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Boris Johnson hits back at archbishop for criticism of Rwanda asylum plan

PM accused Justin Welby and BBC of being harsher on policy than on Putin

Liam James,Adam Forrest
Wednesday 20 April 2022 07:13 BST
'Criminal': Boris Johnson heckled by MPs in Commons

Boris Johnson has accused the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby of having “misconstrued” the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Sources close to the prime minister said he accused the senior clergyman of being “less vociferous” in condemning Vladimir Putin than on the policy – which could see thousands of asylum seekers flown to east Africa.

Mr Johnson appeared before Tory MPs on Tuesday evening after apologising in the House of Commons for breaking lockdown rules.

He received loud cheers and banging on the tables from the largely supportive parliamentary party at the meeting of backbenchers, where he spoke for around 40 minutes.

After defending himself over Partygate, Mr Johnson went on to hit out at both “senior members of the clergy” and the BBC over criticism of the plan to send migrants to Rwanda, following condemnation by Mr Welby and other bishops.

Mr Welby had raised “serious ethical questions” about the policy in his Easter Sunday address and said it cannot “stand the judgment of God”.

Archbishop Welby criticised the policy in his Easter sermon (Getty)

In the sermon, the archbishop said “sub-contracting out our responsibilities ... is the opposite of the nature of God who himself took responsibility for our failures”.

The Rwanda policy also drew criticism on Tuesday from former prime minister Theresa May, who questioned its legality and effectiveness.

Addressing home secretary Priti Patel in the Commons on Tuesday, she said: “Where is her evidence that this will not simply lead to an increase in the trafficking of women and children?”

Ms Patel insisted the deal complied with international laws, but she refused to give parliament more details of eligibility requirements, offering to meet Ms May instead.

Meanwhile, the prime minister is preparing to depart for the official trip to India on Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s vote calling for a Commons committee to determine whether he lied with his denials.

The wording of the motion being tabled by Labour and other opposition MPs was not yet clear, but was expected to refer Mr Johnson for investigation by the privileges committee.

Tory MP Craig Whittaker, one of the Conservatives to call for Mr Johnson’s resignation, urged him to refer himself to avoid taking colleagues to “the brink”.

Noting Mr Johnson denies intentionally misleading the House, Mr Whittaker told BBC Newsnight: “What I would like to see is the prime minister referring himself to the privileges committee so that he doesn’t take all of my colleagues, including myself, to the brink on Thursday evening.”

One rebel MP did challenge him at Tuesday night’s meeting to agree to a privileges committee probe if he had “nothing to hide”.

But the prime minister repeatedly challenged his MPs to consider whether they would “rather have Labour”.

One Tory MP told The Independent that the PM was “not brilliantly contrite”, but he appeared to have done enough to keep existing backers onside.

The backbencher added: “The mood in the party is not great. I think everyone expects more fines, and that will make things more difficult. If the local elections are really bad, some will change their minds on the idea that he’s a vote winner.”

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