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Give us substance, not slogans, says Bishop of Leeds

10 January 2020

Government should avoid ‘game-playing’ says Bishop Baines


The Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd Dr David Hoyle, and the Speaker to the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, outside St Margaret’s, Westminster, on Wednesday, after a Service for a New Parliament

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd Dr David Hoyle, and the Speaker to the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, outside St Margaret’s, Westminster,...

THE Government should “go beyond easy slogans” such as “Get Brexit done” and consider “how actual policy is to be worked out with real people”, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, has said.

Speaking on Tuesday in a House of Lords debate on the Queen’s Speech, particularly with regard to foreign policy, the Bishop said: “Behind all the politics and trading technicalities of Brexit lies the ineluctable fact that on this hyper-connected small planet no policy on anything can ignore its implications for the wider picture. Foreign policy is not primarily about ‘us’ directed at ‘them’, but, rather, ‘us’ behaving as part of ‘them’. And integral to this is the first rule of negotiation: to look through the eyes of the interlocutor in order to see ourselves as we are seen.

“In other words, we need our Government to go beyond easy slogans — such as ‘Get Brexit done’ or ‘Global Britain’ — and consider both (a) how actual policy is to be worked out with real people, and (b) how the implications and consequences of that policy are to be understood and responded to by those with whom we claim to be interconnected partners.”

Bishop Baines said that he did not wish “to avoid the pragmatics of policy-making”, but to argue that “there is an urgent need for this Government to look beneath the political game-playing to the deeper, longer-term dynamics of both ethical substance and communication.”

He continued: “I will not be alone in noting that the language of insulting other European Union countries . . . has now changed into the language of ‘our friends and partners’ in Europe. Good. But our friends and partners will not have forgotten, and they are not stupid.”

In the same debate, the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, said that, on climate change, doing the “right thing ethically is also doing the right thing for the economic prosperity of the country and our place in the world”.

He praised the Government for its commitment to making the UK’s emissions net zero by 2050, but said that the “challenge now is to realise this vision with specific, planned action”.

The Prime Minister speaks in the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday

He continued: “There is a moral imperative to act for the sake of the earth and for the sake of the poorest — those who have contributed least to climate change are suffering the most and will suffer most in the future. . .

“We need a Government with the wisdom of Joseph to use these next seven years well and to put us on a pathway to recovery with a new agenda for the next decade for the world. We must not fail.”

The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, urged the Government to include religious persecution in its integrated security, defence, and foreign-policy review, which says that it will consider the “freedom of speech, human rights and the rule of law” of foreign nations and how this interacts with British interests.

Dr Smith said: “I hope that any strategic review will be able to explain to this House and indeed the wider world, which looks to our democracy as a beacon of hope, how issues of religious persecution will be treated by any future UK Government.”

He referred to the Bishop of Truro’s report into the persecution of Christians (News, 12 July, 2019), but said: “Of course, this is not just about Christians being persecuted. Many Members of this House share my concern at the persecution by the Myanmar Government of Rohingya Muslims and the increasingly desperate situation facing Uighurs in Xinjiang province.”

Dr Smith also referred to the Ebola crisis in the Demoractic Republic of Congo and the peace process in South Sudan, reminding peers of the work that churches do in both situations.

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said that he was worried “that our international focus is on how the UK stands on the international stage after Brexit, rather than on how we use that position — particularly how we use it to alleviate crippling poverty in developing countries”.

He argued: “We must not have a solely self-centred approach to our international affairs. If DfID [Department for International Development] is merged with the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office], there is a worry that UK aid will be used to advance UK foreign policy as opposed to being invested in alleviating poverty.”

Bishop Butler went on to say that aid alone could not lift nations out of poverty: “Let us look justly for trade deals with poorer nations which help them to develop, recognising that mutual benefit is better than exploitative practices.”

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