The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has argued that the Illegal Migration Bill risks “great damage” to the UK’s reputation, and that it is “morally indefensible” to leave poorer neighbouring countries to deal with refugees.

He told the House of Lords that existing global agreements on refugees were not “inconvenient obstructions to get round by any legislative means necessary.”

He added that the bill risked “great danger to the UK’s interests and reputation at home and abroad, let alone the interests of those in need of protection…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.”

The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, attacked the Government’s lack of compassion for refugee women and children:

“The state will view a child or a pregnant woman first and foremost as individuals subject to immigration control, not as an innocent child or a vulnerable mother due to give birth.

We need to ask: what about the government’s duty to protect?

I am reminded of Jesus’s words: it would be better to have a millstone around the neck and be cast into the sea than to cause a little one to stumble. This responsibility needs to bear upon us heavily,” he said.

Lord Dubs, who was brought to the UK as a child refugee on the Kindertransport in 1939, insisted that it was up to the UK to set standards on human rights for other countries to follow:

“[If the UK does not uphold refugee law] notorious abusers of human rights will simply say: ‘Well, if the United Kingdom doesn’t do it, why should we?’”

Meanwhile Lord Dannatt, the former army chief, has also attacked the bill as morally offensive:

“The viciousness, and I use that word quite advisedly, of this bill offends many people’s moral position. It runs the risk of offending Britain’s standing in the world, as a country that upholds international law.”

Responding to Justin Welby’s comments, the immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, denied that the bill was morally indefensible and politically impractical .He said:

“He’s wrong on both counts.

Firstly 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.”