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Bishop welcomes light in Brexit tunnel

28 February 2019


An anti-Brexit protestor outside Parliament this week

An anti-Brexit protestor outside Parliament this week

THE Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, has expressed his relief that Parliament is taking the concerns of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU seriously.

On Wednesday, MPs passed an amendment, tabled by Alberto Costa MP, a Conservative, calling on the Prime Minister to seek “at the earliest opportunity a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt” the part of the withdrawal agreement securing the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, whatever the Brexit outcome.

Dr Innes said on Thursday: “People are desperately concerned for their future. I really hope and pray that citizens’ rights can be treated separately [from the rest of the withdrawal agreement].

“People in my diocese need to know what will happen to them. . . I am pleased that Parliament is taking these concerns seriously.”

The amendment was passed with the support of the Government — as was a second amendment securing Theresa May’s promise to allow MPs a vote on a no-deal Brexit and on extending Article 50.

The day before, Mrs May had conceded that MPs could vote to delay Brexit — but only after first voting on her withdrawal agreement, which she is attempting to improve with EU help. The amendment put forward by Yvette Cooper cemented this.

Mrs May told MPs that they would be voting on her withdrawal agreement by 12 March. If that failed, by 13 March they would vote on whether they supported a no-deal Brexit. If MPs did not support it, the next day they would vote on a motion on “whether Parliament wants to seek a short, limited extension to Article 50”.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Dame Caroline Spelman, said on Thursday: “The spirit of compromise is changing the atmosphere at Westminster. The PM’s courage and pragmatism has helped to reduce the risks and uncertainty of a no-deal Brexit. A cross-party alliance of MPs has worked hard to achieve this. Now there needs to be a cross-party consensus to secure an orderly Brexit.”

During Wednesday’s debate, Dame Caroline, a Conservative MP, had said that the Prime Minister should allow Parliament to “de-risk” Brexit and “create the space to secure a pragmatic deal”.

She reiterated: “There is a clear majority [among MPs] to rule out no-deal. . . However, we can’t just stand against something. We must urgently build a consensus for a deal we stand for, in the national interest.”

Dame Caroline spoke of the damage to the UK which the threat of no deal had already inflicted, reporting a loss so far to British business of £19 billion; and of letters that UK citizens living on the Continent were now receiving, warning that their health-care was at risk after 29 March.

In a House of Lords debate on Wednesday, the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, berated politicians, arguing that the Brexit process has been “shaped by self-interest and personal ambition”.

Dr Croft told peers: “This Brexit debate has been marred from the beginning, it seems, by the narrow calculation of those hoping to gain or retain high office. From the perspective of the country, nothing has undermined trust in our politics more than this untrammelled ambition, which is apparent to all.

“One of the dangers of our politics at present is that personal ambition is being put before the country, and I think we need to draw that period to an end with great urgency, lest our politics and our confidence in democracy be damaged for a very long time. Conversely, nothing will restore trust in our politics more than putting the interests of the nation ahead of personal position.”

He went on: “There are huge issues facing our world and our country: climate chaos, care for the poorest, increasing [challenges to] equality and opportunity, our changing relationship with technology, and the challenge of social care and health funding. We cannot allow our national attention to be diverted from these issues by prolonging still further a series of adjustments to our relationship with Europe.

“The nation is looking to its political leaders for a strong, compelling and united vision of the future that enables us to see beyond these debates in a way that brings unity and common purpose.”

Wednesday’s debates followed more manoeuvring within the two main parties, and came in the wake of a General Synod debate on the state of the nation.

The motion carried at the Synod on Saturday blamed divisions in the major political parties for “stifling the emergence of a hopeful and viable vision for the common good in our communities”.

On Monday evening, the Labour Party announced that it would back a move for a second referendum if it failed in its attempt to pass its own Brexit plan this week.

It followed the resignation of nine Labour MPs from the party last week to form the Independent Group (News, 22 February).

On Saturday, the Archbishop of Canterbury told General Synod that the strongest, not the poorest, in society should bear the weight of the risks of Brexit.

Moving his motion on the state of the nation, he said: “We must be ready for any difficulties and uncertainties, and not allow any destructive forces to create further divisions in society. . .

“That is not Project Fear; it is saying that, where there are risks, it is the strongest, not the weakest, who must bear the weight of that risk. That is not currently the way we are going.”

The motion, which states that “social divisions feel more entrenched and intractable than for many years”, was presented by both Archbishops.

Archbishop Welby said: “Brexit has . . . revealed how our politics and society have not paid sufficient attention to the common good: that shared life of society in which everyone is able to flourish. That pain and exclusion continues in this country.”

A national failure to pay attention to this, he said, would lead to “greater division and ultimately strife”. The Synod voted by 240 votes nem. con. to call on the nation’s leaders “to work together for that common good at this time of division”.

Dr Innes said on Thursday: “I am hopeful that churches will bring people in their communities together after Brexit.”

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