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Religion envoy resigns over Brexit clashes

18 September 2020

Creative Commons/Richard Townshend

Rehman Chishti

Rehman Chishti

THE Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion and belief (FORB), Rehman Chishti, resigned from the post on Monday, saying that he could not support the Government’s Internal Market Bill.

The Bill, which would override parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, has been criticised by all five former prime ministers.

Mr Chishti said in his resignation letter that he was committed to delivering Brexit, and supported Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party. But, he added, “I have real concerns with the UK unilaterally breaking its legal commitments under the Withdrawal Agreement.

“During my ten years in Parliament, and before that as a barrister, I have always acted in a manner that respects the rule of law. I feel strongly about keeping the commitments we make; if we give our word, then we must honour it. Voting for this Bill as it currently stands would be contrary to the values I hold dearest.”

As FORB envoy, Mr Chishti was responsible for implementing the recommendations of the independent review of ways in which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office could address anti-Christian persecution (News, 12 July 2019).

On Saturday, he posted on Twitter that, one year on from his appointment, he was “proud of all the work we’ve done . . . including taking forward 17/22 recommendations” of the review, which was commissioned by the then Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and written by the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen.

Bishop Mounstephen said on Monday: “Rehman Chishti MP took on the challenges of implementing the recommendations of the independent review I chaired with real commitment and dedication, and the progress he achieved was very significant. Threats to FORB today constitute an existential threat to human flourishing and harmonious communities; so I hope his successor will bring that same deep commitment to FORB-for-all which was the hallmark of Mr. Chishti’s tenure.”

In 2018, Mr Chishti resigned from all party and government positions because of the Government’s “shocking” decision not to offer asylum to Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian acquitted of blasphemy charges after years on death row, and because he rejected the draft EU withdrawal agreement of the then Prime Minister, Theresa May.

Mr Chishti, who is MP for Gillingham and Rainham, had worked with a former Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, to secure the release of Mrs Bibi, who was reunited with her family in Canada and has since sought asylum in France.

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