UK government legislation aimed at discouraging asylum seekers from crossing the Channel is “isolationist” and has elements that are “morally unacceptable and politically impractical”, the senior Church of England cleric has warned.

justin welbyArchbishop of Canterbury, made the comments Wednesday as the House of Lords, the upper house of parliament, began debating the illegal immigration bill.

If signed into law, the bill will ban almost anyone entering Britain on small boats or without prior permission from applying for asylum. It will also impose a “legal duty” on the Home Secretary to detain and transfer such people to their country of origin or to a “safe” third country.

Legislation last month overcame his last hurdle in the House of Commons, but groups including the UN refugee agency and Europe’s highest human rights body they have said it violates the UK’s obligations under international law.

Welby, one of 26 Anglican Bishops in the Lords, told his peers the bill was “an attempt at a short-term fix.” He said he risked “great damage to the UK’s interests and reputation at home and abroad, let alone the interests of those who need protection.”

“It is isolationist,” he added. “It is morally unacceptable and politically impractical to let the poorest countries face the crisis alone and cut off our international aid.”

Welby also indicated that he will propose amendments to the legislation in his next parliamentary stage. Although he has introduced changes to two previous bills during his time as archbishop, Welby has never weighed in on such controversial legislation.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick criticized Welby’s stance, telling the BBC there was “nothing moral” in allowing the “pernicious trade” of human smugglers to continue.

“By putting forward this proposal, we make it clear that if you cross illegally on a small boat, you will not find a route to life in the UK,” he said. “That will have a serious deterrent effect.”

Welby said that although the bill displayed “no part” of the UK’s reputation for “measured language, calm decisions and careful legislation”, he would not support a “fatal amendment” by Liberal Democrat Lord Brian Paddick to scrap it entirely.

Labor has also refused to back that amendment, saying that if passed, the rules on the power of Lords would allow ministers to push through a new bill with limited input from the upper house.

Lord Vernon Coaker, a fellow Labor member, has also been a fierce critic of the legislation, saying the new measures in the bill would have been “unthinkable” a few years ago.

However, Lord Simon Murray, a junior government minister, said it was vital to “stop the ships”, a reference to the record 45,000 people who smuggled into the UK last year.

“The bill . . . is a necessary, urgent and certainly compassionate response to the daily challenge to the integrity of our immigration system,” he said.

The only vote on Wednesday was on Paddick’s fatal amendment, which was defeated by a vote of 179 to 76.

Critics are expected to focus on the bill’s reporting stage, when peers are likely to try to force changes that include restrictions on the removal of migrant children from the UK. They are also likely to push for the expansion of safe and legal routes for migrants fleeing persecution or danger to reach the UK.

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