Bishop of Leeds defends amendments to the Government Brexit Bill

11 May 2018

Bishop Baines warns of ‘Brexit wilderness’

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A woman waves European Union and Union flags outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, on Tuesday

A woman waves European Union and Union flags outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, on Tuesday

BISHOPS were instrumental in a set of further government defeats over Brexit in the House of Lords on Tuesday.

The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, and the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, helped to force through a key amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill aimed at keeping the UK in the European Economic Area (EEA).

The effect of the amendment is that MPs will have a vote on remaining in the single market after Brexit, when the withdrawal Bill returns to the House of Commons.

The defeat was aided by a rebellion by 83 Labour peers, who defied the party whip and voted to support the amendment, dealing a blow to the Government’s strategy.

The amendment was led by the Labour peer Lord Alli, who said that continued EEA membership was vital for protecting British service sectors.

The Government has now been defeated a total of 14 times in amendments to the withdrawal Bill at the Report Stage in the Lords.

The second amendment to succeed, which allows for the UK to continue to participate in EU agencies after Brexit, was led by Bishop Baines.

He said that it was “constructive”, and that it was an “attempt to give some idea as to what sort of milk and honey might lie over the moun­tain once we have negotiated the wilderness journey”.

Earlier, Bishop Baines told the Lords that it had been “repeatedly suggested that anyone who moves an amendment is a hypocritical remoaner intent on sabotaging the Bill and trying to prevent Brexit from ever happening”, but that this was not true. “I remain concern­ed that a deeply divided country is being offered two stark alternatives which . . . I will put in biblical terms — someone has to.

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“Like the people of Israel in the desert, we too easily romanticise the past and yearn to return to Egypt; or, on the other hand, we promise on the other side of the mountain a land flowing with milk and honey, ignoring the challenges that go with it not actually being our land to do with as we will.

“I mean it seriously when I suggest that we should be honest in our discourse on Brexit, and acknowledge that we shall be spending some years in the wilderness as we begin to work out the consequences of the decisions we have taken. . .

“Wilderness time is not necessarily negative time — [not] simply a time of waiting, wishing, and hoping or recriminating — but a time for stripping away the clutter, identifying and owning our values and priorities as a nation, and actively bringing together a people divided by their varying apprehensions of events that have befallen them. That serious need for a concrete unifying strategy has yet to be addressed seriously in either House of this Parliament.”

Bishop Baines’s amendment was carried by 71 votes. Dr Smith and Bishop Conway supported it.

The third defeat for the Govern­ment on Tuesday came with an amendment removing the exact date of Brexit — 29 March 2019 — from the withdrawal Bill.

The Duke of Wellington, who led it, insisted that he was not trying to undermine Brexit. He said: “We should give ministers a bit more flexibility to secure and obtain ratification of the best possible deal, which will do the least damage to the economy and the national interest.”

The withdrawal Bill has now completed its Report Stage in the House of Lords, and will return to the House of Commons.

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