Archbishop of Canterbury warns of ‘sheer power of government’ and says coronavirus rules must be decentralised

Rev Justin Welby attacks Westminster diktat over restrictions – and says local leaders ‘best qualified to deal with local outbreaks’

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 16 September 2020 09:34 BST
The Most Reverend Justin Welby
The Most Reverend Justin Welby

The Archbishop of Canterbury has called on Boris Johnson’s government to stop curtailing people’s freedoms by imposing so many coronavirus restrictions from Westminster.

The Rev Justin Welby said UK ministers had “determined the daily details of our lives” over recent months in a way “few of us have experienced” – as he argued instead for more flexibility and localism.

The Church of England chief – said to be worried about the impact of the rule of six on the elderly and vulnerable in the run-up to Christmas – argued that the government must challenge its own “addiction” to centralisation.

“We are not immune to the temptation to pull more decisions into the centre, to feel that ‘something is being done’,” the archbishop wrote in The Daily Telegraph.

“But it is a temptation that should be resisted. Often that ‘something’ might not be as effective as what could be done locally. Scotland and Wales have shown that local public health is the best qualified to deal with local outbreaks.”  

He added: “Local government, schools and voluntary agencies – including churches – can communicate well, act swiftly and measure risk and consequences on the ground.

“The new normal of living with Covid-19 will only be sustainable – or even endurable – if we challenge our addiction to centralisation and go back to an age-old principle: only do centrally what must be done centrally.”

The Telegraph quoted a source close to Rev Welby as saying he was “deeply concerned about Christmas and the impact of the rule of six on the vulnerable, the needy, the poor and the elderly”.

“He is concerned about families being kept apart and the knock-on effect that has, particularly on people who are on their own,” the church source said.

People mount small protest outside Downing Street as rule of six comes into effect

The rule of six – banning gatherings of more than six people indoors and outdoors – came into force on Monday. It is intended to simplify and strengthen the rules on social gatherings amid rising coronavirus cases.

John Apter, the Police Federation chairman, said officers were still “trying to interpret” the rules and understand exactly when penalties might be imposed. He said: “Maybe we should have guidance, because we haven’t had any yet.”

Matt Hancock said on Tuesday he was “keeping an open mind” about the possibility of relaxing the rule of six to exclude children, which would bring England into line with Wales and Scotland.

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