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Both sides take heart from PM’s Brexit speech

19 January 2017


Spanish per­spect­ive: a television in a restaurant in Fuengirola, southern Spain, shows a news broadcast of Theresa May, at Lancaster House, in London, de­­livering her keynote speech on
how the Government will handle
the Brexit negotiations

Spanish per­spect­ive: a television in a restaurant in Fuengirola, southern Spain, shows a news broadcast of Theresa May, at Lancaster House, in Londo...

CHRISTIAN Remain and Leave campaigners have both cautiously welcomed Theresa May’s speech setting out how the Government hopes to conduct the Brexit negotiations.

Adrian Hilton, a blogger and academic who co-led the Christians for Britain group (News, 4 March), said that he had been “pleasantly surprised” by both the content and the clarity of Mrs May’s speech on Tuesday.

In the year marking the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, Mr Hilton said, Mrs May had “nailed her theses to the door”. “She made it crystal clear that coming out of the EU means coming out of all its precepts,” he said. “Brexit wouldn’t mean Brexit had we remained in the single market and the customs union, as that would leave us under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

“I’m delighted and pleasantly surprised that Theresa May has been so forthright — some would say belligerent — in implementing what was the will of the majority of those who voted in the referendum.”

In her long-awaited speech, Mrs May sketched out the outline of the deal she hoped to strike with the EU after leaving: exiting the single market but agreeing a free-trade deal, controlling immigration from the EU into Britain, continuing intelligence and security co-operation, and maintaining the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

She also warned that if a good deal for the UK was not offered, she would take Britain out of the EU without any deal.

“Now we need to put an end to the division and the language associated with it — Leaver and Remainer and all the accompanying insults — and unite to make a success of Brexit and build a truly global Britain,” Mrs May concluded.

The Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, Dean Emeritus of Durham, who leads the Christians for Europe anti-Brexit campaign group, said, too, that he was pleasantly surprised by the objectives articulated in the Prime Minister’s speech.

“The tone of what she said struck me as interesting. She was doing her best to present an inclusive global vision of Britain’s future,” he said. “I don’t question her vision, but I question if it is better achieved outside the EU or inside it.

“The logic of her 12 points point to the opposite direction of the way she is advancing — Brexit of the hardest kind. I can endorse many of her sentiments, but they would be much better realised and more achievable had we remained in the EU.”

While he insisted that he wanted to make the best of Brexit, Dean Sadgrove said it was crucial that Britain did not turn its back on the world, and remained a “good neighbour”.

“We were all hoping and praying that it wouldn’t be a hard Brexit. The task now is to try to think Christianly about the type of Brexit,” he said. Christians for Europe still had a part to play in pushing the Church to keep thinking about where the UK was heading, and to urge the Government to consider not only the country’s best interests, but the needs of the rest of Europe, he said.

Mr Hilton said, however, that he and Canon Giles Fraser, who set up Christians for Britain, had agreed to wind down the group for the time being. “That battle is over,” he said. “There is no [such thing as a] Christian Brexit, as there is no Christian view on the EU.”

Canon Fraser and he had backed Brexit because they wanted to restore sovereignty and accountability to Parliament, Mr Hilton said. “We happened to believe that a Parliament in Westminster that is accountable to the people is one which is more correctable and rebukable. That to me is an actually Christian thing. To speak truth to power and have power change.”

Mrs May’s road map to Brexit might have contained “tensions” and been simply an “opening gambit” for the negotiations to come, Mr Hilton conceded. But it was heading in the right direction for Christian Brexiteers — both those on the Right, such as him, a former Conservative Party candidate for Parliament, and those on the Left such as Canon Fraser, a prominent supporter of Jeremy Corbyn.

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