Boris Johnson Denies "Slandering" The Archbishop of Canterbury Over Rwanda Deportation Scheme
Boris Johnson denied making comments about the Archbishop of Canterbury
Boris Johnson has said he was "taken aback" by the Archbishop of Canterbury's criticism of the government's plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, but denied "slandering" the church leader after Labour called for an apology.
In a fiery session of Prime Minister's Questions, Boris Johnson dismissed the claim that he had criticised the Archbishop of Canterbury following reports that the Prime Minister had complained the church leader had expressed more objection to the government's Rwanda policy than he had over Putin's invasion of Russia.
Labour leader Keir Starmer urged Johnson to apologise for "slandering" Archbishop Justin Welby in the comments reportedly made during a meeting of Tory backbenchers on Tuesday evening.
Starmer said the Prime Minister was more interested in "blaming" others than accepting responsibility for attending lockdown-breaking gatherings in Downing Street, for which he issued an apology to the Commons on Tuesday.
"Yesterday's apology lasted for as long as the Prime Minister thought necessary to be clipped for the news, but once the cameras were off, the Prime Minister went to see his backbenchers and he was back to blaming everyone else," Starmer said.
"He even said the Archbishop of Canterbury had not been critical enough of Putin. Would the Prime Minister like to take this opportunity to apologise for slandering the Archbishop?"
The Archbishop used his Easter Sunday address to say the policy of "relocating" asylum seekers to Rwanda posed "serious ethical questions" and that it would not stand "the judgement of God".
But Johnson hit back at Starmer, and accused him of being a "Corbynista in a smart Islington suit" and dismissed criticism of the Rwanda policy.
"I was slightly taken aback for the government to be criticised over the policy that we have devised to end the deaths at sea as a result of cruel, criminal gangs," Johnson said.
"I was surprised we were attacked for that."
Johnson also accused the Labour leader of being in a "Dr Who timewarp" after he again called on him to resign for the Partygate gatherings.
Johnson has apologised "unreservedly" after he was fined over his attendance at a gathering in Downing Street during lockdown, but insisted he had not misled MPs when he said previously that he believed Covid rules had been followed at all times.
Senior Conservative MP Roger Gale said a meeting of Tory backbenchers led by the Prime Minister on Tuesday evening had descended into a "lot of bluster and pantomime performance".
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister also restated claims there were "more people in work than there were before the pandemic", despite previously accepting a rebuke from the UK Statistics Authority and promising not to make the claim again.
Johnson had been warned the claim was innaccurate because despite people on payrolls was up over the period, the total number of people, including the self-employed was down by almost 600,000.
Speaking to MPs last month, he said he would take "particular care" not to make the claim again following the "chastisement" from the head of the UKSA.
MPs will vote on Thursday for a Labour motion which would trigger an investigation by a Commons committee over whether Johnson deliberately misled parliament when he denied any of the gatherings in Whitehall had breached lockdown rules.
The motion states that Boris Johnson's claims from previous Commons statements that the "guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times" amounted to "contempt" of Parliament in light of the fixed-penalty notice.
In a statement, Starmer urged Conservative MPs to do the "right thing", adding: "The British public know that the rules were broken in Downing Street.
"Voting to say otherwise won’t persuade the public that everything was fine but will further damage the reputation of any Conservative MP who is happy to say it was one rule for the public and another for this government."
But the Labour-led motion is unlikely to pass the Commons vote after it was reported that Conservative MPs were being told by party officials to vote against the plans.
But some Tories have expressed their concerns with Johnson's leadership, including former chief whip Mark Harper, who has publicly called on the PM to step down.
On Tuesday, Harper confirmed he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Johnson. "I'm very sorry to have to say this, but I no longer think he is worthy of the great office that he holds," he wrote.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe