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Clegg rounds on Cameron critics

24 April 2014

CHURCH TIMES

On the hunt: Nick Clegg with a boy during an Easter egg hunt, part of his Easter reception on Wednesday

On the hunt: Nick Clegg with a boy during an Easter egg hunt, part of his Easter reception on Wednesday

NICK CLEGG has backed David Cameron's claim that the UK is a Christian country: he said that it is "entirely uncontroversial" to say so.

Speaking at an Easter reception for Christians in central London on Wednesday, Mr Clegg said that Britain's heritage and traditions were "infused by Christianity".

"What follows on from those great Christian values is a wonderful tradition of tolerance and diversity, where we are able to live and work cheek by jowl with those of different faiths and none.

"There has also been a public debate about some of the work you [churches and Christian charities] do. Many of you work tirelessly in your communities to help those who are less fortunate than yourselves.

"I don't think anyone should impugn or question your motives for seeking to do the work that you do. Those who deliberately try to discredit you need to take a long hard look in the mirror."

Mr Clegg said he was agnostic when it came to questions of faith, but the Easter story had deeply touched him over the weekend. "It strikes me there is something extraordinary and unique about the Easter message, a mix of suffering and forgiveness and love woven into it."

Speaking after the reception, Mr Clegg told the Church Times that while the UK's Christian heritage was settled, he personally favoured severing the connection between the Church of England and the state.

"My personal view is - and it's clearly not an urgent priority and it's not something which is debated in kitchens and pubs up and down the country -but I have always thought it would be better for the Anglican Church themselves if you were to separate Church and state."

He admitted this would be a controversial opinion to some, but insisted that it was in the C of E's interest to stand alone as an independent, rather than established, Church.

"In this day and age it makes sense to allow Churches and faith communities to thrive as they wish and not be inhibited or circumscribed or defined by the state."

However, he also said that while disestablishment had long been Liberal Democrat policy, it would not be happening any time soon, nor would it be an issue the party campaigned on.

Some, such as Tony Blair's former director of communications Alistair Campbell, have questioned whether Mr Cameron's comments in the Church Times last week (Comment, 17 April) were genuine, or an attempt to woo back alienated Christian voters.

But Mr Clegg rejected this and said that he had never discussed the Prime Minister's theology with him.

"When people talk about their faith I always take what they say on face value and assume that what people say about their faith is delivered in good faith."

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