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Archbishop Could Force Government Into International Refugee Plan With Illegal Migration Bill

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (Alamy)

3 min read

An amendment to the Illegal Migration Bill put forward by the Archbishop of Canterbury could force the government into formulating a 10-year international plan to tackle trafficking and the refugee crisis if it passes the Lords.

The Archbishop’s proposed change to the controversial Illegal Migration Bill is set to be debated during the third day of report stage in the House of Lords on Wednesday, with peers having already backed a number of changes to the legislation. It is widely believed that the amendment will go to a vote. PoliticsHome understands there is a belief among some peers that it has a strong chance of passing if it does.

The amendment is supported by former Labour home secretary Lord Blunkett, Conservative peer Lord Bourne, and Labour's Baroness Kennedy.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman have repeatedly set out their desire to reduce illegal migration as a government priority, of which the Illegal Migration Bill is a key part. 

However, the government has already faced a number of defeats on the legislation in the Lords. Peers have already accepted changes to the bill challenging the government's approach to complying with international laws, unaccompanied child migrants, and victims of trafficking. 

If this amendment is voted through by peers, the legislation would say that ministers must “prepare a ten-year strategy for tackling refugee crises affecting migration by irregular routes, or the movement of refugees, to the United Kingdom through collaboration with signatories to the Refugee Convention or any other international agreement on the rights of refugees”. 

“The strategy must also include provisions for tackling human trafficking to the United Kingdom,” the amendment adds. 

It is expected that the amendment will go to a vote on Wednesday evening, following the third day of report stage in the upper house.

Report stage is where peers vote to amend a bill before it is sent back to the House of Commons, where MPs are likely to further alter or get rid of Lords’ changes in a process known as 'ping-pong'. 

'Ping pong' is the term used to describe the process by which a bill or part of a bill is sent back and forth between the Commons and the Lords, usually if the two Houses cannot agree. 

The Archbishop has previously called the legislation “isolationist” and said it risks “great damage to the UK’s interests and reputation at home and abroad”. 

Speaking in the House of Lords second reading debate of the Bill in May, he said it "fails utterly to take a long-term and strategic view of the challenges of migration and undermines international cooperation rather than taking an opportunity for the UK to show leadership.”

Later that month, when the Archbishop proposed his amendment ahead of the earlier committee stage, a spokesperson for the Archbishop said that the “Bishops in the Lords will continue to speak out for those who are fleeing violence and persecution and seeking safety – and keep calling for an asylum system that reflects our values, moral responsibilities, and place within the international community”.

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