John Sentamu: Former archbishop peerage ‘imminent’ after government accused of ‘blatant institutional prejudice’

Omission draws ire from across political divide after failure to ennoble Church of England’s first black archbishop

Vincent Wood
Monday 19 October 2020 00:27 BST
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John Sentamu became the first black archbishop in the Church of England when he was enthroned in York minister in 2005, a position he formally stepped down from last June
John Sentamu became the first black archbishop in the Church of England when he was enthroned in York minister in 2005, a position he formally stepped down from last June

The former archbishop of York is expected to be imminently appointed to the House of Lords after the government was accused of “institutional prejudice” having not granted him an automatic place in the upper chamber.

John Sentamu became the first black archbishop in the Church of England when he was enthroned in York Minster in 2005, a position he formally stepped down from last June.

However while his predecessor David Hope and the last two Archbishops of Canterbury were offered lifetime seats in the Lords once their service came to an end, no such position was announced for Mr Sentamu in the latest string of government nominations — a list that included cricketer Ian Botham and the prime minister’s own brother, Jo Johnson.

The former archbishop’s omission drew anger from across the political spectrum following a report in The Sunday Times that he had not been admitted to keep the number of peers in the Lords down.

However a Whitehall source told the PA news agency that Mr Sentamu’s peerage was “imminent” and that the delay was due to a procedural hold up with the House of Lords Appointments Commission.

“He was put forward for a peerage but the approval process is still ongoing,” the source said.

While archbishops sit in the Lords during their tenure, the established precedent has been to offer the prominent figures from the state religion a lifetime peerage so they may sit in the chamber in a personal capacity. While he was asked if he would accept the position upon stepping down, Mr Sentamu is understood to have been told a month later his name would not be included.

His successor, Stephen Cottrell, who was enthroned as the 98th Archbishop of York on Sunday, tweeted: “Disturbed to find out today that whether it be through negligence or intent my predecessor + Sentamu has not been given the peerage that has been the custom for many years.

“I trust this will soon be rectified. The House of Lords will benefit from his voice.”

Meanwhile David Lammy, the shadow justice minister, accused the government of “blatant institutional prejudice”.

“No 10 broke a precedent and snubbed Britain’s first black archbishop for a peerage because it says the House of Lords is too large, but it made room for Ian Botham, Claire Fox and Theresa May’s husband”, he added.

David Davis, the former Conservative cabinet minister and party leadership candidate, also called for the matter to be rectified.

“Number 10 has made a mistake in not ennobling John Sentamu”, he wrote on Twitter. “He was a great archbishop. It cannot claim it needs to limit the size of the Lords whilst elevating Boris’s brother. It should be put right immediately.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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