IF PARLIAMENT rejects the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, voters should be given another chance to decide whether to leave the European Union, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, has said.
Speaking on Wednesday, Bishop Baines, who leads on Europe for the Lords Spiritual, said: “I’ve resisted the idea of a second referendum because we don’t know what the question would be. The Prime Minister needs to try to get a deal through Brussels and then through Parliament.”
He said, however: “If Parliament rejects it, which I think it will, I think it should then go back to the country, in a General Election or a referendum.”
He said that the question posed by any referendum should simply be “whether to stay or leave”, not a three-way choice advocated by MPs such as Justine Greening, the former Education Secretary, between Mrs May’s final deal, a no-deal Brexit, or staying in the EU.
“You cannot get a better deal than we have at the moment,” Bishop Baines said. “Theresa May was dealt an impossible hand. The compromise we’ve ended up with is probably the best you can get.”
But, whatever happened, Bishop Baines warned, “we’ve got a very divided country and a corrupted public discourse.”
Speaking in a debate in the House of Lords, on Tuesday evening, on the Prime Minister’s Commons statement on Brexit last week, Bishop Baines took issue with Mrs May’s assertion: “If we get behind a deal, we can bring our country back together and seize the opportunities that lie ahead.”
He said: “The factual phenomenon of Brexit, its language and behaviours, its polarising aggression, and its destructive reductionism are not going to be addressed by statements about ‘getting behind’ a deal, and people romantically falling back into line.”
There was a need for “honesty with the people of this nation. . . We hear little or no acknowledgement of the fracture that polarises our people — a fracture that will neither be addressed nor healed by the repetition of mantras about a glorious future.”
Last week, four government ministers — including the Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, and the Work and Pensions Secretary, Esther Mcvey — resigned in protest at the draft withdrawal agreement that Mrs May had negotiated with the EU. On the same day, the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group, submitted a letter of no confidence in Mrs May, and urged backbench colleagues to do the same.
More than 20 backbench MPs say that they have submitted letters, less than the 48 needed to trigger a confidence vote.
Mrs May went to Brussels on Wednesday, to finalise a deal in time for a summit of EU leaders, which is scheduled for Sunday.
As Mrs May faced mounting opposition to her deal last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury hosted the chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm.
A joint statement issued last Friday said: “As Churches, we urgently appeal to all politicians to find fair and sustainable solutions for the future coexistence of the UK and the EU. United in Christ we are drawn together in hope, faith, and love, and those things which divide us are of much lesser importance.”
Earlier this month, during an interview at Great Yarmouth Minster, Archbishop Welby said that there was “no necessary defeatism, no necessary outcome either to staying in Europe or leaving. . . The big problems in our society of inequality, of unfairness, of the abandonment of an understanding of a moral and ethical framework which helps us choose how to treat people — that is the thing that will decide our future. . . Being in Europe or being out is obviously important, but there is as much hope out as in, or in as out.’’
The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, told Premier Radio this week that a so-called “people’s vote” on the final terms of a Brexit deal “would make things worse, and it would open up the more fundamental questions again”.
Read our leader comment, and Angela Tilby, on the deal