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Love your neighbours to ward off US-style divisions in Brexit Britain, bishops say

10 February 2017


Next phase: Theresa May and the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, in St John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta, at the EU leaders summit, last Friday

Next phase: Theresa May and the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, in St John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta, at the EU leaders summit, last Friday

PUT the kettle on, celebrate the white working-class, and promote interfaith relations — these were some of the suggestions to emerge from a Leeds diocesan conference last week on how the UK might tackle hate crime and division in the era of Brexit and President Trump.

The conference, Crossing Thresholds, was organised by Faith­ful Neighbours, a clergy and lay network in the diocese of Leeds which supports religious divers­ity and mission. It was led by the Bishop of Huddersfield, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, and the Bishop of Bradford, Dr Toby Howarth, at Blackley Baptist Church, Elland. About 80 members took part.

“We have to examine the rela­tion­­ships in our communities,” Bishop Gibbs said, “and we need to be honest, put our hands up, and face our challenges and respons­ibilities. We have dropped the ball at times. Now is to time to pick up that ball and run with it together.”

Bishop Howarth warned that the “dangerous narrative” of the United States’ presidential election cam­paign could spread to the UK. “These issues [of division and hate crime] are sharp in this part of the world,” he said. “We have to hold together the relationships, the ordinariness of being faithful neighbours, of loving our neigh­bour, but at same time realise there are demons here.”

The manager of St Augustine’s, a community support centre in Halifax, Vicky Ledwidge, said that an estimated 24 people a minute were displaced around the world.

“People don’t come here because our streets are paved with gold: they come because theirs are paved with blood,” she said. “What can we do to get away from the numbers, from the headlines, from putting people in pigeonholes, and being fearful that refugees and asylum seekers are just here to take my house or my job? What we do here is we put the kettle on and just do life.”

The director of St Philip’s Centre, a Christian charity supporting interfaith programmes in Leicester, the Revd Tom Wilson, agreed that offering welcome and support was at the forefront of interfaith dialogue and community cohesion.

But Dr Andrew Smith, the director of interfaith relations for the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urqhuart, said that confid­ence and relationships could be built by celebrating the white working-class. Interfaith relations were dom­inated by middle-class, middle-aged, left-wing Christians and Muslims, and should be younger and more diverse, he said.

The chief executive of Crossing Thresholds, Richard Bennett, said: “I am sure many people left [the con­fer­ence] with a fresh determina­tion to cross thresholds in their context.”

MPs pushed through the the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill at the Third Reading on Wednesday evening, triggering Article 50 and the start of Britain's extrication from the EU. The Government's Bill was passed without amendment, by 494 votes to 122. It now moves to the House of Lords, where the Second Reading is scheduled for 20 February.

A government source suggested that the Lords would face an “overwhelming” public call to be abolished should it oppose the Bill at this stage, the BBC reported on Thursday. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, urged peers to “do their patriotic duty”.

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