IT IS time to move on from “division and discord”, the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes has said, marking the UK’s departure from the European Union on Friday night.
Dr Innes said: “The challenges ahead of us in Europe following Brexit are huge and unprecedented; and they go to the heart of how we sustain enduring future relationships rooted in the peace, prosperity, and friendship with all nations that are our Christian calling.”
The passing of 11 p.m. on Friday (midnight in Brussels) was marked by a countdown clock in Downing Street. It is not the end of Brexit: a transition period has now begun, which lasts until 31 December, during which complex negotiations will be conducted to extricate the UK from the EU regulatory structure. Dr Innes earlier called on the Government not to rule out an extension of that transition period (News, 3 January).
Dr Innes reported this week: “I was delighted to go along to an event hosted by the Mayor of Brussels on the eve of the UK’s exit from the European Union. The love and warmth towards the UK at the event was plain for all to see. The EU and its member states regret deeply this UK decision. So do I. But I urge us now to move on from these recent years of division and discord.
“The mission of the Church across our diocese is to serve the peoples of Europe, as we have been doing for over 400 years. As Anglicans in Europe, we will use voice, influence, and social action across our 300 congregations wherever we can, amongst those who need our support and care.”
Dr Innes said that his diocese would be looking out in particular for older Britons who stay on in EU countries, and young people from the UK who wanted to “live and experience the rest of Europe”.
He went on: “Our voice will be heard in defending the rights and dignity of those on the margins of society, and shaping our communities as places of welcome across Europe, especially for refugees and migrants fleeing the destruction of their lives and persecution.
“In our mission and engagement across European institutions, we will combat racism, discrimination, and xenophobia in all their forms.”
This would remain a collaborative process. “In all of these areas, we will join in common cause with our brothers and sisters in European Churches at all levels, and make our voice heard across the EU, and by the UK Government, as it seeks to negotiate a new phase of partnership with the EU beyond 2020.”
In a statement published on Thursday, the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, said: “Those of us who voted to leave should have a special care for our brothers and sisters who are feeling great sadness, avoiding any kind of triumphalism. And those of us who voted to remain should allow our brothers and sisters who are feeling exhilarated at the path we have taken to express something of that hopeful joy.
“Many of us, of course, have very mixed emotions, and that needs to be respected and allowed as well, and gives us a hint of all that we are being called to hold on behalf of others. . .
“God’s people are called to grief but not to ‘get stuck’ in grief. Beyond the grief, Isaiah calls people to energy and hope. Herein I think lies a clue to our task. We are called to hold lament, grief, hope and joy, knowing that with our loving God, all is held, nothing is lost.”
The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Mark Strange, said on behalf of the College of Bishops: “We call on the Government to do everything in its power to avoid a no-deal conclusion at the end of the transition period, and to negotiate in good faith towards a future partnership that works to assuage the legitimate fears held by many and that serves to benefit all parts of society.”
The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said: “As the UK formally leaves the European Union, we have an opportunity to move beyond the divisions which have been evident at many levels in our society.
“It is important for everyone to renew a commitment to each other through everyday acts of kindness, being good neighbours, welcoming the stranger, and caring for the most vulnerable in our society.
“In these ways we contribute to the common good at every level of society, from national politics to individual generosity, particularly for those in greatest hardship and uncertainty.”
A statement from the Conference of European Churches said of Brexit that it did not change “the mutual ecumenical commitment of European churches that grew in the last century under different political contexts. On the contrary, there is a call for us to intensify the commitment of churches towards reconciliation, cooperation and solidarity in Europe.”
Comment: Brexit divisions need healing — but not yet