Queen’s Speech 2017: Brexit and foreign policy must be underpinned by shared values, says Archbishop

On 22nd June 2017 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Revd & Rt Hon Justin Welby, spoke during the first day’s debate on the Queen’s Speech. The Archbishop spoke of the need for the UK’s approach to foreign affairs and Brexit to be informed by values that in turn ” spring from values lived clearly and coherently at home”. The full text is below, with excerpts from the speeches of others in response.

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I welcome the outward-looking emphasis in the speeches made so far, especially in the Minister’s speech and in that of the noble Lord, Lord Collins. What makes this such an exceptional time is that for perhaps only the second or third time in a couple of centuries, we find ourselves needing, as we come to Brexit, to redefine our whole approach to foreign policy and our place in the world. It should be a principal place, not only defined primarily by GDP, although that is important, or by military adequacy, although that is essential, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, set out just now, but by respect internationally for our values, vision and determination and our capacity to deliver those things we promise.

Our aims, as set out by the noble Earl, may be clear, but it is not evident that the combination of vision, values, means and ends is adequately aligned to deliver them. The gracious Speech spoke of taking British values around the world. For that to happen, we need to know what we mean by British values, and they must be based on far more than self-protection in defence and self-interest in trade. They must spring from values lived clearly and coherently at home. Our approach to the international will be defined by the values that we practise within our borders. This is more than ever true in a post-imperial world of free flow of information. Security, trade, commerce and financial transactions are necessary components of a comprehensive approach to the wider world, but they are not sufficient.

In a powerful speech this week, referred to already by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, the Governor of the Bank of England said:

“A decade of radical financial reform was not an end in itself, but rather a means to serve households and businesses better. We must ensure that the real economy reaps its full benefits”.

But we must hold the same understanding as we approach Brexit: trade deals, customs unions, single markets, financial passports are all without use unless they are seen as a means to serve individuals, communities and our society. Society and economy are not coterminous, and the values that direct how we act domestically and that we seek to project internationally must recognise that.​

Over the past few weeks, it has felt as though we have been overwhelmed by a storm of events that have tested our deepest values with an almost unrelenting ferocity. We are being tested in how we handle not only security but also diversity, integration, social mobility and inequality. The aftermath of the horrific fire at the Grenfell Tower in Kensington has given us particular need to reflect on how we respond. There is no doubt that the response from the emergency services and civic society has been, and continues to be, remarkable. Communities have been revealed as effective. Many however, including the Prime Minister herself, have recognised that the support from the state has been inadequate in its response to those urgently and desperately in need. Such failure is ultimately a failure of values. The worshippers at the Finsbury Park mosque, which I visited the night before last, remind us that freedom to worship without fear is a value we cherish as a nation, which was won at great human cost over many years.

The values that we practise at home reflect our history—good and bad—and are the foundation for the values we take to the world. In numerous ways, we are already of course doing this. I was recently on long visits in the Middle East and Africa, where I saw many examples of the remarkable work being done by the UK Government—by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, DfID and the armed services in particular—in South Sudan and other places. UK forces are protecting deeply fragile communities on behalf of the United Nations. DfID staff tend often to live hard and work hard and effectively. The FCO does remarkable work, but the noble Earl must recognise that it does it on a shoestring.

The responses we make come from our recognition of our history, and our commitment to being that outward-facing country that we must be and our confidence that what we have to offer the world is transformative. But values must be applied and practised consistently, and with an understanding that in all that we do, we recognise the dignity of every human being, regardless of wealth, status or influence. In that context, I refer especially to the poorest and most marginalised, and welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, on the LGBTQ communities. With equality, confidence and justice at home comes the ability to contribute effectively around the world. Without them we will fail.

To apply our values to Brexit, as the process of negotiations begins and develops over the next two years, like many others, I want to argue that we need a structurally based approach in our politics to arrive at cross-party positions that unify us in front of the European Union and have the long-term flourishing of this country at their heart, as well as the urgent need for a process of internal reconciliation between social groups, faiths, generations and regions. The future of this country is not a zero-sum, winner-take-all calculation, but must rest on the reconciled common good arrived at through all our normal debates and diversity. A good Brexit will fulfil the aspiration of a partnership with Europe—spoken of in the gracious Speech. British values and European values are rooted in the same soil, and the great tests of 65 million refugees and the vast effects of climate change will ​require European partnership if those values are to be effective for the poorest of the earth and for our own futures. Partnership requires first that our parting is carried out well.

Above all, in our domestic and external polices we need vision if we are to reimagine the future of this country. To quote the Old Testament, Proverbs says:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish”.

I hope your Lordships would expect one quote from the Bible.

I look forward to the opportunities ahead of us in the coming two years when we in this place can hold the Government and each other to the commitments made in the gracious Speech so that all, whether in this generation or generations to come, especially the weak, poor and powerless, might benefit from the decisions made at this time.


Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): My Lords, it is always an honour to speak after the most reverend Primate, whom we have really come to regard as almost invariably speaking silver-pure common sense. He has given us some vision in what are undoubtedly sombre times, and perhaps we could do with a few more quotes from the Bible to guide us through the difficulties we face.


Lord Judd (Lab): The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury was absolutely right today in saying that it is the values within the systems that ensure that we have a society worth living in.


Lord Alli (Lab): …I am sorry that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury is not in his place because I agreed with so much of what he said. I would say to him that religion also has its role to play in defining a new modern morality. There are some simple things that the most reverend Primate could do. A liturgy for civil partnership would be a small step, and the acceptance of gay marriage—maybe a step too far—would give some hope. Morality can stem from love too.


Lord Crisp (CB): …I will attempt to deal with only a small part of this vast canvas: the bit concerning the development agenda. In doing so, however, I note a profound point made by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. Like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I noted the Archbishop’s warning about the fact that our external presence and actions need to be built on values that are lived out in what happens within our own country and society. This is not the time to discuss the injustices, inequalities and fractures in our own society that have been so tragically illustrated by recent events. However, the point is well made that our domestic and foreign agendas and actions should coincide and that they can and should influence each other.


Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke (Lab):..I was delighted to hear the most reverend Primate refer to values—as indeed did my noble friend Lord Alli and the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, who are not in their places at the moment. In essence, when we look at our foreign responsibilities, and at the leadership we have shown in the world in the past, we must remind ourselves that we set examples that have been to the good. Now we seem to be setting examples that do not show Britain in the best light.


Lord Luce (CB)…A theme has come through the debate today: deep concern about the condition of this nation and the fragility and the uncertainty in our country. I am very glad that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken about the need to review and think again about values in this nation. The gracious Speech referred to the need to build a more united nation and to the need to ensure that the United Kingdom plays a leading role on the world stage. But, of course, to have influence abroad we have to be strong and united at home.


Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)...I am glad to say, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said, that DfID staff work hard and with huge dedication around the world. They are indeed recognised as having done so, in very difficult and anti-social circumstances and conditions.


The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)…It also gives me great pleasure to close this debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech. As we heard from noble Lords, this is a time of sombre reflection for our nation. I look towards the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is an inspiration to many of us, not just in the Chamber but across the country and to those of all faiths. I pay tribute to the personal example he has set at a time when the country needs to be brought together. I am sure that sentiment is shared by the whole House. He most poignantly reminded us that following recent tragic events we look towards ourselves and, as we go out on to the international stage, the values that bind us together.

(via Parliament.uk)