By Ann Marie Foley - 29 August, 2019
Bishops say that respecting a public vote is essential, but they cautioned that “democracy and committed debate do not end after the counting of votes.”
Leaving the European Union (EU) without an agreement is unlikely to lead to reconciliation or peace in a fractured country, a group of 25 Church of England bishops has stated in an open letter on the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
They also express concern that the Irish border is not “a mere political totem” and peace in Ireland is not “a ball to be kicked by the English” and caution that respect for the concerns on both sides of the border is essential.
“’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,” stated the bishops after the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, asked the Queen to suspend Parliament until mid October. The Queen agreed to do so.
The letter stated that the Archbishop of Canterbury has agreed to chair a Citizens Forum in Coventry to hear all voices in the current Brexit debate. However, the bishops have 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.”
They stated that exiting the EU without an agreement is likely to have a massive impact on all people and the government is rightly preparing for this outcome. However, they cautioned that the main social and political priority must be to leave while paying particular attention to the impact of political decisions on those most vulnerable.
The bishops acknowledged that there are different views about Brexit and how the country should proceed. Respecting a public vote is essential, but they cautioned that “democracy and committed debate do not end after the counting of votes.”
They said their drive for the common good leads them to highlight that there is division in every part of England. Their concerns include political polarisation and language that appears to sanction hate crime; the ease with which lies can be told and misrepresentation encouraged; and the levels of fear, uncertainty and marginalisation in society that will not be addressed by Brexit.
Finally they stated that 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”.
They concluded that churches serve communities of every shape, size and complexion and they continue to serve, regardless of political persuasion. They invited politicians to encourage a recovery of civil debate and reconciliation.