Brexit has left the UK in ‘a mess’ of ‘alternative facts’, says Bishop of Salisbury

22 February 2019

He tells his diocesan Synod: ‘We may be leaving the EU, but we will still be European’

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The Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, in Downing Street, on Tuesday

The Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, in Downing Street, on Tuesday

BREXIT has left the UK in “a mess” of “alternative facts” and rising nationalism, the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, has said, as he urged his diocesan synod to debate truthfully this week.

Bishop Holtam had chosen speak about Brexit at his diocesan synod at St Nicholas’s, Corfe Mullen, on Tuesday, he said, after a churchwarden had wept, because “she had never before felt ashamed to be British”. She had told him that the country had “lost our sense of values, especially in our failure to be more hospitable to migrants and refugees”.

The General Synod is meeting in London this week, and is due to hold a debate on the state of the nation on Saturday. Bishop Holtam urged members to “use the convening power of churches” to “debate with and encourage one another” as the UK comes closer to leaving the EU without a deal on 29 March.

“As a country, we’ve got ourselves in a bit of a mess. . . Truth has become slippery. There are ‘alternative facts’ — but, even if it is difficult to get it right, keep on being about the truth. That’s why it matters that we challenge one another, and do so in love.” He had told the House of Lords last week: “We may be leaving the EU, but we will still be European.”

The Prime Minister returned to Brussels on Wednesday to attempt to renegotiate the terms of the Northern Ireland backstop — a policy to prevent the return of customs checks on the border. She was expected to request “legally binding insurances” that the backstop would not extend indefinitely, which critics fear would leave the UK tied to the a customs union with the EU.

Mrs May has repeatedly insisted that the only way to avoid a no-deal outcome would be to back her deal. But MPs have urged her to rule out a no-deal option, and stop using the threat as a negotiating tactic.

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The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, told a German newspaper this week that Brussels would be open to delaying Brexit if it avoided a no-deal scenario. Brexit was “in God’s hands” now, he said.

“When it comes to Brexit, it is like being before the courts or on the high seas; we are in God’s hands. And we can never quite be sure when God will take the matter in hand.”

In a debate in the Commons on Thursday of last week, the Second Estates Commissioner, Dame Caroline Spelman, said that she had voted for the PM’s deal because of the “catastrophic” consequences of a no-deal outcome.

Dame Spelman also spoke of the “huge human cost” for the one million UK nationals living in the other EU countries, many of whom are pensioners, as well as the 50 million people from the UK who visited the Continent each year and were covered by the European health insurance card.

Her words were later welcomed by the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, who said that she had highlighted “precisely the kinds of deep concerns people right across the other 27 EU countries in the diocese in Europe are raising. “The Anglican Church needs to show it cares about people’s lives in the midst of uncertainty about Brexit which, just over 40 days away from 29 March, is becoming paralysing.”

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has warned that the short-term “economic disruption” of a no-deal Brexit would drive the UK further into poverty.

Its open letter to MPs read: “There is a serious risk that this will make life much harder for people living in poverty and parts of the country already locked out of prosperity. We know that’s not right.”

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