Bishop of Leeds calls for end to binary leave/remain labels in Brexit debate and focus on values to shape shared future

On 5th September 2019 the House of Lords considered the European Union (Withdrawal) (Number 6) Bill at its Second Reading. It had been passed by the House of Commons the previous day despite Government opposition. Its effect would be to require the Prime Minister to request an extension of the Article 50 period beyond the current 31st October Brexit deadline, should the Prime Minister not have agreed a withdrawal deal or Parliament voted for no deal, by the 19th October. The Bishop of Leeds, Rt Revd Nick Baines, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, it is already evident in some of the terms of this conversation—of this debate—that we have to get away from this binary thinking about leave or remain. They were terms that pertained to the referendum in 2016 where the question was “what”. Where we have got stuck is on the question of “how”. You do not need a degree in logic or philosophy to recognise that they are different questions. The Members of the other place and of this House trying to take their obligations seriously under the constitution to serve the people of this country means that we have got to this sort of impasse. It is not because of negligence, or because of waging ongoing campaigns from three years ago. I deeply resent the constant insinuation that if you voted remain then you remain a remainer and anything you do has to be suspected as being a plot to ensure that we remain. Many people in this House who voted remain have gone on to say that the referendum result was to leave and we have to move on to the question of how to do that but with the responsibility to look to the interests of our country.

If, as the Prime Minister said fairly recently, we will easily cope with no deal, why not publish what the actual costs of no deal will be, as for example King’s College London, the UK and the EU project have done, and others are doing? Why not listen to those ​from Ireland and Northern Ireland, who look somewhat askance at some of the discussions going on here about them—rather than with them, if I can use that term? We are still wrestling with the question of “how”. In my own imagination, I have flirted with what the virtues of no deal would be. One of them would be that it would force us to behave like adults: you face reality, you count the cost and you suffer the consequences. If we are to cope easily and there are to be no terrible consequences, fair enough, but that is not what we are hearing from those doing the detailed work. I know we have to discount experts and intellectuals, but who else will do the work?

If we are to have an extension, there will be two factors at play. The first is that an extension is not a vacation; it is for work to go on and a deal to be sought. The Prime Minister assures us that negotiations are going on, but everything we hear from the EU is that they are not—who do we believe? The second factor is that the timetable—the programme—will be conditioned to some extent by factors that we have no control over, such as the EU budget programme and its timings for establishing its future without us. We cannot simply extend for ever, but what is the content of the conversation that will go on during any extension?

The last thing I want to say to shine some light into this debate is that, while we focus on Brexit and the costs and benefits of however we leave the EU, we will still need, when all that is done—that will be the beginning of the process, not the end, as this was supposed to be the easy bit—a vision for what Brexit is supposed to deliver for the people of our country. What are the big values? What is the big picture? What is the country that we want to live in? We are told that this is to be the greatest place on earth to live, but let us flesh that out. What will it look like? What will it look like for Britain to be “great”, rather than just have that as a title or a slogan? That is the imaginative work that we need to begin in this House, in the other place and in the discourse in the wider country. What sort of country do we want to be? What values will shape it? What price truth, reality and behaving like adults, where we face the cost and are willing to suffer or enjoy the consequences? That is the conversation we need to move on to and I fear that we will have to do so fairly soon.

via Parliament.uk


Lord Campbell of Pittenweem (LD)
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My Lords, I fear that I will disappoint the right reverend Prelate because I unashamedly believe that it is against the interests of the people of the UK that we should leave the EU. Throughout my political life, I have believed in two things: the union of the UK and the membership of the UK in the EU. In the next two or three years, I could see both struck down. I imagine that I will not be the only person in that position.


Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con) [extract]…However, as I have said on a number of occasions in this House, from my long experience in Brussels, we have to keep open the option of no deal; otherwise our negotiating position in the Brexit negotiations is undermined. Indeed, on the matter of no deal, I was glad to hear from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, who asked us to look critically at the actual impact of no deal. I took some comfort from the Statement earlier this week by my noble friend Lord Callanan, and I know that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is heading up no-deal contingency planning with enormous drive and professionalism…


Lord Mandelson (Lab) [extract]…In conclusion, the central point—and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds made it earlier—is that the referendum in 2016 was an in/out one. It was an in-principle referendum. It was not about the how and the terms on which we would leave the European Union. No hint of those terms was spelled out between a soft and a hard Brexit, and of course there was absolutely no indication of leaving without n deal at all…


Earl of Devon (CB) [extract]…As the right reverend Prelate said, the question now must not be whether we leave, but how we leave. I have a suggestion. While the Bill purports to take no deal off the table, perhaps in the spirit of new compromise we could equally consider taking remain off the table…


Lord Cashman (Non-Affiliated) [extract]…As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds said: what about division? By going for a no deal Brexit, what happens to the 16 million-plus, such as me, who with our values would feel completely disconnected from our country? Do we heal the division there? No— we reinforce it. Therefore, for no other reason than the ability to stand in the shoes of others—yes, including those who voted leave and who want a resolution—we have to work together…


Baroness Bull (Crossbench) [extract]…We have before us a Bill concerned with avoiding a no-deal Brexit and, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, who is not in his place, I have been taking note of a timely and helpful report from the academics at the UK in a Changing Europe research unit about the issues, ​implications and impacts of leaving the EU without a deal. At this point I declare my interest in King’s College London, as set out in the register…Whatever happens, we will eventually come through, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds suggested, but we cannot pretend that there will not be significant costs to no deal, socially, culturally, and economically. Research from the academic research unit I mentioned has found that trading with the EU on WTO terms would, after 10 years, reduce the UK’s per capita income by between 3.5% and 8.7%, and it is not the only credible source coming to a similar conclusion….


Lord Bilimoria (CB) [extract]…The right reverend Prelate mentioned “great” Britain, which has always been global Britain. Let us resolve this deadlock and continue to be the Great Britain that countries around the world have always respected…


Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) [extract]…then there are the questions suggested by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, my noble friend Lord Campbell, the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, and others. What sort of country do we want to live in? What sort of values do we think we are about? Do we think that we do not share European values, that we share more with the American right and that that is where we would like to be instead? We have also discussed the conventions of what we used to regard as our wonderful unwritten constitution…