The Archbishop of Canterbury has been told neither “handwringing or bell ringing” will solve the misery of the channel crossings after the church leader condemned Government plans to tackle the small boats crisis.
The rebuke of the Most Rev Justin Welby at Westminster came as he lambasted the Illegal Migration Bill as “morally unacceptable and politically impractical” and urged a rethink.
The Government also said the top cleric was “wrong” as it defended the flagship legislation aimed at ensuring people who arrive in the UK in small boats would be detained and promptly removed, either to their home country or a third country such as Rwanda.
It also includes provisions that would limit the ability of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to prevent the deportation of asylum seekers.
Critics argue the immigration reforms, which have already been passed by the Commons but face a bruising passage through the Lords, break international law and threaten modern slavery protections.
In a withering attack on the draft legislation as it faces its first test in the unelected chamber, Mr Welby said: “This Bill fails to take a long term and strategic view of the challenges of migration and undermines international co-operation rather than taking an opportunity for the UK to show leadership.”
Highlighting the existing global agreements on refugees, Mr Welby said: “While now inadequate, what those conventions offer is a baseline from which to build a globally shared understanding of what protection must be given to refugees.
“They are not inconvenient obstructions to get round by any legislative means necessary.”
Mr Welby added: “It is isolationist, it is morally unacceptable and politically impractical to let the poorest countries deal with the crisis alone and cut our international aid.
“This Bill is an attempt at a short-term fix.
“It risks great damage to the UK’s interests and reputation at home and abroad, let alone the interests of those in need of protection or the nations who together face this challenge.
“Our interests as a nation are closely linked to our reputation for justice and the rule of law and to our measured language, calm decision and careful legislation.
“None of those are seen here.
“This nation should lead internationally, not stand apart.”
But rejecting the Archbishop’s criticism, House Of Cards author Lord Dobbs stressed the need to tackle the people smugglers.
The Tory peer and former adviser to the Thatcher government said: “They trade in lies, they trade lives.
“It is our moral obligation to stop them, to bring an end to the unimaginable pain of mothers and fathers watching their children drowning off our shores in the channel.
“No amount of handwringing or bell ringing is going to do that.”
Former Tory Cabinet minister Lord Forsyth of Drumlean also took a sideswipe at Mr Welby’s intervention, telling him: “I am in strong agreement where he is concerned with issues spiritual, rather than temporal.
“I use the word temporal in this sense, because of course there are things we can do, but these are all going to take time – people are drowning in the English Channel now.
“People are leaving a safe country in order to come here and it is fatuous to try and present this as in the way that many have done.”
Responding to the the cleric’s remarks outside the chamber, immigration minister Robert Jenrick told the BBC: “There’s nothing moral about allowing the pernicious trade of people smugglers to continue… I disagree with him respectfully.
“By bringing forward this proposal we make it clear that if you come across illegally on a small boat you will not find a route to life in the UK. That will have a serious deterrent effect.”
Earlier, Home Office minister Lord Murray of Blidworth faced jeers and shouts of “shame” in the Lords as he argued the Bill was a “compassionate response” to the small boats problem.
He said: “We simply cannot continue with a situation whereby year-on-year tens of thousands of people make the dangerous, illegal and unnecessary journey across the channel in circumvention of our immigration controls.”
He added: “We must stop the boats. This Bill, in conjunction with the other steps the Government is taking, is a necessary, urgent and indeed compassionate response to the daily challenge posed to the integrity of our immigration system. We must act now.”
Liberal Democrat and former senior police officer Lord Paddick argued the legislation was “a low point in the history of this Government”.
He said: “This Bill seeks to systematically deny human rights to a group of people desperately seeking sanctuary.”
Labour frontbencher Lord Coaker said: “In response to a broken system that is failing, we have a Government playing fast and loose with our place in the world and our respect for international law. This must change.”