Bishop of Chester asks Government not to lose sight of cultural and scientific links to Europe in Brexit negiotations

14.03 Bishop of ChesterOn the 1st December 2016 Lord Liddle held a debate on ‘the best options for the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union following the referendum vote to leave’. The Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Peter Forster, spoke about the foundations of the idea of ‘Europe’ not just as an economic construct but as a civilisation. 


The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, the Motion before us is not limited to economic issues, although the debate so far has understandably concentrated on them. I would like to take a slightly broader look at our future relationship with the EU. Of course, the social and economic issues associated with the four freedoms will inevitably take centre stage over the next few years, and it will be an anxious time for many. I hope it will also be a time of opportunity for at least some, perhaps many; we will see. The as-ever excellent Library Note for this debate usefully sets out the options as they might be understood on the economic front. Inasmuch as I have any confidence as to what will emerge after the present cat-and-mouse phase unfolds, I suspect it will be nearer to the Singapore, Turkey or Canada end of the spectrum, as opposed to what is hoped for—perfectly properly and rightly—by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. We do not know; I claim no divine insight into this. But amid the uncertain labyrinth of discussions and negotiations that will have to take place, I hope that our sights can be raised above the purely economic horizon.

The original concept of “Europe” was never primarily economic or, for that matter, geographical. Geographically, there is not really a continent of Europe; it is simply a peninsula at one end of the great Asian landmass. We speak of Europe because a great civilisation developed there, shaped by Christianity and other forces ancient and modern—a civilisation that gave birth to modern science, in any serious sense of that word. While the original founders of the EU in the immediate post-war years had a certain economic view, they were also concerned to lay down foundations to avoid future conflict and were influenced by Catholic social teaching at the time. More recently, a more secular spirit has been to the fore that has left Europe rather ill equipped to deal with the new religious presence in its midst, and the growing presence of Islam in particular.

My plea is simply that, alongside the inevitable concentration on what promises to be a difficult economic negotiation and transition, we should especially promote the continuation and deepening of the educational, artistic, scientific and—yes—religious ties that over the decades and centuries have made European civilisation what it is today. Whatever we mean by “soft Brexit”, that would precisely promote a soft Brexit beyond the mere economic understanding of the term. The riches of our cultural destiny will continue to be European, whatever our precise future economic relationship with the EU proves to be.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, has today given the House the opportunity to set out its advice on a wide range of issues which should be addressed not only during the negotiations to leave the EU but also beyond them. I very much value the way in which he phrased his Motion for that purpose…..

….Much has been said about the negotiations. Clearly, a balance needs to be struck. We want to be as open and transparent as we can with Parliament, to bring parliamentarians with us as we build a national consensus around our negotiating position. The Government want to achieve the best outcome for the British people. As some noble Lords have recognised, to achieve the best outcome in any negotiation it is wise not to reveal your hand too soon—but that has to be balanced with not doing it too late. I do appreciate noble Lords’ views. Noble Lords will be aware that we have committed that Parliament will have access to at least as much information as Members of the European Parliament during the process, and that we are considering the mechanisms for transmitting that in such a way as to ensure that there can indeed be timely debate and scrutiny on the negotiations, while ensuring that complete confidentiality can be maintained. Where we can offer clarity, we certainly will……

(Via Parliament.UK)

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