British fears about immigration should be addressed and those voters who are concerned should not be branded racist, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said in an interview published on Friday.
Immigration is one of the biggest worries for British voters ahead of a June 23 referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union or leave.
EU rules on freedom of movement mean citizens are free to live and work anywhere in the 28-nation bloc. Data shows net migration to Britain from other EU countries rose 9 per cent in the year to September 2015.
Welby, spiritual head of the Anglican Communion which has 85 million members in 165 countries, said he accepted the debate around refugees and migrants was deeply divisive but that voter concerns about the impact on communities were legitimate.
“There is a tendency to say ‘those people are racist’, which is just outrageous, absolutely outrageous,” he told Parliament’s The House magazine in an interview.
“There is a genuine fear: what happens about housing? What happens about jobs? What happens about access to health services? It is really important that that fear is listened to and addressed.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron has negotiated a deal to curb some welfare payments to EU migrants which he says addresses public concern about the level of immigration. Critics say the deal will do nothing to reduce immigration.
While the Vatican has made clear its opposition to a British exit from the European Union, Welby said there was no correct Christian view on the matter.
“I don’t think there is one correct Christian view,” said Welby, whose Church of England is the country’s state church with Queen Elizabeth as its titular head.
But he said the debate so far about EU membership had been dominated by fear and had not answered the big questions about Britain’s future role in the world.
“My hope and prayer is that we have a really visionary debate about what our country looks like. From those who want to leave – what would it look like? What would Britain look like, having left?” Welby said. “What would be its values?”
“And from those who want to stay – how would we change the European Union? How would we make it more effective if we remained in it? What’s our vision?”