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‘No one is happy’ — Bishops react to Brexit non-vote

11 December 2018


The Prime Minister, Theresa May, with her Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, on Tuesday. Mrs May’s visit to the Hague was the first of her round of European diplomacy

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, with her Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, on Tuesday. Mrs May’s visit to the Hague was the first of her round of Europe...

ANYONE who purports to know what will happen next with Brexit is a “fantasist or a liar”, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, has said.

Speaking on Tuesday, after the postponement of the meaningful vote on the EU Withdrawal Agreement, Bishop Baines said it was “impossible to see what will happen next”. The Government was at an “impasse”.

On Monday afternoon, the Prime Minister told MPs that she would be cancelling Tuesday’s planned vote, as it was clearly heading for defeat “by a significant margin”.

Theresa May announced that she would be asking for help from her European counterparts in an attempt to salvage the deal. The European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, said, however, that there was “no room” for renegotiation.

The vote could now be delayed as late as 21 January, it has been suggested. Last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury told the House of Lords that “the great decisions are now left firmly in the hands of Parliament, as is right” (News, 7 December).

Bishop Baines said the decision to delay the vote merely “puts off the evil day.

“It is evidence of something deeper here — that the Prime Minister thinks she can get deeper leverage from Brussels. But they haven’t budged — it is just desperate.

“No one knows what will happen next. I can’t see what can happen, other than the same deal as before. There could be a coup before Christmas; she could be bold and call for a second referendum; or she could call a general election, but both of those things would need Parliament to vote for them.”

He went on: “The one thing that is pretty strong across the Commons and the Lords is that there can’t be no deal.” However, “anything is possible. We have a very, very divided country — everyone feels betrayed.”

In the run up to Christmas, he said: “Clergy need to be thinking about how they can develop a narrative of reconciliation. They can’t just pretend that there aren’t divisions.”

The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, said on Tuesday that he did not think that a second referendum would solve anything.

“Part of the difficulty is, following the referendum it is become clearer and clearer that what looked like a simple choice has been interpreted in many different ways.

“Nobody is happy now, and there is no consensus as to the way forward. She [Mrs May] is in a very difficult position. The language she has carefully chosen is that she is [going to Brussels] looking for ‘assurances’. It is unclear whether the Prime Minister is going to get more concessions or simply clarification.”

Dr Smith said that he had been planning to support the Prime Minister’s deal “in broad terms — because it is bound to involve some sort of compromise: as with all divorces, the problem is that neither side walks away happy.”

He went on: “Every week we should be praying for our politicians and for Parliament: praying for divine wisdom. We also know that prayer makes us ask questions about ourselves: our prayer should be examining our own agendas and offering ourselves rather than expect to be winning on everything.

“We need to have a realistic view that there will be other people wanting to get things out of this, and it will mean compromise.”

The Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, said on Tuesday: “I hope that modifications, in some form, can be achieved, which will enable the proposed deal to go forward.

“Given the 52-48 split in the Referendum, a fairly soft Brexit seems to me to be the right way forward, if it can be enacted in a principled way.”

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, posted an open letter to politicians warning against four temptations over Brexit on Sunday.

He wrote that MPs and peers should avoid being “shaped by self-interest and personal ambition”, “swayed by narrow party interest and the pursuit (or retention) of power in the short term”, tempted by nostalgia — “a romantic attachment to the past”, and tempted “to hold on to an ideal which is no longer tenable”.

After the Prime Minister’s announcement, Labour suggested that they would table a motion of no confidence in Mrs May if she did not come back from her round of diplomacy with any further concessions. The party was planning to hold an emergency debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon.

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