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Pray for politicians as they seek way ahead on Brexit, say Archbishops

18 January 2019


The Prime Minister, Theresa May, after the defeat on Tuesday evening

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, after the defeat on Tuesday evening

THE Archbishops of Canterbury and York have called on churches to pray for politicians as they attempt to find a way ahead for Brexit.

The prayer was published on Thursday, after the Prime Minister announced that a new plan on withdrawal from the European Union would be published on Monday. It is due to be voted on by MPs on 29 January.

In a joint statement, the Archbishops said: “We echo the call of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland to Christians and all those of faith and goodwill to give time for prayer beginning this Sunday in their local churches or as they choose: praying for wisdom, courage, integrity and compassion for our political leaders and all MPs; for reconciliation; and for fresh and uniting vision for all in our country.”

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, has written a special prayer (full text below), “which he is encouraging everyone to pray three times a day [at] 6 a.m., 12 noon, and 6 p.m.”, the statement said.

The announcement of a new Brexit plan came after Mrs May won a motion of no confidence in her Government on Wednesday evening, by 325 votes to 306.

The motion was moved by the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, immediately after the defeat of Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement on Tuesday evening, by 432 votes to 202 — the largest defeat for a sitting Government in history.

After winning the no-confidence motion, Mrs May told MPs that she would “continue to work to deliver on the solemn promise to the people of this country to deliver on the result of the referendum and leave the European Union”.

She invited the Westminster leaders of all parties to individual meetings on the way ahead for Brexit. “We must find solutions that are negotiable and command sufficient support in this House,” she said.

Mr Corbyn, however, said that he would not meet Mrs May until the Government removed “once and for all, the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal exit from the EU”.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Vince Cable, and the leader of the Scottish National Party in Westminster, Ian Blackford, did meet Mrs May on Wednesday evening.

After the defeat of her agreement on Tuesday evening, Mrs May told the House of Commons: “The House has spoken and the Government will listen. It is clear that the House does not support this deal, but tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support; nothing about how, or even if, it intends to honour the decision the British people took in a referendum that Parliament decided to hold. . .

“Every day that passes without this issue being resolved means more uncertainty, more bitterness, and more rancour. The Government have heard what the House has said tonight, but I ask Members on all sides of the House to listen to the British people who want this issue settled, and to work with the Government to do just that.”

The defeat of the deal came after it had been delayed in December by Mrs May, so that she could seek assurances from the EU so that the agreement would be more palatable to MPs. Those assurances were apparently not strong enough to win support.

Responding to the Prime Minister, Mr Corbyn said: “The result of tonight’s vote is the greatest defeat for a Government in this House since the 1920s. This is a catastrophic defeat for this Government. After two years of failed negotiations, the House of Commons has delivered its verdict on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, and that verdict is absolutely decisive. . .

“The Prime Minister’s governing principle of delay and denial has reached the end of the line. She cannot seriously believe that, after two years of failure, she is capable of negotiating a good deal for the people of this country. The most important issue facing us is that the Government have lost the confidence of this House and this country.”

Mrs May also said that she would hold cross-party talks in an attempt to find an end to this impasse.

“The Government will approach these meetings in a constructive spirit, but given the urgent need to make progress, we must focus on ideas that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in this House,” she said. “If these meetings yield such ideas, the Government will then explore them with the European Union.”

Downing Street later made clear, however, that the Prime Minister would not deviate from her Brexit “principles”, meaning that there was no chance that Labour’s policy — remaining in a customs union with the EU — would be on the table in these discussions.

The chair of the Brexit Select Committee, the Labour MP Hilary Benn said: “The really big question is, will she listen to what she hears?”

Yvette Cooper, another Labour MP, posted a message on Twitter: “Seriously? Same old red lines from Theresa May? Even though she just lost by 230 votes? She can’t keep behaving like this. Makes a complete mockery of all her words after the vote.”

On Wednesday, The Times reported that the cross-party discussions would be led by the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, and the Cabinet Office minister and de facto Deputy Prime Minister, David Lidington.

Mr Corbyn rejected Mrs May’s invitation for cross-party talks, insisting that no-deal Brexit be taken off the table first. Mrs May maintained that: “Our door remains open.”

Some MPs pressed for an extension of the Article 50 process, or for a second referendum to be granted.

Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney-General and a Conservative MP, said: “It’s clear there is no appetite for the Government’s deal, and, indeed, there is no majority for any other version of Brexit, either. We must bring the people back into this discussion, by legislating for a final say.”

On Wednesday morning, 71 Labour MPs revealed that they backed a “People’s Vote”, but Mr Corbyn argued instead for a General Election.

On Thursday, he said: “We believe that the best outcome for the country remains a General Election to break the deadlock and find a solution that works for the whole country. And that is why I tabled a motion of confidence, and we will come back with it again if necessary.”

He went on: “But if the Government remains intransigent, if support for Labour’s alternative is blocked for party advantage, and the country is facing the potential disaster of no deal, our duty will then be to look at other options which we’ve set out in our conference motion, including the option of a public vote.”

The House of Lords voted for a motion, proposed by Labour, which rejected a no-deal outcome, and regretting the terms of the Government’s deal and the future relationship with EU which it set out.

The Bishops of London, Lincoln, Birmingham, and Durham all voted for the motion: the Archbishop of York voted against.

Read more on our comment and press pages. 

The Archbishop of York’s prayer reads:

God of eternal love and power,

Save our Parliamentary Democracy;

Protect the High Court of Parliament and all its members

From partiality and prejudice;

That they may walk humbly the path of kindness, justice and mercy.

Give them wisdom, insight and a concern for the common good.

The weight of their calling is too much to bear in their own strength,

Therefore we pray earnestly, Father,

send them help from your Holy Place, and be their tower of strength.

Lord, graciously hear us. Amen.

Please add these to your prayers:

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

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