by Richard Ekins
Thursday, 22
December 2022
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07:00

Justin Welby is wrong about Channel crossings

There is nothing immoral in discouraging dangerous voyages
by Richard Ekins
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

Remember the Huguenots? The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, says we should. In a debate in the House of Lords on 9th December, he reminded peers of the welcome the Huguenots — French Protestants persecuted by Catholic France — received in England, and from the Church of England in particular. Their plight is well worth recalling, as is the policy of the English Crown to encourage (and pay for) tens of thousands of them to settle in England and in the colonies abroad. 

Offering asylum to foreigners fleeing oppression is, Welby says, “our tradition, our history and our pride”. We should, he concludes, “make it our future”, too. There is much truth here, but the Archbishop’s wider reflections on the morality of asylum are misconceived. He misunderstands the responsibilities of government and the ways in which our country has in the past, and should in future, help oppressed foreigners. In particular, he is wrong about how to deal with small boats.


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The sanctuary offered to the Huguenots should be a cause for national pride. In encouraging settlement in England, the Crown, with the support of Parliament, helped protect tens of thousands in a neighbouring state from persecution. It also denounced the injustice of France, England’s main rival, and weakened it by draining it of some of its ablest citizens.

Several centuries later, many continue to leave France seeking asylum on our shores, but not because they face persecution there. They are safe in France but choose to cross the Channel in a small boat, paying considerable sums to people smugglers to arrange entry into the UK, in breach of our immigration law. The worsening crisis of the Channel crossings is the context in which the moral foundations of asylum must now be considered. 

Welby has been a fierce critic of the morality of the government’s Rwanda plan, denouncing it in his Easter sermon, in a subsequent Telegraph article, and in a letter to the Times with the other Lords Spiritual. In a Policy Exchange paper published a fortnight ago, I took issue with some of the Archbishop’s claims, as well as those of other church leaders, arguing that the moral imperative of caring for the stranger, which the Gospels mandate, does not mean that the Channel has to be an open route into Britain. 

In the recent debate Welby says more than once, and quite forcefully, that the UK cannot take everyone, cannot help all those in need of help, and should have “a system which balances effective, accurate and clear control with compassion and dignity.” The Archbishop says he aims to support action that would “prevent small boats from crossing the channel”, but he also stresses that the UK is not taking many refugees and should take many more. 

Astonishingly, he dismisses the provision our country has made to welcome Hong Kong residents — well over 100,000 to date and many more to come — by saying “and that, by the way, is not asylum but financial visas”. It may not involve an application for asylum as such, but it clearly involves flight from oppression. Welby also draws the wrong conclusion from the fact that developing countries host many more refugees than developed countries. This is much cheaper than settlement in the West and makes return more likely. Developed countries should help pay the costs, and the UK leads the way in this regard.

The control Welby claims to support does not presently exist. The small boats cannot safely be turned around in the Channel and France will not accept their immediate return. The Rwanda plan is a rational (if imperfect) attempt to address the problem, removing asylum-seekers to a safe third country, where they will be protected, yet the Archbishop decries the plan on the grounds that it outsources our responsibilities. This makes no sense, for the UK not only accepts that Rwanda must comply with international standards, but also commits to funding the protection of those who prove to be refugees. Welby asserts that the plan has failed to deter. Indeed, because it has not yet been tried at all. 

The UK has good reason to resettle in safe third countries those who enter unlawfully on small boats, which would discourage others from (dangerous) unlawful entry and restore control of our borders. The historic tradition on which the Archbishop relies is alive and well in the provision our government has made, with wide public support, for temporary protection from Ukrainians escaping Russian aggression and for resettlement of the new Huguenots, the Hong Kong residents seeking to escape the oppressive reach of the Chinese Communist state. 

Richard Ekins is Head of Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power Project and Professor of Law and Constitutional Government, University of Oxford

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Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago

“Welby has been a fierce critic of the morality of the government’s Rwanda plan,”.
I remain a fierce critic of the immorality of Justin Welby. Amongst many instances, his apparent inability to confront the immorality of people smuggling. Or criticising a government for seeking to represent the people who elected them. Note that he doesn’t directly criticise the people. Nor the fact that he himself participates in government (inthe House of Lords) without ever being elected.
The man has no solutions. Only platitudes and complaints. And he’ll happily spend other people’s money and see them make sacrifices to salve his guilty conscience. But apparently nothing which costs him directly. “Those who can do, those who can’t preach”.
Might I also suggest that the Albanians (and many others) are not “fleeing oppression”.

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

Welby is an exemplar of the Woking Class: elitist, wealthy, cynical, hypocritical, cancelling, exercising power to impose his worldview on the ‘little people’, the despised populists, in order to control them and maintain themselves in power. Of course people like Welby are not affected by the consequences of their policies as they are wealthy enough to be isolated from these in their palaces, mansions, corridors of power and country estates. I despise him and his ilk.

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

Yes, your man Welby has been a very poor choice for leading the C of E, for this and so many other reasons related to gender, sexuality etc. — though certainly many of our American Christian leaders have been similarly co-opted by the progressive movement.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
1 month ago

Tony Blair was advised to focus on politics and to not “do God”.
Justin Welby should be advised to do precisely the opposite.

R Wright
R Wright
1 month ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
1 month ago
Reply to  R Wright

The unherd vicar says everything belongs to God and therefore Jesus has been misinterpreted . He was being ambiguous on purpose . All politics is therefore in the purview of the CofE . Sad isn’t it .

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago

Welby’s role is simply to provide the Oxbridge mafia to which he belongs, and that runs this country entirely for its own benefit, with a patina of moral respectability. He does it well.

Greta Hirschman
Greta Hirschman
1 month ago

And how does Justin Welby know that they are fleeing oppressors instead of fleeing justice or family responsibilities?
If local industry can be relocated to cheaper countries with lower taxation, fewer regulations and a weaker law enforcement, why should we consider relocating asylum seekers to cheaper countries as something reprehensible?

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago

What’s needed is an imaginative solution. The ultimate reason Albanians (and many others) come here is that no-one wants to invest there because no-one trusts the government. The answer is for the UK to lease a piece of coastal land in Albania and establish a colony under British jurisdiction where British companies can take advantage of the cheap labour without having to contend with corruption and gangsterism of the Albanian regime. It’s a win win.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Dangerous talk ! That’s almost colonialism … . But as you point out, it’s a proven way to make progress.
If we look at what’s happened in Eastern Europe since 1989, there’s probably been too many skilled people leaving to work in wealthier western European countries and not enough done to build up development and good government in the ex-Communist countries (which carried a sometimes historic and also a definite Communist legacy of corruption). So countries like Albania effectively get human asset-stripped by the West. Except there are two types of people that leave: a) young, able people who could develop the country and b) criminals. There aren’t enough capable, honest people left to put the country straight.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

Language is everything, isn’t it? African countries accept a form of exploitation by the Chinese which provides them with few long term benefits. There is no significant skills transfer, for example. Or promotion of Africans into managerial roles. But it’s OK because no-one calls it ‘colonialism’. It’s ‘partnership’.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

From what I have read the chinse experience has had African nations wistfully recalling the days of empire

R Wright
R Wright
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

We could try retaking Corfu which used to be a British protectorate. I doubt the Greeks would approve however.

Morgan Watkins
Morgan Watkins
1 month ago

Hmmmmm!

Last edited 1 month ago by Morgan Watkins
Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
1 month ago

If he believed that which he superficially espouses, he would put the Church’s considerable estate to good use and offer people asylum, food and shelter under its roofs. Anyway, good to see some non-woke opinions coming from our senior academics.

Last edited 1 month ago by Al M
Ash B
Ash B
1 month ago

It should not be forgotten Welby’s interventions last year in respect of Vaccine Mandates, where he proclaimed all those who chose to be unvaccinated as “Immoral”. It would appear he views an awful lot of his flock as “iffy”!
It seems utterly lost on him, shrouded as he is in ermine, that around 50% of black British and 35% of British Muslim had at the time chosen not to be vaccinated. Over one third of Londoners at least would of had less rights than me, in theory, to enter a night club, venue or place of worship, etc. His devotion to failed science, big pharma and the technocracy may well exceed his devotion to God.
His remarks were further compounded in that it was during the run up to Christmas, after all where else in history would an outcast have sought sanctuary and compassion in the bleak midwinter only to be turned away by those in rich robes? The extent of his immorality and delusion are hard to fathom at Christmas or all the year round.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ash B
John Solomon
John Solomon
1 month ago

The comparison with the Huguenots is disingenuous. Someone should point out to Welby that the refugees are not being persecuted IN FRANCE. They are safe there – let them stay.

Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
1 month ago

Oh, could we Americans give you millions of examples of “Welbyist” misguided ideas on illegal immigration versus true asylum. Millions – MILLIONS – of illegal aliens traverse our southern border annually, disappear into the social fabric of the United States, and politicians merely yawn or flap their jaws. Meantime, border states are being brutalized by this flood of illegal immigration, and irrevocably damaged. The cost of federal and state services to illegals is in the billions of dollars. That’s money coming from the taxes paid by hardworking Americans.
What percentage of these people have a legitimate asylum plea? 0.1% Maybe. What percentage of these people have COVID or are transporting fentanyl and other illegal, lethal drugs? Many, many times more than have a claim for asylum.
And Washington, D.C. continues to lie daily to its citizens.
“The border is secure.” ~ Vice President Kamala Harris, August, 2022
Welby is as big a fool as Kamala Harris. And only slightly more sanctimonious.

Last edited 1 month ago by Gerald gwarcuri
R Wright
R Wright
1 month ago

Welby’s despicable comments regarding Hongkongers fleeing communist oppression in the Far East is exactly why people are abandoning his flock en-masse, as embodied in the recent census. The English Church has lost its way and become an embarrassing joke.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago
Reply to  R Wright

Unfortunately, many other churches are also. When some of the leftist Christian churches fly the pride flag, as they do here in the States, encouraging all forms of sexual deviancy, they offend the faithful. To be clear, I am in no way judging what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms (or kitchen tables), but why choose the sin of sexual perversion over all other sins to fly a flag?

j watson
j watson
1 month ago

You can discourage all the boats immediately by allowing asylum seekers to apply in France. You can then follow that up with rapid, effective, but humane processing. Many will then have to be helped back to their country of origin. Invest properly and do it properly.
I don’t have a particular problem with the Rwanda principle. If it’s a safe country then providing asylum there is an improvement for those feeling persecution. But I just v much doubt it’ll work – only a tiny proportion of channel boat crossers will end up there thus not generating sufficient disincentive, it’ll cost a fortune, and no doubt they’ll end up being other operational problems with it. Plus of course the track record of the Tories doesn’t inspire confidence in effective policy implementation. But as I say, in principle, I don’t share Welby’s concern. We’d remain responsible for it and we’d be paying.
Now I’m not a religious believer, but the little understanding I do have of Christian teaching makes me strongly suspect that if JC came back down to Earth he’d v much be with the asylum seekers – the dispossessed, the poor, the vulnerable. I suspect he’d absolutely tear into some of the attitudes displayed against these people and shame us. On that I concur with Welby.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

I largely agree with most of what you say. Just not about Welby.
The asylum seekers are a minority of the current “migrants” as everyone well understands. The persistent attempts to look at what’s going on through a filter of genuine asylum seekers are frankly slightly dishonest and unhelpful.
What one may ask would JC have made of the people smugglers and economic migrants and those who wish to live off state benefits in another country for which they have never made any contributions (and may indeed never do so) ? But frankly, I don’t much care wat we might or miht not have thought. This is fundamentally about whether countries can still govern themselves and whether they are to be coerced into treating economic migrants (illegal immigrants amongst them) better than legal migrants and indeed even their own citizens.
If a government cannot and will not treat its own citizens at least as well as immigrants (legal or illegal), we are on the road to self-destruction. When it actually treats them worse (in things like housing priority), we have really serious problems.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

Suspect JC would have been pretty hard on the smugglers too and on that you are right. But on the economic migrants – suspect he’d have lambasted us for demonising them even if then they have to be helped back to their own country. Point being you and I have been v blessed in our good fortune to live here. They’ve almost certainly had a much tougher life. I strongly suspect he’d put the person before the label.
I’m not even a Christian, but this was an article about a head of a church.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

In what way is it “demonising” economic migrants for people in a country to set their own standards about who can and cannot come into the country ? It’s really very strange – we don’t expend any effort questioning what many other countries (Iran, Saudi Arabia, …) do in this respect, but we are quite happy to beat ourselves up about the natural business of looking after ourselves.
So I absolutely disagree that people are demonising economic migrants. We don’t make any moral judgement on people for wanting a better life. But they have no more right to come here than I do to subsidised housing and lifestyle in Mayfair or New York or somewhere else I might prefer to live.
Yes, we are fortunate in being born into one of the better countries. But that is also a responsibility. Britain did not become a wealthy and peaceful country by accident, but rather by over a long period following the rukle of law and building a successful culture. And primarly by that, rather than colonial exploitation as lazy revisionist historians would want you to think. We have some responsibility to maintain and develop that culture and preserve the freedoms that are the result of centuries of effort and sacrifice by those who came before us. At least, that’s my view. Nothing to do with religion. Everything to do with culture.
I really do not understand the self-loathing of people like Welby and why these people seem to despise their own culture and wish to destroy it.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

You lumped economic migrants in with smugglers. Sorry but they are not the same. It’s an associative slur.
I appreciate probably unintended but there’s too much of this. Let’s have some humanity too. Even if these folks are wrong in trying to come here they are not evil. Language counts so we all need to be more careful.
We didn’t disagree on the rest.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

I certainly did not intend to imply any association and I think it’s unreasonable to read it that way.
I have never said that economic migrants are “evil” (a concept I’m not sure I recognise).
However, if what they are doing is illegal, there’s simply no getting round that.
I’m really not on board with this “being careful with language stuff”. It’s a free country. If something’s a fact and needs saying, we need to say it. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King.
We’re in this absurd moral confusion and panic today because we do not.
I’m sure in individual cases, I would find some that I sympathised with – indeed I’ve helped several people who’ve come to this country legally. British people are not lacking in humanity. But feelings are no basis for an immigration policy where we need to draw a line somewhere.
I also know from personal experience how hard it can be for people to legitamately come to the UK. So I really dislike illegal immigration. Much as benefit fraud actually reduces the resources available for those really in need, illegal immigration often works against legal migration and against the [at least stated government] interests of the UK.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

OK recognise was unintended and sorry.
There will be economic migrants on the boats I’m sure. And they will have to be helped back home after processing. But you still must be pretty desperate in life to risk that journey. Can we imagine how frightening that crossing must be. Which is why I’d retain some compassion for those trying even though many will have their applications rejected. I sense you feel not dissimilar.
I agree illegal immigration is a problem and undermines many important principles. Albeit there is quite possibly more of that going on day in day out via our airports and unapproved visa extensions than across the channel in dinghies. Just that the latter is v visible.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

No problem. Good to have a civilised discussion. Yes, there will be some vulnerable and blameless people making these crossings – certainly young children who won’t have taken the decision. And doubtless people who actually believe that what they are doing is fair and reasonable (having never been told otherwise).
So I have sympathy with some (not all) of the individuals. But an in principle objection to what they are doing.
But as many people have noted, there is absolutely no need for any of them to make the crossing. France is a safe country.
I rather think there are too many people with a vested interest in not solving this problem. But anyone who does that is merely prolonging and extending the suffering.
It might also be interesting to reflect on why this cross-channel crossing traffic didn’t happen 10 or 20 years ago. What changed ? I don’t know. But I doubt that conditions in the source countries are that dramatically worse than at times in the past. Something changed to enable all this. What was it ?

D Glover
D Glover
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

You can discourage all the boats immediately by allowing asylum seekers to apply in France. You can then follow that up with rapid, effective, but humane processing. Many will then have to be helped back to their country of origin.

That won’t work. The ones who are approved for asylum will cross the channel legally. The ones who are rejected will simply pay traffickers for a boat ride. The Border Force or the RNLI will be obliged to pick them up and land them.
They don’t want to be ‘helped back to their country of origin.’

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  D Glover

I think you are right that some will then still try the boats and be prey to promises made by smugglers. But I also suspect many wouldn’t. They’d know the outcome of their application and the boat crossing wouldn’t have the same risk-calculation. The smugglers business model would have been hugely dented.

David Giles
David Giles
1 month ago

“Outsourcing our responsibilities” isn’t any argument of any sort; it is just a slogan, a meaningless one at that. Sloganising instead of grappling with complex moral and practical questions should be the last thing we would expect of clergy; yet it’s the first.