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Relationship Between Bishops And Government Could Be "Unfixable" After Migration Clashes

The Archbiship of Cantebury in the House of Lords (Alamy)

3 min read

A former senior advisor to Bishops in the House of Lords has said their relationship with Government could be "unfixable" after the two groups have repeatedly clashed over illegal migration.

Communication between the Government and Bishops broke down over the Illegal Migration Bill, when 25 Bishops criticised Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s flagship policy to stop migrants in small boats illegally crossing the English Channel.

The former adviser told The House magazine the Bishops' relationship with Home Office ministers is now “really toxic” and “unfixable”.

The Church of England has also criticised the Conservative party over its Rwanda Policy, which has tried to send illegal migrants coming to the United Kingdom to Rwanda or another “safe” third country.

The former adviser to one Bishop claimed Government ministers prefer to conduct “dialogue” through the media rather than behind closed doors. 

They said the meetings that have taken place with the Home Office have left those working for the bishops feel like "lepers".

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has not sat down with Home Secretary Suella Braverman since her appointment.

A spokesperson for Braverman declined to comment.

A spokesperson from Lambeth Palace said: “The Archbishop would be happy to meet the Home Secretary to discuss issues of mutual interest and concern. In the past the Archbishop has met other Home Secretaries. It is not unusual.”

Chris Loder, Conservative MP for West Dorset, says that “friction” between the bishops and the government has not been in “such an entrenched manner as we have seen it in the last three or four years”, comparing the bishops’ behaviour to that of “a mini political party”.

“It increasingly feels like the bishops in the House of Lords’ priorities aren’t quite right and that they want to focus more on the platform which the House of Lords has given them to opine on political matters of the day rather than preaching the word of God,” he said.

Loder wrote to Welby in June 2022 requesting a meeting with other Conservative MPs but said he did not get a response. This was disputed by Lambeth Palace who said a response was sent by a member of Welby’s staff.

The Conservative MP claimed Lambeth Palace was “increasingly selective based on public relations reasons”. A spokesperson for Lambeth Palace said they did not recognise Loder’s description.

The former senior adviser to the Bishops said they have worked constructively with Conservative MPs and governments in the past. 

Jonathan Gullis, Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, told The House magazine he believed the Bishops from the Church of England were acting like "faux politicians”.

Last year, he claimed the bishops were “using the pulpit to preach from” after they critiqued the Government's Illegal Migration Bill.

The Archbishop responded by tweeting he was “Always grateful for feedback – look forward to advice on what we should be doing in the pulpit. (Just to confirm: we’ll be continuing to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.)”

Gullis claimed he was “always up for debate and discussion” but said he did not like “cheap point scoring", which he said Welby tried to do when he tweeted his position. The Red Wall MP said he would sit down with the Archbishop and discuss their disagreements. 

However, he added there was a “friction” between the bishops and the Conservative party, particularly because “immigration is a very important issue.”

A Church of England spokesperson said: “The Bishops who serve in the House of Lords provide an independent, non-partisan voice in parliamentary debates, bringing an ethical and spiritual perspective that is also informed by their roles as key figures in local civil society … They do not sit as a party, so have no whip or party-line to follow. Alongside their roles as bishops in the dioceses they serve, they play a full and constructive role in the House of Lords in its role of scrutinising and helping to improve legislation.”

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