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Challenges for both sides

01 July 2016

David Walker indicates a way ahead

WHEN the referendum debate began, my decision, supported by other faith leaders from the Manchester area, was not to make a public commitment to either side.

This was not because we didn’t care about the issues, or recognise the importance of the vote. Our hope was that neutrality might make it possible for us to work for reconciliation and for the well-being of all our people, once what was always going to be an acrimonious campaign was over.

I am glad we chose that course of action, first of all, as there is clearly much now to be done, but also because remaining publicly uncommitted may have made it easier for us to understand and sympathise with arguments and voters across a wide spectrum.

From that perspective, I now wish to suggest that, if we are to go forward and build the best future for Britain, there is one urgent task for each side of the argument.

Those who voted to stay within the EU need to acknowledge the overwhelming majority of Leave voters who are not part of the racist fringe that disfigures our society. They are men and women who believe with integrity that their vote will help us get something of our identity and even our country back.

We need to engage with those who have seen little by way of economic benefit from EU membership, as their towns and villages have suffered decline, and who hope that a more independent Britain offers a chance for change.

Understanding and working with these, our fellow citizens, for the future of our country is both essential and urgent, not least so that the future we forge together remains outward-looking and closely connected to our Continental neighbours.

Sadly, too much of what I have read by way of comment from the Remain constituency in these past few days feels engulfed in and paralysed by a bereavement that most UK voters do not share, and for whom even the present turmoil in our political parties and the financial markets may be a sign that for once they have stood up and been counted.


THE challenge for Leave voters is perhaps even more urgent: to join in with and even lead immediate moves to isolate those who are trying to use the referendum decision as a building-block for a resurgence of racist aggression.

On Thursday’s voting paper, “Leave” meant leave the EU. We are now hearing from some British citizens, many of whom have no connection to the EU but happen to be of minority-ethnic identity, that they are being confronted on social media and in the streets by people saying “We’ve voted Leave: now you go home.”

Leaders from all walks of society need to come together to make it absolutely clear that such attitudes are utterly abhorrent and have no place among us. In or outside of the EU, we remain a nation where all our citizens have equal value, equal dignity, and equal rights.

It now seems clear that our future lies outside of the institutions of the European Union. Exactly how that future is shaped may not become clear for some time. However, our future prospects will be limited or opened up by the actions we take, or that we fail to take, now.

We all owe it to one another to lay the best foundations on which our common future will be built.

Dr David Walker is the Bishop of Manchester. Reproduced with permission from the diocesan website.

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