A BINARY “winner-takes-all” approach to Brexit does not honour the result of the 2016 Referendum, the Archbishop of Canterbury said this week.
Archbishop Welby has written (below) to clarify the College of Bishops’ statement, issued two weeks ago. He repeats his view that a no-deal Brexit would be a “moral failure”, an expression that attracted “intense criticism”, he reveals.
The College of Bishops produced a statement a fortnight ago which included the sentence: “In writing, we affirm our respect for the June 2016 Referendum, and our belief that the result should be honoured” (News, 4 October).
Archbishop Welby argues, in response to criticism of the statement, in the Church Times and elsewhere: “To honour or respect the 2016 Referendum result is not to sign up to Brexit at any cost.
“Honouring the result means no more than paying proper attention to an outcome that saw 52 per cent of those who voted favouring leave, but 48 per cent favouring remain.”
He goes on: “It does not mean that the Bishops have aligned themselves with any particular political party, faction, or wing within a party.”
The Bishops’ statement was drawn up by a small group of senior churchpeople, the Archbishops included, having been discussed at the College of Bishops meeting the week before.
Archbishop Welby acknowledges that, “in our desire for brevity we may have sacrificed clarity, so I apologise.”
But he disputes the way in which many have interpreted the statement, and criticises the language used in the Church Times leader.
“Our media and our politics are at risk of sliding into irretrievable division. Jesus calls us to be a ‘kindly light amid the encircling gloom’; the role of all of us as Christians, and as a Church, must be to offer a different story and a better path.”
Other bishops have been forthcoming about Brexit. In a joint letter to every church, school, and chaplaincy in Oxford diocese, the Bishops in the diocese write: “Our calling as the Church in these times is not to take sides in this debate but to continue to be the Church for everyone. There are leavers and remainers in every congregation, but this can never be our primary identity as Christians. . .
“Loving our neighbour through the Brexit process needs to be woven into everything we do anyway, not simply added into busy lives.”
They list ways in which Christians in the diocese can love their neighbour through the Brexit process, including giving more to foodbanks in case of a food shortage; reaching out to EU nationals in their parish; inviting the community together; and encouraging debate.
Last weekend, the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, confirmed that he was a “longstanding critic of Brexit”, and said that his deep concerns had not changed.
In a letter to his diocese, Dr Innes wrote: “The EU27 stressed at the outset there are other third country relationships possible under Brexit that avoid no deal. But none has been considered seriously by the UK to date.
“I recognise the result of the Referendum over three years ago, while remaining convinced that, if the UK is to leave the European Union, there are less damaging and divisive possibilities for us, and certainly more civilised ways in which we can continue to talk together about Brexit, especially when we look at the state the UK is currently in.”
Speaking on Wednesday, Dr Innes went on: “To honour or respect the result does not mean signing up to leave the EU at any cost. As I have said over many months, there are several ways to respond to the Referendum and this should not be dealt with in an exclusive either/or win/lose manner.”
He went on: “I represent the needs of 1.3 million UK citizens in the EU who are desparately worried about their position, especially under a no-deal Brexit. For the sake of clarity, let me re-iterate that I am unambiguously opposed to the UK leaving the EU without a deal.”
‘The Bishops are not aligned to any party.’ Justin Welby clarifies the College of Bishops statement:
THE College of Bishops statement last week stressed that we should “speak to others with respect. And we should also listen.” This is an immensely difficult time for politicians, of all sides, as they attempt to navigate us to a resolution of our current crisis. They need our prayers and support.
Attacks on them, or on Parliament itself, will only deepen our current divisions and not move us forwards.
In that spirit of listening and prayerful support, I want to respond to last week’s editorial, which critiqued our statement and rightly asked some searching questions. The core of that critique was one sentence in the College statement, which affirmed “our respect for the June 2016 Referendum, and our belief that the result should be honoured”.
The statement was the combined work of many, but I accept responsibility for the terms used. As can often be the case, in our desire for brevity we may have sacrificed clarity, so I apologise, and offer this by way of context.
Many bishops have repeatedly spoken against the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal. I have even gone so far as to describe it as a “moral failure” (and stood by that, despite the intense criticism it attracted).
To honour or respect the 2016 Referendum result is not to sign up to Brexit at any cost. Honouring the result means no more than paying proper attention to an outcome that saw 52 per cent of those who voted favouring leave, but 48 per cent favouring remain.
In our binary “winner takes all” approach to Brexit, there has not been a response to the Referendum that takes into account the views and interests of all sides. As a result, the unity and cohesion of our country is being severely tested.
In their open letter of 28 August, 25 diocesan bishops argued against a no-deal Brexit, and said: “Our main social and political priority must be to leave well.” We all have in mind the profound anxiety and uncertainty that one million UK nationals in the EU27 are facing, and the unique predicament of the diocese in Europe.
We are also concerned for the 2.37 million European nationals and others who have made this country their home. In the Lords I spoke recently of immense divisions, which were, I said, “shaking this country apart”.
We honour and respect the Referendum, as we do people’s opinions, their votes, the law, Parliament, and the courts — all of them as a whole. But that honour and respect does not mean that the Bishops have aligned themselves with any particular political party, faction or wing within a party. In their dioceses, bishops are in touch frequently with MPs of all parties, and, in many cases, are supporting those under pressure pastorally and in prayer. That is our duty and our calling.
The strong reaction of some, as expressed in last week’s editorial, is an illustration of the depths of division on Brexit, which affect the Church as much as the rest of society. We must guard against the worst excesses of polarisation. In suggesting that the bishops were guilty of “betrayal”, “surrender”, even “heresy”, I regret that it used the language of provocation that our statement was itself an appeal against.
Our media and our politics are at risk of sliding into irretrievable division. Jesus calls us to be a “kindly light amid the encircling gloom”; the role of all of us as Christians, and as a Church, must be to offer a different story and a better path.