AT A conference held last week to discuss the impact that Brexit will have on the rural community, the National Adviser for Theology for the Church of England, Anne Richards, said that the Church must help to reconcile the growing divide, exposed in the EU referendum, between the rural and urban communities.
The conference, “Brexit and the Rural Future”, was hosted by the Arthur Rank Centre, an ecumenical Christian rural charity.
Dr Richards based her remarks on informal research that she and her team undertook in Thurrock and Peterborough — two of the districts that voted by the largest majorities for Leave — shortly after the referendum last year.
She heard a sense of voicelessness and powerlessness, she said on Tuesday. “Being able to vote gave them a voice, but the issues weren’t anything to do with the EU. Churches can provide people with a sense of talking about the intensively local things that matter to them.”
While it was too simplistic to cast all rural Leave voters as a homogeneous group, there was an “interesting” difference in where people obtained information, and who they encountered, between those in the countryside and those in towns, she said.
“The Church has got tremendous potential for reconciliation between different groups where there have been misunderstandings. I think a lot of the time people who go to church don’t really realise how great that potential is.”
The Church can also create opportunities for migrants to learn English, and for indigenous population to get to know their neighbours more: two problems that, Dr Richards said, emerged from her research.
The Brexit Secretary, David Davis, made little mention of farming or rural concerns during a House of Commons debate on the first part of the Government’s post-EU framework for regulations and laws.
The Great Repeal Bill: White Paper, which Mr Davis introduced to Parliament on Thursday of last week, will simultaneously repeal the European Communities Act 1972, convert EU law into British law, and create the powers for the Government to change these laws once the UK has formally left the EU.
Research commissioned by the National Farmers’ Union before the referendum suggested that the key factor in whether the agricultural industry would thrive outside the EU was not what kind of trade deal the UK secured during negotiations, but what proportion of the EU’s subsidies Westminster would continue to pay.