Archbishop of Canterbury: Brexit divisions “shaking this country apart”

On 25th September 2019 the Minister of State in the Department for Exiting the European Union, Lord Callanan, repeated a Government statement on ‘Brexit Readiness and Operation Yellowhammer’. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, spoke in response:

The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, this debate —for want of a better word—demonstrates, I am sure the noble Lord would agree, the total division across Parliament. It is only a shadow of the immense divisions across the country, which the bishops find at every level, as they are immersed in every local community. The divisions are shaking this country apart. They are shaking us apart in all our great institutions, whether it is Parliament or the courts, which are portrayed as having launched a coup d’état—a slightly unlikely idea—and it is causing serious damage to our economy. We are hearing in our debates the incapacity of Parliament not only to make a decision but to find any way through the deadlock. The divisions are so deep that we cannot expect, I fear, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, suggested, that cross-party work could bring a decision on what we do, but can we not at least ask the Government to look for alternative means of setting a path to making a decision?

At the moment, all we hear regarding a decision is that one side says it is definitely this and the other side says that. I am used to this in an organisation that is split at every level; I am well aware of division, so I am speaking from deep familiarity. The way forward must be, as we have done on numerous occasions, to work out how to get to a decision, because the present means of handling it through Parliament is not working. We need to draw on wider experience, on mediation and other forms, so that Operation Yellowhammer and the Statement that we have heard at least form part of a clear plan to arrive at a firm decision. Does the Minister agree?

Lord Callanan (Con): I do in fact agree with a large part of the most reverend Primate’s remarks. I was not going to say it, but compromise is of course required. I remind the most reverend Primate that we attempted cross-party talks under the previous Administration, but they were not successful. I personally believe that the withdrawal agreement that we negotiated was a compromise. Those who would have preferred a so-called “clean-break” Brexit did not get everything they wanted. There were some aspects of the withdrawal agreement that I was not completely happy with, but I thought it was a good compromise with the EU. It was hard fought and hard negotiated but the fact is that it was rejected three times in Parliament.

It remains the Government’s objective to get a deal but, given the attitude of some of the opposition parties, I am not confident that, even if we did get a deal, they would be prepared to facilitate its passage through Parliament. We are between a rock and a hard place. I firmly believe that the strength of our democracy and political system depends on satisfying the wishes of the 17.4 million people who voted in the referendum that we should leave the European Union. We attempted to do it with a deal, but that did not prove successful: Parliament did not vote for that.​In my view, Parliament is not complying with the wishes of the referendum Act that it passed and authorised. We asked people for their opinion in the referendum. We sent however many million leaflets to every house in the country saying, “We will abide by your decision”, but we are not abiding by that decision and that is the problem. I would welcome the good offices of the most reverend Primate for some mediated way forward. I would be happy to engage with that, but I firmly believe that, for the strength of our democracy in this country, it is essential that we deliver on that referendum result.

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab): The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, seems to give the impression that the referendum result was unambiguous—we all know that we are in this difficulty because it was not. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said, there are many different sorts of compromise….


%d bloggers like this: