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Welby and Spelman warn against a no-deal Brexit

10 January 2019


Pro-Brexit demonstrators wave placards, as both pro- and anti-Brexit protesters gather outside the Houses of Parliament, in Westminster, on Tuesday

Pro-Brexit demonstrators wave placards, as both pro- and anti-Brexit protesters gather outside the Houses of Parliament, in Westminster, on Tuesday

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has said that leaving the EU without a deal would be a moral failure.

Speaking in the House of Lords on Wednesday, Archbishop Welby said: “It may not feel like it and we may not wish it but we are still near the beginning of the Brexit journey, not at the end of the process. The decisions made over the next week will not be finalised for all eternity but are a foundation for further discussion and negotiation down the line.

“There has to be an agreement in which all accept the need to deliver the “will of the people” that was expressed in the referendum, while also recognising that when it was expressed in such a close result, there is a duty to build in compromise — an inevitability, albeit unwelcome to some. If not, there will be by default a no-deal Brexit. That outcome would be not only a political and practical failure but a moral one equally as serious as ignoring the result of the referendum entirely.

 “A second referendum is not my preference, but if parliament fails in the task entrusted to it, then regrettably it may be required. This is about more than Brexit, and parliament must not show itself unfit for the job. Parliamentarians must be able to look back at this time and say honestly to the people of this country that we put them, their choices, their welfare and their communities above the politics and ideology that can seem so all-consuming here in Westminster.”

Earlier in the speech, the Archbishop spoke of Parliament’s “moral responsibility”. He said: “We face not just practical choices but moral decisions alongside our highest responsibility to protect our poorest and most vulnerable. The burden, therefore, must be upon those who believe that no-deal is a reasonable option to take to prove that it would not have a significant negative impact on citizens, like those in the diocese I serve, who already face hardship.”

Last month, he argued that the poor should not be left to pay for Brexit (News, 7 December).

On Tuesday, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Dame Caroline Spelman MP, said that people should pray that the nation makes the right decision, and avoids no-deal Brexit,

Dame Caroline, a Conservative, said: “I would urge people, please pray — our nation is at a critical moment in our history, perhaps the most critical in the past 40 years. The human cost to leaving without a deal is too great. We need to pray for the nation to make the right decision.”

She made it clear, however, that she was speaking in a personal capacity, and not as the Second Church Estates Commissioner, although she meets members of the Church and bishops from the House of Lords regularly.

Dame Caroline was speaking on Tuesday, after an open letter that urged the Prime Minister to rule out a no-deal Brexit, which she co-wrote with the Labour MP Jack Dromey, was published on Monday. It was signed by 213 politicians and business leaders.

In the Metro newspaper, the two MPs wrote: “The human cost of Brexit is often overlooked as politicians seemingly focus on the numbers of GDP and inflation. However, in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, the lives of ordinary people up and down the country will be significantly impacted.”

On Tuesday, Dame Caroline explained: “Since September, I have been chairing a cross-party group of MPs from the West Midlands. In the last 12 months, we have already lost 3000 jobs due to Brexit uncertainty, and this gave rise to the idea to write a joint letter to the Prime Minister, calling on her to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

“It would make our manufacturing products much less competitive, and whatever my colleagues say, World Trade Organization rules would cause massive problems. We export 80 per cent of cars that are manufactured in this country, and the majority of those are exported to the EU — so if we were in a situation where taxes are slapped on these, it would be a disaster.”

She went on: “We have 213 signatories to the letter at the moment, and they are from all parties, and all parts of the UK: it is a real cross-section of parliamentarians.

“We think the Prime Minister should consider ruling out a no-deal Brexit. It would be disastrous, not just for manufacturing, but for all parts of our economy, including agriculture. If the Prime Minister would rule out no-deal, it would provide some security and confidence to business, and provide security for jobs.”

PADame Caroline Spelman

When asked how likely a no-deal scenario was, Dame Caroline argued: “There is a majority in Parliament against no-deal, and the Prime Minister could use this to her advantage; if she took this to the negotiating table, and showed them that Parliament did not want a no-deal and asked for more concessions, it could work for her, as it would provide reassurance for the EU as well.

“We are living a day at the time at the moment. It is impossible to predict what will happen. If we can establish that there won’t be no-deal, there has to be a deal to leave the EU.”

The group of MPs who are against no-deal met Mrs May on Tuesday; and, together with the business leaders, they were due to press the case for ruling out no-deal on Wednesday.

On Tuesday evening, the Government suffered a historic defeat on the Finance Bill as MPs moved to block a no-deal Brexit.

Inflicting the first defeat on a Government Finance Bill in 41 years, 20 Conservative MPs defied a three-line whip to vote to restrict the Treasury’s taxation powers in the event of no deal. Dame Caroline abstained or did not vote.

Among the Conservative rebels were seven former cabinet ministers, including the former Cabinet Office minister Sir Oliver Letwin.

Sir Oliver told MPs: “I want to make it abundantly clear that a majority in this house will not allow a no-deal exit to occur at the end of March.”

A former minister, Nick Boles, said: “I will vote on any motion, on any amendment, on any piece of legislation, proposed by whomsoever in this house, to ensure that we leave the EU on 29 March with a deal or not at all.”

The amendment to the Finance Bill was proposed by the Labour backbench MP Yvette Cooper. She told MPs: “I am worried that we could come to the crunch, and Parliament would not have the powers to stop it [no-deal] happening. We have a responsibility not just to stand by. I believe that the Government should rule out no-deal; but, if they will not, Parliament must make sure that it has the powers to do so, if it comes to the crunch.”

After the vote, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said: “It shows that there is no majority in parliament, the Cabinet, or the country for crashing out of the EU without an agreement. That is why we are taking every opportunity possible in parliament to prevent no-deal. Theresa May must now rule out no-deal once and for all.”

MPs will vote on Mrs May’s EU withdrawal agreement next week, after it was postponed in December (News, 14 December). Later that month, alternatives to avoid a no-deal Brexit were proposed, including a citizens’ assembly and a second referendum (News, 21 December).

The Times reported on Wednesday that Mrs May had told the Cabinet that the Government may lose the vote on the withdrawal agreement next week, and that she would “move quickly” in this eventuality.

It also reported that the Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd, said: “History will take a dim view of a Cabinet that presses ahead with no deal. We have to face the world in which we find it, not as we wish it to be, and we have to deal with the facts as we find them.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the Government was defeated again on an amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Act. The amendment, proposed by Tory MP Dominic Grieve, forces the Government to hold a vote on a “plan B” within three days, if it loses the “meaningful vote” on the withdrawal agreement next week.

Read the full text of Archbishop Welby’s Lords speech here.

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