14 September 2020, The Tablet

Prime minister's 'freedom of religion' envoy resigns

Prime minister's 'freedom of religion' envoy resigns

Rehman Chishti, second left, pictured here in 2018 with Marcus Jones, Brandon Lewis, Theresa May and James Cleverly.
Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive/PA Images

Rehman Chishti, the prime minister's special envoy on freedom of religion and belief, has resigned in protest at the Internal Market Bill and its implications for the backstop.

Chishti, MP for Gillingham and Rainham since 2010, said on Twitter: “I've written to the PM resigning as PM's special envoy on FoRB. I can’t support Internal Market Bill in its current form, which unilaterally breaks UK's legal commitments. As an MP for 10yrs and former barrister, values of respecting rule of law and honouring one's word are dear to me.”

His strongly-worded letter indicates the seriousness with which senior politicians are taking the betrayal of the UK's legal commitments. 

Former prime ministers Tony Blair and Sir John Major are among those who have urged MPs to vote against the Bill when it is voted on tonight. Former attorney general Geoffrey Cox has accused Johnson of doing “unconscionable damage” to Britain's international reputation. David Cameron has this morning also expressed “grave misgivings” about the Bill. Ed Miliband has said that opposition to the Bill is not about remain or leave and is not party political, but is a matter of upholding international law. 

In his resignation letter, Chishti says he has been committed to delivering Brexit. In November 2018, he resigned from all party and government positions over the draft Withdrawal Bill and concerns about the backstop.

He campaigned for Johnson in the leadership contest, worked with him on community engagement and religious freedom and led the cross-party campaign for the government to use the terminology “Daesh”.

He writes: “While you have my support as the leader of the Conservative Party, I cannot support the Internal Market Bill in its current form.”

He says this is a matter of principle, over concerns that the UK is unilaterally breaking its legal commitments.

“During my ten years in Parliament and before that as a barrister, I have always acted in a manner which 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 the Bill would be contrary to the values he holds dearest, he continues. 

Neville Kyrke-Smith, national director of Aid to the Church in Need (UK), said: “We really appreciate what Rehman has done to push FoRB, making it a higher priority and developing it as a vital issue within Government. We have held important meetings with Rehman, he has given addresses for ACN on #RedWednesday and, in particular, he provided significant help over the Asia Bibi case. We wish him well and are sure that his commitment will continue; we now need his role to be taken up by another powerful advocate for religious freedom and tolerance.”  



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