The Rwanda bill does away with the Christian view of human rights on which our society is based. To disregard this sets a dangerous precedent for everyone, says Tim Farron MP

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Tim Farron MP appeared on the BBC’s Politics Live programme ahead of the vote on the Rwanda Bill this week. He was sat next to fellow Christian politician Miriam Cates MP who takes the opposite view. Watch their discussion, which included a reference to a previous Premier Christianity article from 26 minutes

The Government’s controversial Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill has passed its first hurdle in Parliament but will continue to make political waves in the new year.

It is crucial to Rishi Sunak, who faces a very difficult general election at some point soon, and appears to have staked everything on “stopping the boats”. He is being pulled in opposing directions by internal Conservative factions and also has Nigel Farage – fresh from the celebrity jungle – breathing down his neck.

In Parliament there are Christians on all sides of the debate, and it is perfectly legitimate for us to come to different conclusions on what our asylum and immigration policy should look like. Indeed, in the UK, Christians take different views on all aspects of government policy.

Almost all of us agree that our borders should not be open to all, and that we should stop criminal gangs profiteering from desperate people risking their lives to cross the Channel.

Red flag

But I believe that this Bill should raise a massive red flag to those seeking to follow Jesus’ teachings. I also believe it risks undermining the codes and assumptions that underpin the entire British political system.

When dealing with people arriving on our shores by irregular means, the Bill proposes to disapply (ie ignore) a number of treaties and conventions that offer basic human protections against torture, “inhuman treatment” and trafficking people into slavery.

Supporters argue that this is necessary because it is meant to deter people from wanting to travel here at all. But this does not justify the use of any means to achieve an end.

Do unto others

The Bible tells us to treat others as we would wish to be treated. The Old Testament is full of instructions to help the ‘alien’ in our midst (see Leviticus 19:34, Deuteronomy 10:19 and 27:19, Ezekiel 47:22, Zechariah 7:9-10) and to love our neighbour.

Jesus makes clear that our neighbour is everyone. In Matthew 25:45 he warns that if we do not feed, clothe and welcome the needy and the stranger, we are rejecting him. ”Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

This is not simply a charge to us as individuals. It is a duty that extends to governments, which implement the views and values of those who run them. Romans 13:1 reminds us “the authorities that exist have been established by God” and that they are “God’s servants” (v6). The Bible is clear that those in authority are accountable to God, whether they believe it or not.

The dignity of the human

This is not an argument to open our borders, but to treat those seeking refuge as human beings (very likely to be distressed and traumatised) rather than labelling them all criminals and ‘invaders’, and deliberately disregarding any torture, harm or trafficking that they may have experienced.

Regardless of where we stand on the immigration debate, as Christians we must surely have deep concerns about this Bill. We hold that all are created in the image of God, with awesome dignity and equality. Every single one of us is worth a vast amount to him.

Christianity plays a foundational role in defining and sustaining civil liberties and human rights. Without a God, human rights are surely just a passing fashion, a human invention. But with God, they have a deep and vast meaning - and we sneer at them at our peril.

The point of human rights is that they are universal: either humans have them or we do not. If you take them away from one group of people, they are no longer human rights; they become rights for some humans. And it seems the government gets to decide which of us are which.

Costly love

Many of the objections to my argument from Christians is not so much the principle of welcoming refugees, but the practical reality. Yes, doing right by asylum seekers will be costly and complex. But, evidently, so is deporting them to Rwanda.

Imagine if the same amount of money and energy were put into giving people dignity and respect who have been stripped of it. We need to enable asylum seekers to have their applications properly (and quickly) considered, and then humanely return those who don’t qualify to their country of origin. Those who are recognised as refugees need proper assistance to establish themselves in the UK. This would show the heart of our almighty God for the marginalised and the misrepresented.

If this Bill becomes law, it sets a precedent for any future government wishing to abandon its duty of care in other areas in order to achieve its own short term political goals.

UK Christians increasingly perceive themselves as a minority group. So we should be especially concerned about laws that seek to put aside people’s rights on the basis of political opportunism. If we do not speak up for the voiceless and marginalised at this time, why should we expect anyone to speak up for us in the future?