THE Archbishop of Canterbury has said that he will vote on 23 June for the UK to remain in the European Union, because “our future cannot be only about ourselves.”
Archbishop Welby revealed his views on the referendum in an article for The Mail on Sunday, in which he recalled the founding vision of the European Union, “of peace and reconciliation, to being builders of bridges, not barriers”.
He wrote: “Peace and reconciliation exist in Western Europe today. It is the greatest cause for thankfulness that we can imagine. It is a blessing to be shared with the whole world.
“The principles Jesus taught and which have so shaped us also include love for the poor, the alien and the stranger. The EU came together in a Europe broken beyond description by war, and has shaped a continent which until recently has contributed to more human flourishing, and more social care, than at any time in European history.”
It came after several attempts by the Home Affairs Select Committee to gauge his views on the subject in an evidence session on migration, last week (News, 10 June). Archbishop Welby refused to waver, although the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who was also giving evidence, went on the record as pro-EU.
In his article, however, the Archbishop concluded: “There is no official Christian or Church line on which way to vote. Voting is a matter for each person’s conscience. . . But for my part, based on what I have said and on what I have experienced, I shall vote to remain.
”The vision for our future cannot be only about ourselves. We are most human when we exist for others.”
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, repeated his decision to vote remain this week in offering “guidance” to unsure voters, writing in the Yorkshire Post: “I will be voting ‘Remain’ on 23 June. . . [as] a matter of principle, based on commitment, consistency and conviction.”
Dr Sentamu wrote that he had voted to remain in the previous referendum in 1975, and that, since then, his view has been “that a Referendum was unnecessary, because it was a matter for the Houses of Parliament to deal with. However, now that we have a Referendum I urge everyone to use their vote.”
He went on to paraphrase the poet John Donne: “No nation is truly an island, even ours,” before concluding: “To pull out now would look to all the world as if we were a capricious people, unreliable, not to be trusted, liable at any time to back-track on our commitments. . .
“Some European bureaucracy irritates me. There’s plenty of scope for change, but to abandon our principles on the pretext of short-term pragmatism would be morally wrong.”
The convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, the Revd Dr Richard Frazer, agreed. “The European project is far from perfect, but, in as much as it has successfully replaced bombs with bureaucrats, it has enabled European citizens to enjoy unprecedented peace, stability, and opportunity since the Second World War,” he said on Thursday. “To walk away would be a denial of the very humanitarian and moral values for which we stand.”
Also on Thursday, Bishops of the Church in Wales released a joint statement in favour of a vote to remain. Immigrants are being “demonised” in the EU referendum debate, they wrote, before suggesting that “sensible” arguments are being overwhelmed by the language of fear.
“The debate has also tended to concentrate on the crude economic calculation of how much is paid to the European Union,” the statement read, “without measuring the benefits of peace, economic partnership and cultural interchange that flow from British participation in Europe.”
It was signed by the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, and the Bishop of Swansea and Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, among others.
The Archbishops join a number of public figures who have said that they will vote to remain in the EU later this month, including actors, celebrity chefs, and sports stars.
The former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown appeared in a video this week in an attempt to persuade Labour voters who might be on the fence. He said: “From now until 10 p.m. on 23 June, we will not rest, and I will not stop explaining why nine million Labour voters have most to gain from remaining in the EU.”
The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron MP, who is in favour of a remain vote, called on faith communities on Sunday to act as “parents to future generations”, and vote in the referendum.
As part of a series of articles, commissioned by Christian Aid, the Conservative MP Justine Greening wrote that, although “the EU isn’t perfect,” the UK would be “stronger, safer, and better off” being a part of it: “Walking away from the EU goes against the grain of what I think our great country stands for. We are the country out there fixing things, not one that retreats into our shell.”
The Green Party MP Caroline Lucas agreed, but suggested that climate change, conflict, and the consequent refugee crisis would be the main concerns should Britain vote to leave the EU — issues that could be tackled only with “a powerful collective voice to advance the interrelated principles of environmental, economic, and social justice.”
On the Brexit side, the Conservative MP James Cleverly wrote: “The EU’s protectionist attitudes, particularly in food, keeps poor African farmers poor. . . I don’t want to perpetuate a system which so aggressively prevents millions of people from helping themselves trade their way out of poverty.”