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Brexit voters exploited, says Bishop of Burnley

20 September 2019

Bishop North: Government ‘lacks a moral compass’


Supporters of Brexit demonstrate outside the Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference in Bournemouth, on Tuesday

Supporters of Brexit demonstrate outside the Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference in Bournemouth, on Tuesday

THE Government is taking advantage of people who voted for Brexit, the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, has said.

Bishop North said on Wednesday: “We have a Government, which lacks a moral compass, taking advantage of the people who voted for Brexit, with something they know they can’t deliver [a pain-free no-deal Brexit]”.

He said that the Church was “struggling to re-engage” with the people who voted to leave the European Union, but that it was “taking seriously again” the need to connect with working-class people.

“There are huge areas where there still needs to be dialogue . . . [but] I am hearing a wider range of voices coming from the Church and Christian commentators,” Bishop North said.

Six months after the EU referendum, Bishop North argued that the Church needed “to pay proper attention to the voices of those whose votes have caused this revolution, whether or not we like what we hear” (Comment, 1 December 2016).

Brexit voters were “routinely accused of xenophobia, or worse, when they express concerns about changes imposed on their communities by those who live far away”, he argued.

Bishop North said on Wednesday: “My concern at the time was that certain factions were jumping on the bandwagon of saying the voters didn’t understand, or that there was just ‘anger’.

“People had very good reasons for voting Brexit . . . nation and community in particular. Some of those voices were not being listened to.”

Writing in this week’s Church Times, the Vicar of Parkend and Viney Hill in Gloucester diocese, the Revd Sam Norton, who is standing for the Brexit Party at the next General Election (News, 9 August), criticises an open letter signed by 25 diocesan bishops that warned about the consequences of a no-deal Brexit (News, 30 August).

reutersLord Keen QC leaves the Supreme Court on Tuesday, where he was representing the Government

“To say that there is something which ‘lies behind the vote for Brexit’ is to disparage the desire for Brexit in and of itself, and thus is an exercise in disempowerment,” Mr Norton writes.

“Leavers have become accustomed to being slighted in this way, to having their understanding and integrity impugned, to being told that we voted for Brexit only because of X, and, if those in power solved X, well, we don’t need Brexit any more, do we?”

The bishops’ letter had warned that a no-deal Brexit could harm people who are “least resilient to economic shocks”, and “is unlikely [to] . . . lead to reconciliation or peace in a fractured country”. The bishops urged political leaders to be “honest about the costs of political choices, especially for those most vulnerable”.

Bishop North said: “There is quite an interesting nuance in the response of the bishops that wasn’t there three years ago — it is more intelligent.”

There were “some good signs” that the Church was listening more to marginalised communities, he said — for example, the push for more estates evangelism (News, 1 March), and the changes in selection criteria for ministry to try to attract more people from working-class backgrounds to train for the priesthood.

In his 2016 article, Bishop North wrote: “Surely an Established Church has a part to play in finding a new and unifying national narrative that is patriotic, besides tolerant and in­­clusive.”

On Wednesday, he argued: “There are still large sections of the Church that are very uncomforatble with patriotism. Other countries in Europe manage to hold a strong patriotic message along with their place in Europe, which is something we have always struggled with here.

“There is a split between people in the pulpit and people in the pews. . . It is important to find a dialogue of nation which is tolerant and understanding. . . A national Church is well placed to change this narrative.”

This week, the Supreme Court is hearing appeals over whether advice that the Prime Minister gave to the Queen about prorogation was lawful. The case was ongoing as the Church Times went to press.

In a statement released last Friday, the bishops of the Church in Wales said that they wished “to place on record their evident concern for the well-being of our democratic processes and constitution in the United Kingdom”.

The five Bishops, including the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, said: “The unwritten British Constitution is dependent on Government, Opposition, Parliament, courts, and public servants acting to protect the integrity of our institutions. All these actors should reflect urgently on how they can prevent damage to that Constitution and the trust on which it is built.

“We call upon all our Members of Parliament, members of the House of Lords, and all our elected representatives and public servants, and in particular, the Prime Minister, as the leader of our country, to commit themselves publicly to the rule of law, and to seek consensus on the methods by which the future prosperity of our country might be secured.”

Read more on the story from Sam Norton, who has been selected to stand for the Brexit Party, and on our letters pages

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