HOPES and fears have been expressed on the formal commencement of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
A British diplomat handed the formal letter from Theresa May to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, at lunchtime on Wednesday. This began the two-year period allowed, under the EU's Article 50, for the completion of negotiations.
The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, spoke of the difficult task that lay ahead. In a blog on Wednesday, he wrote that the “difficulties of negotiating the interests of the whole United Kingdom with the remaining 27 member states will soon become apparent, and there are many questions that need answering”.
Many members of chaplaincy congregations felt that their lives were in limbo, Dr Innes reported, and none more so than in Gibraltar. There, 96 per cent of voters had provided the highest Remain result of the referendum.
“Gibraltarians are some of the most vulnerable to the effects of Brexit and they are having to leave the EU almost entirely against their will. There is, therefore, an especial moral responsibility on the UK Government for their financial and social well-being over the next several years.”
Speaking later on Wednesday, he said that the main concerns of his flock across the diocese were about pensions and healthcare entitlements. Some expats now felt “trapped” on the Continent, he said, while the prevailing mood in Brussels, where he lived, was of sadness that a friend and ally wanted to distance itself.
“My prayer would be that in due course a new partnership may be formed,” he said, though he acknowledged that 42 years of collaboration would be likely to evaporate once the two sides began battling over the negotiating table.
Regardless of the outcome, the diocese would continue working with Christians on both sides of the Channel, Dr Innes insisted. “We have been here for 500 years, a lot longer than the EU. We are not about to pack up and go home.”
Speaking in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said: “This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back. We’re going to make our own decisions and our own laws; we’re going to take control of the things that matter most to us; and we’re going to build a stronger and fairer Britain that our children and grandchildren are proud to call home.”
The Bench of Bishops in the Church in Wales have released a joint statement calling for nuanced thinking during the Brexit process.
"Whilst some have benefitted from economic prosperity and the opportunities to travel, work, study and trade freely across European boundaries, for others, these things have been irrelevant.
"The causes of division and disaffection do not all lie with our membership of the EU, and if we are to build a better Wales post-Brexit, it is essential that we recognise and address each and every inequality and disadvantage which damage our sense of solidarity and of belonging to one another in our community."
The Government should prioritise protecting human rights, security for those who live in the UK, and maintaining employment rights, safety standards and environmental protections developed over 40 years with the EU, the Bishops suggest.
"We pray that Europe will continue to be a beacon of peace, hope and mutual endeavour across national boundaries; and that these will be qualities and endeavours in which we can continue to play a part.”
The Baptist, Methodist, and United Reformed Churches, with the Church of Scotland have produced resources through their Joint Public Issues Team to enable churches to host “conversations” about “what kind of society we should be seeking to create”.
The resources, which can be found at www.jointpublicissues.org.uk, include questions and video reflections to engage churchpeople and others to discuss what Britain should look like as we leave the EU.
The Revd Phil Jump, a Baptist minister who is co-ordinating the initiative, said: “Conversations are important at any time but the extraordinary recent political events have made the need more pressing. The EU referendum campaign has left some mourning the loss of an important identity, while others are delighted by the opportunities that lie ahead.”
The Evangelical Alliance has also urged Christians to contribute to a national debate on “what we want our society to be as we leave the European Union”. Its statement said that Christians had a “vital contribution” to make to these conversations. It urged them to pray for the negotiatiors and a just outcome.