism. For the Archbishop and many others in the Church, including some local Church leaders, it is easier to shout from the sidelines at my colleagues in government than to come up with an alternative. My Conservative colleagues do not get any pleasures from seeing people forcibly deported from the UK and if we were dealing with small numbers, this would not be necessary. But this is uncontrolled migration on a vast scale and something has to be done.
*Published in the Monmouthshire Beacon on 20 April 2022 and the Abergavenny Chronicle on 21 April 2022*