Justin Welby exposes a fundamental contradiction of Boris Johnson’s government


Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby delivers a speech.

The Archbishop of Canterbury condemns an “addiction to centralisation”.

During the general election campaign last year, Boris Johnson made two promises to the public: to “get Brexit done” and to “level up” the UK.

At the same time as the government is mangling the former, the latter is also quietly unravelling.

As senior public figures weigh in against No 10’s attempt to undermine its own Withdrawal Agreement with the Internal Market Bill, very few have pointed out the second failing.

That’s why the intervention from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in the Daily Telegraph – usually a newspaper sympathetic to the Johnson administration – is more significant than it first appears.

In a comment piece co-written by Sarah Mullally, the Bishop of London, Welby condemns what he describes as an “addiction to centralisation”, and suggests “localism” (via everything from parishes to schools to local authorities) has been overlooked.

“When it comes to Covid-19,” he writes, “the importance of local networks and communities becomes even greater.”

He writes that the “on-the-ground” response to the pandemic is most vital, with local communities, councils and churches playing “the most important delivery roles of all”.

In a thinly veiled criticism of central government, he says the “temptation to pull more decisions into the centre” in order to feel that “something is being done” should be “resisted”.

See also: “Whatever it takes”: Has the government broken its promises to local councils?

The underlying message of Welby’s piece is that local authorities and community agencies cannot afford to provide vital services. “Giving them generous funding would be a good investment,” he suggests. “Let’s place our trust in the local, and make sure it is resourced, trained, informed and empowered.”

At the heart of this problem is an ever-centralising No 10, which, for example, initially tried to keep its coronavirus testing regime run solely by Public Health England, failed to provide detailed …read more

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