Be a force for unity despite election landslide, bishops tell PM

13 December 2019

PA

Boris Johnson in Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, on Friday morning  

Boris Johnson in Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, on Friday morning ...

THE Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, should seek to address the country’s “formidable challenges” in a way that will “unify, not divide”, the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, has said.

He was speaking after Thursday’s General Election, in which the Conservatives won a landslide and Labour gained its lowest tally of seats since 1935.

On Friday morning, Mr Johnson spoke at a victory rally at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. He said that Brexit was now the “irrefutable, irresistible, unarguable decision of the British people”.

He said: “You may only have lent us your vote, you may not think of yourself as a natural Tory and you may intend to return to Labour next time round. If that is the case I am humbled that you have put your trust in me. I will never take your support for granted.”

He had told supporters earlier: “We must understand now what an earthquake we have created. The way in which we have changed the political map in this country. We have to grapple with the consequences of that. We have to change our own party. We have to rise to the level of events. We have to rise to the challenge that the British people have given us.”

On Friday morning, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said: “This is democracy at work. We now need to see which Boris is going to govern, after a campaign that has been appalling with its lies and manipulations, and he has promised things he can’t deliver.

“The results gives clarity that the withdrawal deal will be passed by Parliament; but that will not get Brexit done, and then the hard work of negotiations will begin, and that is where we’ll see whether we have the right Boris. For people who are poor, homeless, or ill, this result could be very challenging.

“As for the Lords Spiritual, the nature of the Government is irrelevant, and we will keep asking the same questions and holding them to account.”

Dr Innes said that people now “await clarity” on what this actually means. “The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU27 has not yet been passed and ratified by the UK Parliament,” he said. “The prospect of no deal on 31 January 2020 remains.

“We should not lose sight of this, and the disastrous consequences it would have for the poorest and weakest in our society, as well as for UK citizens living and working in my diocese.”

The Conservatives hold 364 seats, a gain of 67, while Labour have 203, having lost 42. The Scottish National Party won 13 additional seats, leaving it on 48, with almost full control of Scotland.

Mr Johnson spoke on Friday in front of a slogan claiming that he would lead “the people’s government”.

The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, said on Friday morning: “I was pleased to hear Boris Johnson say that he was determined to use his majority to ‘change this country for the better’. I am sure we will all work and pray for this, watching closely what is offered.

“In particular, I will continue to raise the pressing issues of homelessness and rough sleeping, which are causing misery in many parts of our country. In-work poverty is also likely to be high on the agenda of many people in the poorer parts of our country.”

Dr Innes said: “The new Government faces big issues around economic and social justice, and national cohesion, that Brexit has revealed over the past three-and-a-half years.

“I pray that the new UK Government and Parliament will address these formidable challenges in ways that will unify, not divide, and which will seek to find common ground for the common good.”

Dr Smith said: “As we leave the EU, we will also have to renegotiate our relations with our neighours as we seek to build a stronger world order. As part of this, we need to ensure our international aid programme is ring-fenced and focused on supporting the neediest parts of the world.

“Over the coming months, we will all need to reflect on this election campaign, and address the problem of racism which has affected various parts of the political establishment.”

A spokesman for Christians on the Left said on Friday: “The result has clearly come as a shock to those of us who support the Labour Party, even those who were opposed to the Party’s direction of travel.

”We will have plenty of time to reflect on why Labour was defeated so resoundingly. We will need to look at everything and do so in a spirit of fellowship. At the same time, we will need to be firm in our resolve to make the changes necessary for the party to be able to make the country a better place, especially for those on low incomes.

”This morning, we are also thinking of and praying for the many good former MPs and other candidates who lost their elections, including members of Christians on the Left. We are also mindful of the many party staff and volunteers who devoted so much time and resource and who will be feeling bruised today.

”Despite the result, we have found that distinctive Christian Socialist politics has a clear resonance with people, and we should not lose this voice. Christians on the Left will play a full part in helping reform and renew the Labour Party. We ask for prayerful support from fellow Christians as we do so.”

 

The President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Dr Barbara Glasson and Professor Clive Marsh, wrote to Mr Johnson asking: “What active steps will your government now take to work towards healing and greater concord in society?”

The letter reads: “Many of our churches and church members are involved in running foodbanks and offering support for people caught up in poverty. Foodbanks should not have to exist. Can you clarify for us what steps your new government will take to address the scandalous levels of poverty, and particularly child poverty?

“We wish to reaffirm our concern that the poorest in society face huge risks as our trading relations with EU are rewritten. We seek your reassurance that needs of families facing poverty will be central to the proposed trade deal and that should it not be in place before the transition period expires that comprehensive measures are put in place to protect them from the ensuing upheaval.”

The chief executive of the Trussell Trust, Emma Revie, said: “It’s in our power as a country to end the need for food banks. But if we’re to get there, we need our new Government to act. We’re ready to share evidence from our network of food banks across the UK, and we’d encourage any new MPs to speak to their local food bank about why people are being referred for emergency food.

“It’s not right that anyone should have to turn to charity for the basics — this can change.”

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