Get on with Brexit, say MPs and peers

08 March 2019

Ambitious politicians have marred process from start, says Bishop of Oxford

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Protesters in Parliament Square, Westminster, on Wednesday

Protesters in Parliament Square, Westminster, on Wednesday

A “GROWING weariness” about Brexit is “dominating politics”, the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, said this week. “Where I find there is widespread agreement is that many other issues demand action. Brexit sucks in energy and attention from politicians.”

Dr Croft said that he observed “passions running very high, and divisions running across party lines” in the House of Lords, “but there is also a growing weariness with this agenda dominating our political lives.

“The country is looking for Parliament to come together. . . What I hear really strongly suggests that people want the Government to act and get on with it.”

The Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, agreed. He said: “I hope Parliament will agree Mrs May’s deal. Nobody will be entirely happy with it, but the soft Brexit it represents corresponds in a way to the 52:48 referendum result.”

Speaking on Wednesday, the Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne said that he would be reluctantly voting for the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement: “I think the deal is dreadful, but the only thing worse is remaining in the EU.”

Sir Desmond, a member of the group Christians in Parliament, said: “We are in danger of losing our only chance of leaving the EU in 40 years. My fear is that we will then vote to delay our departure, and there will be unknown consequences.”

He argued that, in signalling that it would vote against no-deal, Parliament had undermined the Government’s negotiating position: “The basis of any negotiation is that you have to persuade your counter party that you don’t have to make a deal.”

His view is in contrast to that of the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Dame Caroline Spelman, also a Conservative MP, who has tabled amendments to take no-deal off the table (News, 1 March).

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, said that it was important for the Church to speak out against a no-deal Brexit if it was likely to damage the poor, and that it was “unacceptable”.

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He said: “The Church needs to listen to those who voted to leave; but the evidence says that people on the edge will suffer the most. The Church’s response needs to balance those two things. In such a close vote, it is not for the Church to pick one side, but it is to protect the poor.”

Bishop Bayes said that he was “sympathetic” to ideas of a people’s assembly so that people could listen to one another’s views, and a way through the Brexit impasse might be found.

He also stated: “Those who want Brexit in order to have a more racist Britain simply must be opposed.”

In a House of Lords debate on Wednesday of last week, Dr Croft scolded politicians, arguing that the Brexit process had been “shaped by self-interest and personal ambition”.

He told peers: “This Brexit debate has been marred from the beginning, it seems, by the narrow calculation of those hoping to gain or retain high office. From the perspective of the country, nothing has undermined trust in our politics more than this untrammelled ambition, which is apparent to all.

“One of the dangers of our politics at present is that personal ambition is being put before the country, and I think we need to draw that period to an end with great urgency, lest our politics and our confidence in democracy be damaged for a very long time. Conversely, nothing will restore trust in our politics more than putting the interests of the nation ahead of personal position.”

Dr Croft refused to be drawn on whom he was referring to. He said: “I didn’t have one group or party in my mind. One of the trends that has run through all of this has been an increasing disenchantment of the population from politics, and a sense of impatience.”

An ONS survey released this week suggested that people in the UK have a lower level of trust in the EU than the average in the other 28 countries in the bloc: 30 per cent compared with 42 per cent.

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