28 August 2019, The Tablet

Bishops warn against 'no deal Brexit'

The letter comes after the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby conditionally agreed to chair a Citizens Forum in Coventry

Bishops warn against 'no deal Brexit'

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire/PA Images

A group of Church of England bishops has issued an open letter on the prospect of a 'no-deal' Brexit and the need for national reconciliation.

The letter was published just hours after prime minister Boris Johnson asked the Queen to suspend Parliament earlier than usual, from 9 September, thus making it much harder for MPs to block a no-deal Brexit at the end of October.

The bishops say that notwithstanding this proposed prorogation of Parliament, they have "particular concerns" about the potential cost of a No Deal Brexit to those least resilient to economic shocks.

"As bishops with pastoral responsibilities in communities across urban and rural England, we respond to the call by Jesus to tell the truth and defend the poor," they say. "We also recognise that our obligations go beyond England and impact on relations with the wider UK and our neighbours in the EU."

Exiting the EU without an agreement is likely to have a massive impact on all our people and the Government is rightly preparing for this outcome, they continue. Among issues they are worried about is Ireland. "The Irish border is not a mere political totem and peace in Ireland is not a ball to be kicked by the English," they warn. 

While acknowledging the belief that leaving the EU on 31 October is essential to restoring trust and confidence, the bishops warn it is unlikely that leaving without an agreement, regardless of consequences, will lead to reconciliation or peace in a fractured country.

"We also need to be frank about the potential costs," they say. "Our main social and political priority must be to leave well, paying particular attention to the impact of political decisions on those most vulnerable."

They reiterate their concern for the common good.

"Our conviction is that good governance can only ever be based on the confidence of the governed, and that includes minorities whose voice is not as loud as others."

In particular, they are concerned about hate crime, the language used to abuse and threaten MPs, the "ease with which lies can be told and misrepresentation encouraged", the levels of fear, uncertainty and marginalisation in society, the Irish border, sovereignty of Parliament, the Union and the meaning of Englishness.

The letter comes after the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby conditionally agreed to chair a Citizens Forum in Coventry to address issues around Brexit, in particular a no-deal Brexit.

Bishop of Leeds Nick Baines told The Tablet: "This open letter represents a common concern among bishops who take very different views about Brexit and how we should proceed from here. We have to be careful about making moves that we know will make the lives of some people signifcantly harder – people in business, in the arts, poor people and others. These have to be taken seriously."

Referring to the proposed extended prorogation of Parliament, Bishop Baines continued: "If Brexit is about taking back control and restoring Parliamentary sovereignty, then this is a very odd way of demonstrating it."


The full list of signatories

The Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds
The Rt Revd Donald Allister, Bishop of Peterborough
The Rt Revd Robert Atwell, Bishop of Exeter
The Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool
The Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham
The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark
The Rt Revd Dr Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry
The Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford
The Rt Revd Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester
The Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, Bishop of Bristol
The Rt Revd Christopher Foster, Bishop of Portsmouth
The Rt Revd Richard Frith, Bishop of Hereford
The Rt Revd Christine Hardman, Bishop of Newcastle
The Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury
The Rt Revd Dr John Inge, Bishop of Worcester
The Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Lichfield
The Rt Revd James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester
The Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, Bishop of Truro
The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally DBE, Bishop of London
The Rt Revd Dr Alan Gregory Clayton Smith, Bishop of St Albans
The Rt Revd Martyn Snow, Bishop of Leicester
The Rt Revd Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich
The Rt Revd Dr David Walker, Bishop Of Manchester
The Rt Revd Andrew Watson, Bishop of Guildford
The Rt Revd Dr Pete Wilcox, Bishop of Sheffield

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