Jacob Rees-Mogg has defended the government’s plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda as “almost an Easter story of redemption” after the policy was criticised as “depressing”, “distressing” and ungodly by church leaders.
The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, used a scathing Easter Sunday address to say that the scheme “must stand the judgment of God – and it cannot”.
“Subcontracting 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,” he said.
Welby’s intervention came as it emerged that the civil servant in charge of the Home Office said he did not have evidence to show that the plan to fly people 4,000 miles to Rwanda would act as a deterrent – and therefore could not be sure it would be a good use of public money.
Rees-Mogg, the minister for Brexit opportunities, said the Church of England’s most senior clergyman “misunderstands” the policy and that it was in fact “almost an Easter story of redemption” for Rwanda.
The former Commons leader said the UK was “providing an opportunity to Rwanda” and that the policy therefore “must be a good thing”.
Speaking on Radio 4’s The World This Weekend programme, he said: “I think he misunderstands what the policy is trying to achieve, and that it isn’t an abandonment of responsibility. It is in fact a taking-on of a very difficult responsibility.
“The problem that is being dealt with is that people are risking their lives in the hands of people traffickers to get into this country illegally. Now, it’s not the illegal bit of it, it is the encouragement of people traffickers that needs to be stopped.”
He added: “90% of people coming are young men who, by coming via people traffickers, are jumping the queue for others.
“They are, in doing so, not only risking their lives but supporting organised crime. What we need to do is focus on legal routes into this country, of which there are quite a number.”
Welby was joined in his criticism by the archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, who described the policy as “depressing and distressing”.
In an Easter Sunday sermon at York Minster, Cottrell 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.
“Do we want to continue to be known as a country that opens proper, legitimate pathways for all who flee violence, conflict and oppression, not just those from Ukraine, but also those fleeing other conflicts and the effect of climate change?”