Church of England defends Archbishop over Rwanda intervention

(Photo: ITV News)

The Church of England has defended the Archbishop of Canterbury after reports that his Easter intervention over the government's plans to send failed asylum seekers to Rwanda was attacked by the Prime Minister.

Archbishop Justin Welby used his Easter Day sermon to critise the plan, saying 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".

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reported to have told a private meeting of Tory MPs on Tuesday that the Archbishop had "misconstrued" the Rwanda scheme and been "less vociferous" in his condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin after his invasion of Ukraine.

In Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer challenged Johnson to "take this opportunity to apologise for slandering the Archbishop and the Church of England".

But Johnson refused.

"I was slightly taken aback for the government to be criticised over the policy that we have devised to end the deaths at sea in the Channel as a result of cruel criminal gangs," he said. 

"I was surprised that we were attacked for that - and it turns out, do you know who proposed that policy in 2004? It was David Blunket, who said it was a 21st century solution to the problems of illegal asylum seeking and immigration."

The Church of England's head of news, John Bingham, said that "if true", the Prime Minister's comments would be a "disgraceful slur".

Alastair Campbell, former press secretary for Tony Blair, has also defended the Archbishop. 

Writing in The New European, Campbell - who is remembered for his quote, "We don't do God," during his time in Downing Street - said the Archbishop was "a good man who should be praised not criticised for speaking as he finds, according to beliefs that are deeply held". 

"When Parliament is failing to hold a lying crook properly to account – and we shall see this week if they fare any better than they have so far in the 1,000 days of Johnson's dreadful Premiership; when the rule of law is being wilfully undermined; when the media is in the main so supine, then thank God for someone in a position of spiritual leadership speaking out with such clarity on such an important issue," he said. 

Campbell added, "[W]hen we have a liar as Prime Minister, and several parts of the media not merely failing to challenge the lies, but actively promoting and ventilating them, then we need the voices of people like Justin Welby more than ever."