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Bishop in Europe queries EU exit timetable

03 January 2020

Bishops look at damage caused by haste and Brexit arguments


A member of staff arranges the flags of the UK and the EU at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, before a meeting between Boris Johnson and the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, in October

A member of staff arranges the flags of the UK and the EU at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, before a meeting between Boris...

THE Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, has said that he hopes that the Government’s refusal to extend the post-Brexit transition period will not harm the UK.

On 31 January, the UK is due to leave the EU, triggering a transition period that is scheduled to last until 31 December.

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill was passed by the House of Commons last month at its second reading, and will be debated further next week. The Prime Minister said last month that it ensured “that the implementation period must end on 31 December next year, with no possibility of an extension, and it paves the way for a new agreement on our future relationship with our European neighbours, based on an ambitious free-trade agreement”.

Dr Innes, speaking just before Christmas, said: “I hope that excluding the possibility of extending the post-Brexit transition period with the EU beyond December 2020 will not harm the UK’s political and future trading options, once we have left the EU on 31 January.

“I think ongoing scrutiny by our Parliamentarians of all Brexit-related legislation will therefore remain very important, both through and beyond the passage of the Withdrawal Bill at Westminster.”

Speaking on Monday, the EU’s trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, warned that ruling out an extension was a “stunt”, and might not happen. He said: “In the past, we saw the way the Prime Minister promised to die in the ditch rather than extend the deadline for Brexit, only for him to do just that. I don’t believe Prime Minister Johnson will die in the ditch over the timeline for the future relationship either.”

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is expected to complete its passage through the Commons with ease, given the Conservative Party’s increased majority (News, 20 December).

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s The World At One before Christmas, the new Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, said that the debate over Brexit had damaged society and contributed to the death of Jo Cox, the Labour MP murdered in the street in June 2016 in the run-up to the EU Referendum.

Bishop Hudson-Wilkin, who last year ended her work as Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, said: “The discourse that we’ve had over the last three years [has] been pretty damaging — damaging not only to parliamentarians [but also to] the wider community and society as a whole. It’s been very, very damaging, and, of course, I have always believed that the kind of discourse that we had contributed to the death of Jo Cox.

“I really believed that then, and I still believe it today. So yes, we needed to change the discourse.”

Last year, she revealed that she had been racially abused, which she again linked to the change in discourse since Brexit (News, 8 February).

On The World At One she said: “The way that we related to one another over this wretched topic contributed. If you think about what the person was shouting when he inflicted harm on our dear sister Jo [‘This is for Britain’], you will know that the language that we were using with each other contributed to that.

“Parliamentarians may not be shouting ‘Britain First’ with a gun in hand or another kind of weapon, but we have to be careful about the way we use language. We might go and have a drink with each other afterwards or a cup of tea or whatever, somebody out there who is not all together there may do something else. . .

“We can begin to heal ourselves by making a commitment to ourselves and to each other to listen to one another and not just think that your view is the only view.”

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