The Most Rev Justin Welby was said to have undermined the role of the Church by using his Easter Sunday address to criticise the Prime Minister’s plan to send asylum seekers to the landlocked east African nation.
On the same morning, the Archbishop of York questioned what kind of country people want Britain to be and suggested that public servants should lead by example when it comes to morality.
In what has been perceived as a veiled attack on Boris Johnson over the Downing Street parties scandal, the Most Rev Stephen Cottrell asked whether the UK wants to be known for being a country where “those in public life live to the highest standards, and where we can trust those who lead us to behave with integrity and honour”.
Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Sunday that the policy on sending illegal immigrants to Rwanda raises “serious ethical questions” and “cannot stand the judgment of God” or “carry the weight of our national responsibility as a country formed by Christian values”.
The United Nations and several human rights organisations have also criticised the plans, which have received broad support from Conservative MPs who long bemoaned that Number 10 was not doing enough to stop small boats crossing the Channel.
On Sunday night, the Archbishop was accused of hypocrisy after Whitehall sources pointed out he has warned four times about the problems of illegal immigration.
Jacob Rees-Mogg told The Telegraph that whilst the Church is “authoritative in all matters that pertain to God”, the same cannot be said for “day-to-day practical solutions”.
“This is not an unreasonable perspective for an Archbishop, he is completely entitled to it,” he said. “But he has missed the effect of the policy. It is an informed and important opinion, but it is not revealed truth.”
Tim Loughton, the Tory MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, and a member of the Commons home affairs select committee, said: “There is nothing ungodly about trying to come up with practical solutions to end the vile trade in human misery where criminal gangs daily put lives at risk to profit from trafficking people into the UK illegally, based on ability to pay rather the legitimacy of their claim.
“The people traffickers and those who turn a blind eye to ending this ungodly activity are the ones who should really be the target of the Archbishop’s misguided moralising.”
He went on to say that the Church of England’s failure to distinguish between good and evil is “directly linked to its greatly diminishing influence in our country”.
Ben Bradley, the Tory MP for Mansfield, said that the Archbishop is “way out of tune with public opinion”, adding that “commenting on government policy is not Justin Welby’s job”.
He said: “Given that Welby has previously raised concerns about immigration overburdening communities, and the importance of recognising concerns about immigration, it’s pretty hypocritical to now slate the Government for finding solutions to those issues.”
The Archbishop has previously warned about the problems of small-boat Channel crossings. He described the deaths of at least 27 migrants off the coast in France last November as a “devastating loss of human life”, adding: “This cannot go on.”
At the time, he said Britain needs a “better system based on safety, compassion, justice and co-operation across frontiers”.
He also acknowledged that “we can’t overburden communities, we have to be realistic about that” and called on states, religious groups and civil society to “come together in a spirit of pragmatism and compassion” to find a solution to immigration.
The Archbishop’s Easter sermon is the latest in a series of interventions by him over government policy.
Last December, he said political leaders must “put their hands up” and “acknowledge where things have gone wrong”, as he spoke of his “disappointment” over gatherings in Downing Street during lockdown.
Gary Sambrook, the Tory MP for Birmingham Northfield, and another member of the Commons home affairs select committee, said: “Maybe if the Church spent more time talking about the power of God, the love of Jesus and the contribution churches make in communities around the country, rather than making political interventions, the Archbishop might find the pews might have more people sitting in them.”
A spokesman for Lambeth Palace declined to comment, but pointed to the Archbishop’s previous comments that the issues surrounding the asylum system are not “party political matters”, but instead “essential for justice” and the UK’s reputation.
‘Is it April 1 again? Can this be real?’
Elsewhere, the Archbishop of York told BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme: “The message of Easter is that stones are rolled away and barriers are broken down, and therefore it’s truly appalling and distressing. I’m appalled at what’s being proposed and I think we can do better than this.”
He added that the Government was “out of tune with British people” and those arriving on small boats are in “just as much need” as Ukrainians.
“When it was announced, I think everyone was thinking: is it April 1 again? Can this be real?”