Thinking Anglicans

Brexit: CofE Bishops issue letter

Updated

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, notwithstanding the potential prorogation of Parliament.The full text and list of signatories can be found here: Bishops issue open letter on Brexit.

This follows after the announcement yesterday that the Archbishop of Canterbury has been asked to chair a proposed “Citizens’ Forum” on Brexit. His public response to this is online: Archbishop Justin Welby’s response to invitation to chair Citizens’ Forum on Brexit.

“It is an unexpected privilege to be asked to chair this proposed Citizens’ Forum on Brexit. In the past this kind of gathering has, in many places and in difficult situations, opened the way for careful deliberation if at the right time and genuinely representative.

“I am honoured to be approached and would be willing to accept in principle, subject to some conditions which have not yet been met. The main three are first, and indispensably, that the forum should not be a Trojan horse intended to delay or prevent Brexit in any particular form. That power can only be exercised by the government and MPs in parliament. A forum must be open to all possibilities. Second, that it has cross party support (although its members will not be politicians). Third, the process must have time to be properly organised.

“Jesus Christ is the source of reconciliation and healing for individuals and society. It is obviously right that among many others the churches should contribute to the emergence of a dynamic and united country post-Brexit, however it may be achieved. Every one of us must play the part they can in this task.

“The need for national healing and eventually for a move towards reconciliation is essential, and will take much time, a deep commitment to the common good, and contributions from every source. This Forum is only one of many different efforts being made inside the political world and across the country before and after Brexit. Every effort counts.

“Let us pray for all those in government, parliament and political leadership. Let us pray for the people of this country whose lives will be affected in many ways by the momentous decisions that are made.”

The Church Times has reported on this invitation: Welby approached to chair a citizens’ forum on Brexit.

Initial reports appeared in The Times, (£) here and here and here.

BBC Brexit: Archbishop of Canterbury asked to chair forum

Guardian Archbishop of Canterbury says he may chair Brexit citizens’ forum

Update The Church Times has now reported on the bishops’ letter: Twenty-five bishops warn Government not to show ‘cavalier disregard’ for Parliament

Update 2 The Most Rev Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church has also issued a statement on the prorogation of Parliament.

Update 3 The full text of the invitation to the archbishop is available at Archbishop Cranmer, here.

The full text of the letter from the bishops, and their names, follows below the fold.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has conditionally agreed to chair a Citizens Forum in Coventry and, without prejudice for any particular outcome, we support this move to have all voices in the current Brexit debate heard.

However, we also 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. 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. The Government believes that leaving the EU on 31 October is essential to restoring trust and confidence. It is unlikely, however, that leaving without an agreement, regardless of consequences, will lead to reconciliation or peace in a fractured country. “Getting Brexit done” will not happen on exit day, and we have to be transparent about the years of work ahead of us in bringing the country together for a better future. We also need to be frank about the potential costs.

Our main social and political priority must be to leave well, paying particular attention to the impact of political decisions on those most vulnerable.

We hold different views about Brexit and how our country should proceed from here. However, although we agree that respecting a public vote is essential, democracy and committed debate do not end after the counting of votes. Our concern for the common good leads us to express concern about a number of matters. 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.

Seeing the evidence of division in every part of England, we are deeply concerned about:

  • Political polarisation and language that appears to sanction hate crime: the reframing of the language of political discourse is urgent, especially given the abuse and threats levelled at MPs doing their job.
  • The ease with which lies can be told and misrepresentation encouraged: leaders must be honest about the costs of political choices, especially for those most vulnerable.
  • The levels of fear, uncertainty and marginalisation in society, much of which lies behind the vote for Brexit, but will not be addressed by Brexit: poor people, EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in Europe must be listened to and respected.
  • The Irish border is not a mere political totem and peace in Ireland is not a ball to be kicked by the English: respect for the concerns on both sides of the border is essential.
  • The sovereignty of Parliament is not just an empty term, it is based on institutions to be honoured and respected: our democracy is endangered by cavalier disregard for these.
  • Attention must be paid not only to the Union, but also to the meaning of Englishness.

Churches serve communities of every shape, size and complexion. We continue to serve, regardless of political persuasion. We invite politicians to pay attention with us to the concerns we register above and encourage a recovery of civil debate and reconciliation.

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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Bill Broadhead
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Bill Broadhead

What a pity they didn’t join thousands of other church leaders, and add their support to a united Ecumenical voice when they had an opportunity to sign the open letter that was sent to the Prime Minister several weeks ago. What has happened in the meantime? Has someone in William Nye’s office done a quick tot-up on the back of a fag packet, reassured them that the likely drop in takings in the average Sunday collection won’t be as bad as they feared, and reluctantly given the green light? Sorry if this sounds like a back-handed ‘too little too late’… Read more »

Anne Lee
Guest
Anne Lee

Bill, can you tell us more about this ecumenical initiative? I had not heard of it before. But from what you say, I agree that we should have joined with other Christians in the UK. Too often the C of E goes it alone when working collaboratively would be more productive.

Marise Hargreaves
Guest
Marise Hargreaves

This is a little out of date now – parliament is about to be prorogued unless firm action is taken. The Queen, head of the CofE, has agreed for it to go ahead – what a surprise – not. Good to see the wealthy elite standing together while the country goes to hell in a handbag. Can we expect a more robust response to the attack on parliament and the threat to flood the unelected Lords with brexit lackeys? Time will tell. I agree it is interesting who has not signed.

Richard W. Symonds
Guest
Richard W. Symonds

Let history speak and warn…

Much the same thing happened in 1933 Germany.

David Exham
Guest
David Exham

The Queen has not “agreed for it to go ahead”; she has done what she is constitutionally obliged to do. She is “Supreme Governor” of the C of E, not ‘head’ which remains Jesus Christ, though what this has to do with the prorogation of parliament entirely escapes me

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

The Queen’s rapid capitulation mirrors the CoE leadership’s passivity throughout the hard right attack that’s now errupted to the surface of British politics, and will have lasting constitutional implications. As shown by Edward VII demanding an election before he agreed to strip the Lords of their powers, and George V taking legal advice on vetoing Irish home rule, it isn’t required that a constitutional monarch simply do what they’re told. If the monarchy so lacks legitimacy that it can’t umpire politics, the powers need to be moved elsewhere (as Sweden did while keeping her king). Likewise, if the CoE is… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
Guest
Richard W. Symonds

“If the Church does not fulfil its function now, how will it ever persuade mankind that it has a function? “This matter of functions is vital. The State has a function, and the Church has a function. They are distinct. The State is the guarantor of order, justice, and civil liberty. It acts by the power of restraint, legal and physical. The Church, on the other hand, is charged with a gospel of God’s redeeming love. It witnesses to a Revelation in history. It speaks of the realities which outlast change. It aims at creating a community founded on love.… Read more »

John
Guest
John

“The Queen’s rapid capitulation…” If the Queen had refused her PM’s advice, she would have been dismissing him. Simple. That’s the way your constitution works. The last monarch who tried that was, I think, William IV, and that didn’t work out well for him.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Well he doesn’t look too keen on resigning!

Since the stated reason for prorogation was a new session of Parliament, given the ticking Brexit clock, a functioning constitutional monarch would’ve insisted on a suspension as short as was necessary for that purpose.

Seeing as the Queen evidently doesn’t feel able to discharge those duties, they should be placed elsewhere. Lacking democratic legitimacy as she does, I can see her POV. That’s why royal authority’s such a bad idea. A lesson that the Mother Country may at last be learning centuries after her estranged daughters. Better late than never, I suppose!

peterpi - Peter Gross
Guest
peterpi - Peter Gross

I an an outsider to the British constitutional monarchy system, but from the reading I’ve done about British history in the last few centuries, while the British monarchs have a great deal of theoretical power, the moment they try to use it, Parliament strips more power from them. And Queen Elizabeth II is well aware of that. King Charles I lost his head over being too insistent on royal prerogatives. I’m simplifying, but I think Parliament asked William and Mary to become king and queen in the late 1680s because Parliament didn’t like how the current occupant was running things.… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

De facto, it appears that he has, since Queen Elizabeth handed it to him without question, despite the fact that he acted with the express intent of thwarting the Westminster parliament (and over the express objections of the Leader of her Loyal Opposition). If the royal prerogative is now an executive plaything, how long before the British government uses it to veto bills it doesn’t like, or to pack the House of Lords with hundreds of Bannonist peers? In allowing the executive to use royal power against Parliament, the Crown has, in effect, torn up the 1688 settlement and set… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

There has been a running tension and conflict over many decades between executive power of a government, and the collective power and authority of Parliament to democratically veto or curb executive power. In this case, I do not think it would have been a breach of the constitution, but a defence of constitutional Parliamentary government, if the Queen – advised that the executive might not have Parliamentary support for this prorogation – had stalled the process, and made her consent conditional on a clarifying vote being held in Parliament. As James Byron points out, there are serious dangers of precedence… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
Guest
Richard W. Symonds

Royal Prerogatives have their place:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_prerogative_in_the_United_Kingdom

But these instruments in the exercise of power are being dangerously used, abused and misused eg Blair regarding Iraq and Johnson regarding Brexit.

And now the Church of England.

Simon Kershaw
Admin

The threat of creating a large number of peers has been used several times. It was used for example to ensure the passing of the 1911 Parliament Act which first set a statutory limit on the veto pwers of the House of Lords. So that precedent has long been set, and is part of the executive’s weaponry against a recalcitrant legislature. So also is the threat of Dissolution, though that one was weakened by the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

With no disrespect to many other admirable signatories on the list, a letter signed by Stephen Cottrell and Michael Ipgrave – two men for whom I have the highest respect – has my immediate attention. From the Scottish point of view, I’m naturally interested in “Attention must be paid not only to the Union, but also to the meaning of Englishness.” Not least, what even IS ‘the meaning of Englishness’? I regard Brexit as a primarily English problem, visited on the rest of us. To be clear, a no-deal Brexit may be worth 5 or 10% more to the ‘Yes’… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

I took “Englishness” to be a reference to standards which were considered the norm – honesty, fairness, decency and upholding justice – and nothing nationalistic. The statement of the SEC Primus has now also been published above. Both this and the bishops’ letter make salutary reading.

It’s a matter of regret that two other signatures are lacking: the Bishops of Chester and Lincoln, but not, I’m sure, for any reasons of dissent on their part.

T Pott
Guest
T Pott

Honesty, fairness, decency etc are not entirely unheard of in parts of Wales. They are not, I suggest, peculiarly, or even particularly, English qualities.

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

How sad that you felt able to make this comment. We were specifically discussing “Englishness” as raised in the bishops’ letter – not “Welshness” and not, by implication suggesting any superiority of Englishness. Also, if you had read more carefully, you would have seen that I used the past tense. I live in hope for the return of those values which have been so eroded in my lifetime. I don’t normally criticise others people’s comments, but I feel yours was unnecessary and unworthy. In fact, why did you feel a need to say it at all? Yet again as happens… Read more »

T Pott
Guest
T Pott

I am sorry to have offended you, and hope it will not discourage you. What the bishops’ said was “Attention must be paid not only to the Union, but also to the meaning of Englishness.” In this context it seems very clear that the bishops are contrasting England with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. So the “but” does imply Welshness is different. They could have said “British values” or the common standards of mankind. Whatever the bishops meant by Englishness the context shows they mean something peculiarly and particularly English, and not Scottish, Welsh or Irish. This leads me to… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

Thank you for that gracious response. I will also admit to being puzzled by the bishops’ introducing “Englishness”, and at first thought it must be related to the fact that this was a ‘C of E’ open letter.

Interestingly, the Scots have taken the initiative with a legal challenge to prorogation of Parliament. What strange times we are living through.

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

This does, indeed, seem somewhat last-minute in what some of us feel is a desperate situation. The bishops haven’t minced words. The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church has also made a statement today with a warning referring to the possible dissolution of the Union of Scotland and England – something which I had not expected to see from that source. Perhaps his statement could be added here. Meanwhile, it can be read on the ‘Law and Religion UK’ website.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Overtaken by events, much?

Welby appears to be treating Brexit as a done-deal, a position that’s not only heavily partisan, but one that surrenders to the frothing xenophobia and nativism that’ve hijacked the honorable cause of E.U. secession. So many people still fail to see that Brexit is being used as a proxy for a wider culture war, a fight from which the abstract merits of secession can’t be separated. You can agree with secession in theory while opposing this particular attempt. If it succeeds, there can be no reconciliation.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

A clear case of presidential imperialism! Did Donald Trump advise him on this scurrllously undemocratic process, one wonders?

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

Why do I think that nothing we say or do will make any difference? I think it was Matthew Parris in The Spectator (there’s always a good few belly laughs in there) who predicted that bxxxxt wouldn’t happen, and that Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was the only politician who would have the cojones to return from Brussels and declare to hoi polloi that he’d done his best but it was impossible. Or maybe they could organise some poor sap from a despised minority (such as the C of E) to start a fire in the Reichstag and await the… Read more »

Janet Fife
Guest
Janet Fife

Matthew Parris said something similar in the Times. He also said Johnson was the only politician who could get away with cancelling Brexit.

peterpi - Peter Gross
Guest
peterpi - Peter Gross

Any possibility the Sun will go nova first?
From what I’ve seen and read, Brexit is Johnson’s baby, his raison d’etre. It would take tremendous internal fortitude to tell his followers that Brexit is not in the UK’s interests at this time.

Tim
Guest
Tim

Such a disappointment that so much of the discussion here defaults into introspective side-swipes at bishops and who has signed what. It is good that ++Justin has been asked to chair a forum and that he is seen to have some credibility to be able to bring sides together. Maybe his passion for reconciliation will now bear some fruit nationally. Who cares who is missing from a letter? Actually we need more of this robust engagement with a society and a politics which is crumbling around us. As we wake up from the August slumbers – the established church needs… Read more »

Bill Broadhead
Guest
Bill Broadhead

Tim, I think it is because it has taken until now for us to hear a peep from any Bishop (with the notable exception of +Nick of Leeds) that undemocratic forces have been emboldened to do what has been done. By assuming that no-one with any moral authority will stand up to him, all aided and abetted by an official opposition that is led by a stubborn and pedantic ideologue, this unelected Prime Minister has been given free rein. As someone said in a letter in the Church Times a couple of weeks ago (quoting Elie Wiesel), “We must take… Read more »

Stephen A Warden
Guest
Stephen A Warden

..and a voice from the other side. I feel betrayed by the Archbishops decision to move the church from the safe ground of political neutrality to that of a clear political view. I am a Christian of 68 years and in my time have served my countries citizens in her majesty’s forces where, in common with so many other squaddies, put ourselves in harms way to separate the warring sects of that Ulster society, unsuccessfully. I spent a further 25 years in the emergency services where again, I put myself in harms way to assist those who were vulnerable and/or… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

It is moving and refreshing to hear views based on personal experience rather than on armchair philosophy. Thank you Mr Warden – I wish there were more like you. Rather than being a second class citizen, you are in truth unusually courageous. Brexit might be good for us – in the long run. The demise of the Brussels/Strasbourg empire might be good – in the long run. The breakup of the Union and the emergence of a united Ireland might be good – in the long run. A Moscow-London alliance (I know, stretching it a bit) might be good –… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Any sensible person fears unnecessary and destructive change, Stanley, certainly the kind that could see a resumption of the Troubles, bankrupt thousands of businesses, and deny people essential medicines. That’s why the 1975 No campaign advocated rejoining EFTA. They were responsible patriots who happened to disagree on the E.E.C. The current Leave movement betrays their memory. If Britain wants to leave a supranational institution to recover her sovereignty, fine. But no responsible government would, for a second, countenance shredding her economy overnight, and no Christian church can defend a policy that’d do so much needless harm to the innocent. Secession… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

I wish people would read what I write.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

I always aim to read people’s contributions generously and with care, but the occasional misunderstanding’s unavoidable. If I’ve misrepresented anything, it was inadvertent, and I’ll happily correct any mistakes that’re highlighted.

Fred
Guest
Fred

The letter makes clear that the bishops expect the country to leave the EU, and probably on 31 October. They say the expressed will of the people must be respected. Which bit of that are you struggling with?

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

The 2016 Brexit campaign isn’t about the merits of E.U. secession, and never was: that honorable position’s been Shanghaied by the Bannonist agenda that fuels Trump, Le Pen and Salvini. Leave was lead by amoral populists who’ve a various times been cheery Europhiles. They don’t care about Brexit, and will, if not stopped, destroy it forever. If cause of national independence doesn’t jump ship, it’ll drown.

Anon
Guest
Anon

I am not going to express any view on Brexit itself because my own views are irrelevant. But Mr Warden should be comforted by Linda Woodhead’s research that shows that, even correcting for factors like age, Anglicans are more likely to have voted leave than the rest of the population. As a priest I have been interested to hear good people in church telling me privately their views in both directions. This requires trust so I am writing this anonymously. Before contemplating making any public statement of an overtly political nature, perhaps bishops should seek out someone who they disagree… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

I also appreciate the post, but vigorously challenge the claim that the British people were deceived about the E.E.C.’s true nature, either upon accession, or during the first referendum. To quote Edward Heath, writing in 1972:- “The Community which we are joining is far more than a common market. It is a community in the true sense of that term. It is concerned not only with the establishment of free trade, economic and monetary union and other major economic issues — important though these are — but also, as the Paris Summit Meeting has demonstrated, with social issues which affect… Read more »

Leslie Buck
Guest
Leslie Buck

After the slaughter of the First World war and the carnage of the Second World War the French took the lead in reconciliation with Germany by forming the European Steel and Coal Community which led in due course to the European Union. For that I am grateful. As a ninety-year old with personal experience of the Second World War I delight in the opportunities the Union gives to young people throughout Europe to know, work and live with each other, to everyone’s gain, manifesting, what is, surely, a Christian virtue. It makes me (regretfully) angry that other old people like… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

I totally agree. In all seriousness, there is much to be said for not allowing people over a certain age to vote. 60 perhaps – though that may depend on pensionable age which looks set to rise to a ridiculous level. When someone reaches that age they have a chip implanted over the left eyebrow. Jonathan Swift, as so often the case, has much to teach us.

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

Presumably no one should stand for election who is 60 or over either?

Kate
Guest
Kate

The letter is a mixed bag of good points and disappointing omissions but it is good for the bishops to speak out like this – they should do it more often.