THE decision of those who voted to leave the European Union has been described as “quixotic” by the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun.
Speaking on Monday in a two-day debate in the House of Lords on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, Bishop Chessun indicated that the Lords Spiritual would vote in favour of an unamended Bill.
“It is the view of a number on these benches, including my noble friend the Most Reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury . . . that it would be preferable not to weigh down the Bill with additional provisions,” he said. “Where there is a choice on offer between government assurances, and the passing of amendments to the Bill, the more sensible course would be to bank the former and avoid the latter.”
He was critical of the referendum campaign, which had “little sophistication of argument”. “Regrettably, many parts of the country that have most benefited from EU funding voted decisively, if quixotically, to leave,” he said.
He also raised concerns about those who had voted Remain, warning: “If we adopt a model for leaving the EU that ignores them, we risk a regional divide, generational resentment, and a threat to the union.” He suggested that “acts of affirmation that we are citizens of Europe would do something to assure the 48 per cent that they are not ignored”. He called, too, for a “fresh approach by the Executive of partnership with the legislature”.
The Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords, Baroness Smith of Basildon, said that the party would not “block, wreck, or sabotage the legislation before us”, but neither would it provide the Government with a “blank cheque”. Twelve pages of amendments have already been tabled. Labour is seeking assurance that EU citizens resident in the UK be permitted to continue to reside and work here, and that Parliament should vote on any deal secured by the Prime Minister before it is put to the European Parliament.
“We will do our utmost to ensure that ministerial promises not to dilute employment and social rights, or environmental and consumer protections, are kept, and that bringing these issues into UK legislation is about sovereignty, not weakening legislation,” she said.
The Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, Lord Newby, described the Government’s White Paper on Brexit as a “horrifying mixture of pious aspiration and complacent illusion”, and argued in favour of another referendum.
“The anger of those who wanted to leave is now matched by the growing anger of those who wish to remain — particularly our young people,” he said. “If at the end of this process we are to come together as a country, we need to dissipate this anger, and we believe that giving the people the final say will help to do so.”
The leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Evans, reminded peers on Monday that the Bill had been passed, unamended, with a majority of 372 in the House of Commons, and arrived with a “strong mandate”. The Government was determined to trigger Article 50 by 31 March. The committee stage, during which amendments can be debated, is due to begin on Monday.
Bishop Chessun’s comments displeased some in the House. Lord Forsyth of Drumlean said that the Bishop had added a new adjective to a number applied to Brexit supporters, which included “ignorant, gullible, naïve, uneducated, bigoted”.