by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 16
June 2022
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07:00

Dear bishops, stop grandstanding on Rwanda

They must face scrutiny for their open letter
by Peter Franklin
The master of a hit-and-run moral grandstand. Credit: Getty

It’s round one to the Lords Spiritual. Though it wasn’t their open letter to The Times that stopped the first flight of deportees to Rwanda, the fact is that the bishops are winning their war on the Government’s asylum policy.  

Furious Tories are plotting revenge. According to Tom Newton-Dunn, Cabinet ministers want to expel the 26 bishops who sit in the House of Lords. But I doubt that the current government will actually pull at that particular thread — getting rid of the Lords Spiritual would be unjustifiable without also removing the remaining hereditary peers, 45 of whom are Conservatives.  

A more effective form of retribution against these turbulent priests would be to hold them accountable for their interventions in public life. If they want to campaign against government policy, then fine — but given their privileged position they should be open to scrutiny. It’s not good enough for them to make a significant intervention on a controversial issue and then withdraw to the calm of their episcopal palaces. The hit-and-run moral grandstanding of the open letter will not do. 

Consider just one part of the bishops’ text: “We cannot offer asylum to everyone, but we must not outsource our ethical responsibilities, or discard international law — which protects the right to claim asylum.” If, as the letter suggests, there is a limit on our responsibilities, where does it lie? The bishops don’t have to come up with a precise number, but they could specify the order of magnitude. Should we be prepared to take up to 100,000 asylum seekers a year? A million? Ten million? At what point is there no more room at the inn?

They go on to argue that to “reduce dangerous journeys to the UK we need safe routes”. But safe routes already exist — every year, hundreds of thousands of migrants enter the UK legally. Presumably, the bishops are thinking of something extra — a special airlift operation perhaps. But to whom would these precious places be allocated? Should it be the sort of individuals who have the physical and financial means to travel the people smuggling routes? Or should it be more vulnerable individuals, of which the developing world has no shortage?

One would expect the Church of England to express a preference for the sick and the lame, the widow and the orphan. But the sort of individuals who currently cross the Channel on dinghies — mostly young, healthy and male — would still want to come, so what do the bishops propose to do about them? Would they make room on the mercy flights by kicking off the widows and orphans? Or do they have any bright ideas for disincentivising the small boats?

I don’t ask these questions as mere debating points, but rather because the ethical dilemmas of immigration and asylum policy are real and urgent. Far from wanting to shut the bishops up, these are the hard questions on which their moral guidance would be welcome.  

So let’s hear more — not less — from Justin Welby and his colleagues. UnHerd interview slots are available. 

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Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 month ago

The Bishops are absolutely right !
We should do more, we should not deport asylum seekers to another country, in order to process their claims.
No, instead, it should be done wholly within UK territory. Might I suggest West Falkland. There is plenty of room for an asylum processing station. There is a nearby, under-employed, military presence, to build the facilities. The Falklands environment ‘encourages’ quick’ resolution of cases by the asylum seekers. Chances of absconding are limited in the extreme, as are the draw factors that might encourage people, from warmer clime’s, to hang about in the event of a failed claim. Best of all though, lawyers, who wish to represent claimants, should be required to represent their clients, in person, during any legal proceedings.
I would say it’s a win, win, situation. It discourages bogus claimants, it speeds up the system, for genuine asylum seekers, reduces abuses of the system and ‘literally’ provides a hostile environment for failed applicants, who might otherwise try and stay. It also doesn’t involve ‘shady’ deals with foreign countries and ensures the whole process is carried out under the auspices and protection of UK law.

David Bell
David Bell
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

A bit unfair on the present inhabitants, including the penguins, seals, etc.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 month ago
Reply to  David Bell

That’s true, the penguins might be hopping mad, although, if we can try and find the seal of approval we might have some success in persuading the Kelpers. Improvements to infrastructure, along with ‘well paid’ civil service jobs might help persuade the 200 ‘odd’ inhabitants (to whom I’m evidentially related, not all of them, obviously, saying that though, small communities and all, that might not be strictly true). Anyway, if the asylum seeks are all given white, woolly coats, then they might blend right into the background and be mistaken for the several thousand blackface (Is that sailing a bit close to the wind ?), Justin might even be tempted to pay a visit, I understand he’s occasionally been thought to be related, and anyway, it’s about time Canada had a holiday.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago

I am still waiting for Welby to notice the “oustsourcing of responsibilities” by the French in permitting illegal migration to the UK (from I understand a very limited number of beaches, whihc journalists don’t seem to have trouble locating). Or the preceding “unsafe” EU countries these illegal immigrants passed through. Or the evils of people trafficking.
Or don’t these things matter ?

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

It is unfortunately quite a British thing not to notice anything which happens outside of the island and fail to factor in the larger context when considering any given issue. The range of thought & context recognition for many ends abruptly on the beaches of Dover. The result: arguments which are essentially based on the premise of “IT’S ALL ABOUT US”.
It isn’t.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 month ago

These questions should be asked of everyone supporting undocumented arrivals. The media is letting us down badly by not doing so.

Pro-immigration people should welcome these questions. Nothing destroys public confidence in immigration and asylum-seeking more than seeing the system being exploited.

Dominic S
Dominic S
1 month ago

I suppose the bishops are the oimby’s. Only in……

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago

Congratulations to Peter Franklin on throwing down the gauntlet to the bishops to discuss the issue of immigration on Unherd rather than standing on the sidelines criticising any attempt to staunch the tide of humanity seeking refuge in this country.
This is a shorter version of an earlier comment that I presume has gone into moderation. Hopefully it will emerge.

Philip Burrell
Philip Burrell
1 month ago

Why does Peter Franklin think the bishops have to provide an alternative solution to the problem of refugees? They are not policy makers, they are merely stating that they find the deportation to Rwanda policy morallly repugnant. They do in fact provide an alternative in their open letter by listing all the actions the Home Office has seen fit not to consider. “Those to be deported to Rwanda have had no chance to appeal, or reunite with family in Britain. They have had no consideration of their asylum claim, recognition of their medical or other needs, or any attempt to understand their predicament.”

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
1 month ago
Reply to  Philip Burrell

So you and the Bishops believe the policy is morally repugnant? Don’t tell the Rwandans!

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
1 month ago

It seems pretty clear to me their main point is that deporting people to Rwanda is a bad idea, to ask that they specify a number of people admitted seems clearly unreasonable. It’s quite possible to think the plan is a bad idea without having a viewpoint on what the exact number should be.
It should have been obvious from the get go that many people, including many conservatives, would balk at the idea of a camp in Rwanda.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago
Reply to  M. Jamieson

From recent newspaper articles the “camp” seems to be fairly luxurious hotel accommodation – rather better than might be available in England.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Swimming pool at hotel !

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
1 month ago
Reply to  M. Jamieson

Rwanda is a solution that addresses both pull factors and the tendency of failed claimants to stay.

It may well be a poor one, but if you’re going to criticise a solution, particularly from a position of influence, there is surely some obligation to address the wider issue rather than just carp.

The Cof E stopped being a source of non partisan moral guidance years ago, but still professes to do so. So give some guidance, simply saying “not this option” falls well short.

D Glover
D Glover
1 month ago
Reply to  M. Jamieson

It’s not unreasonable to ask for a number. Most people in Africa, Middle East, or SE Asia would be better off here, but how many can we accommodate and feed?
It’s not unreasonable to ask what is to be done with people whose asylum claim is found to be groundless. Do they just stay, or do they get sent somewhere else? If it’s the former there’s not much point even assessing their claim, is there?