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The way decisions are made matters

06 September 2019

We do not take back control by discarding parliamentary conventions, argues Stephen Cottrell


Flags, including that of the European Union, during a demonstration of both pro- and anti- Brexit protesters, in Parliament Square, this week

Flags, including that of the European Union, during a demonstration of both pro- and anti- Brexit protesters, in Parliament Square, this week

WRITING an article about Brexit on Tuesday that will be published on Friday is like writing about a Test match at drinks on the first afternoon: there is much that can be said, but it is probably unwise to draw too many conclusions.

This is a momentous week in our political life. I have sat through debates in the House of Lords, and sat in the gallery of the House of Commons and listened to the Prime Minister taking questions. All that I can helpfully say is this: the way in which we make our decisions is not a mere secondary matter to the decision itself. When we voted for Brexit in 2016 — and I mean “we”, for, however we voted in the referendum, as a democracy we are all committed to its outcome until such time as some other democratic vote supersedes it — we voted for our Government to negotiate an exit from the European Union.

Because the vote was so close, however, and because Scotland voted differently from England, and especially because of the implications of leaving Europe for the Irish border, it is incumbent on our Government to pursue those negotiations in a way that works best for the common good of all in a United Kingdom.

One of the arguments for Brexit was for Parliament to take back control. Undermining the famously unwritten British constitution, and the conventions and protocols of Parliament in which it is enshrined, seems to me to threaten or even fatally wound the very control that we wish to take back. And this is before we have considered the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the poorest in society

As I watch events unfold this week, it seems as if the Government wants to divide and rule. The very real danger is that we will divide and carry on dividing. To say this is not to oppose Brexit, but it is to say that we need to pursue a Brexit that works for everyone. That is not project fear: it is project hope. The gospel demands nothing less. We are not only called to love our neighbour, we are called to love our enemies. A way of negotiating Brexit which took maximum regard of those views that were different from our own would be a good way to start.

By the time you read this, it may seem already too late for such an approach. Inmy experience, however, it is never too late to do things right.

The Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell is the Bishop of Chelmsford.

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