THE UK looks “ridiculous” to the rest of the world as it continues to move towards Brexit, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, has said.
Bishop Baines, who has been on sabbatical for the past few months, said that he “did not come across anyone looking on with joy”, and that it was “interesting to follow it through the lens of another culture”.
On Wednesday of last week, the Prime Minister, who had asked for a deadline of 30 June to leave the EU, agreed to a longer extension, in which the UK will remain a member of the EU until 31 October, unless Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement is passed before then.
The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said: “This extension is as flexible as I expected, and a little bit shorter than I expected, but it is still enough [time] to find the best possible solution.” He urged the UK: “Please do not waste this time.”
Without the new agreement, the UK was poised to leave the EU without a deal last Friday, 12 April.
Bishop Baines said: “Theresa May has played a zero-sum game, but she had to win some of the 48 per cent [the Remain side] over to get something through Parliament. It is a mess.”
The Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, has welcomed the Brexit extension granted by EU leaders. The prospect of a “damaging no-deal outcome appears to be receding. . . Everyone needs clarity in this situation now, especially those UK citizens living in the EU27 countries.
“I urge prayers for everyone involved, especially law-makers making decisions.”
Mrs May said, after the meeting last week: “What we have agreed tonight means that we can leave the European Union before 30 June. What we need is to ensure that we have an agreement in Parliament, that we can get through the necessary legislation to enable us to leave. This decision enables us to do that.”
The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Dame Caroline Spelman MP, said that she sensed “huge relief” in Parliament after the extension was announced.
Dame Caroline, a Conservative, said: “The extension is welcome, with the added flexibility of getting the Withdrawal Act through before that time and leaving the EU. I have gratitude to the other 27 countries in the EU for allowing the extension.
“Talks between the parties are ongoing, and are going a bit better than people give them credit for. I hope Sir Keir Starmer [Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary] and David Lidington [Minister for the Cabinet Office] make further good progress. I understand that they are going to continue to talk during recess. They were instrumental in securing the extension.”
Parliament is on Easter recess this week, but talks between Labour and the Government are ongoing.
Dr Innes said: “We have all observed the UK Parliament with a sense of deep despondency, as MPs fail to make a decision. I have been arguing for a pause and longer time (News, 29 March), and I am grateful for that extra time so we can come to a decision.”
He said: “We need reconciliation and togetherness in an increasingly divided country.”
Dr Innes referred to a Hansard Society report, published on Monday, which said that 72 per cent of the public thought that the system of governing needed “quite a lot” or “a great deal” of improvement. The report also said that 54 per cent of the public wanted a stronger leader who was willing to break the rules.
“I am worried by disillusionment in politics and democracy,” Dr Innes said. “Europe has experienced strong leaders in the past. It needs to avoid their return in the future.”
Bishop Baines said: “You can’t plead that you want to restore sovereignty and then complain when Parliament does its job, and something you don’t want it to do — we have elected people in Parliament who have responsibility to make these decisions; they are not delegates.”
The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, said that the extra time should be used to “move on from the current impasse” and seek the common good. “As with all divorces, Brexit has unleashed a tsunami of anger and frustration. It has revealed with depressing clarity the many things that British people are unhappy about. We can no longer afford the luxury of wallowing in apathy or self-interest, or retreating into a bunker mentality.
“Our politics badly needs rebooting. With the extension of our negotiating period, we now need to use the time to move on from the current impasse. It is significant that there are increased viewing figures for political programmes and BBC Parliament, which suggests that we need to engage the entire population of our country and work bottom up.
He concluded: “Instead of reiterating what we don’t like, we need everyone to reflect on what each one of us can put on the table, and seek the good of others and the common good. Otherwise, we will continue to go around in circles.”