Bishop of Coventry says we need to repair damage to relationships with Europe, and leave as friends

Coventry171123On 15th October 2019 the House of Lords continued their discussion of the Queen’s Speech. The Bishop of Coventry, Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, contributed to the debate on the issue of the EU:

The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, the Queen’s Speech made clear the Government’s intention,

“to work towards a new partnership with the European Union based on free trade and friendly co-operation”.

As we have heard, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House spoke yesterday of the Government forging,

“a new relationship with our partners in the EU that will cement our reputation as a strong and reliable neighbour”.—[Official Report, 14/10/19; col. 19.]

I declare a very personal interest in such friendly co-operation: a hope that we may indeed be a strong and reliable—good—neighbour with the sort of obligations and responsibilities noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter.

Last Tuesday morning, my German daughter-in-law gave birth to her first child in Cologne. I have spoken in your Lordships’ House before about her wedding to our son in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral: a place once desecrated by hatred and violence, sanctified by their vows of love, and witnessed—most movingly, I found—by their grandmothers, whose fathers and husbands had fought to kill each other in the First and Second World Wars. It was the fulfilment in two families of a 1940 Christmas Day commitment, broadcast by the BBC from the ruins of the bombed cathedral, to find a way to reach out to enemies and turn them into friends.

There is no doubt that friendship between the UK and other countries of the EU has been under much strain since the referendum, especially in recent weeks. On Sunday night, I spoke with the chairman of the German board of the Community of the Cross of Nails, which emanates from Coventry and works for reconciliation in places of conflict in every land. He told me how he could not help feeling personally rejected by the UK and how troubled he was by the violence being done to language, with truth, he said, being bent for domestic political ends, releasing anti-German sentiment in popular discourse. We agreed that the work on European reconciliation, which we had thought was largely done, has become an urgent priority again.

I ask the Minister: what is the strategy for repairing the damage done to our relationships with European partners, not only in government but at every other level of society? How are the Government encouraging civil society to get ready for Brexit by shoring up relationships and friendships between cities, organisations and schools, just as we are in the churches? Will the Government commit to making every effort to ease the flow of interaction in the future between people, not only for the exchange of goods and services but for human exchanges of every sort including, critically, those between young people and schools? Will they give detailed attention to that in future legislation? Moreover, although there has been some toning down of the military language avowed even by the Prime Minister himself, are the Government determined to ensure that the language and methods of the final stages of negotiation of a deal will allow what John Henry Newman, canonised in Rome on Sunday, described as the “parting of friends” when he moved on from the Church of England?

When the result of the referendum was heard in Dresden, the main act of a large festival was interrupted by a spontaneous outburst from the crowd singing, “You say goodbye, we say hello”. For the sake of my granddaughter, alive today because of the friendships built between our nations after the enmity of the past, I pray that the future between her two countries will begin with a new hello, perhaps marked by some form of powerful national symbolic gesture, and that it will be sustained by the virtues of friendship and good neighbourliness: reliability, mutual concern, commitment to each other’s interests, loyalty, truth, kindness, crossing to the side of the road where there is need, binding up wounds and the like.

A new partnership,

“based on free trade and friendly co-operation”,

will, as we have heard, raise questions about the relationship between competition and co-operation. How do we safeguard our commitment to friendship from erosion by our quest for economic advantage? It is a particular form of challenge for our foreign policy that will loom large right across our international trade negotiations post Brexit. Will we be as resolute as the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, was in a previous debate on this subject—I know this is also very much the Minister’s intention—in ensuring that the values, including those on human rights of every sort which underlie our nation, will be carried into the negotiating room and not left at the door?

If Brexit has taught us one thing, it must be that the money god is an unreliable master. The EU has shown that it has higher ideals than money and it has remained impressively faithful to them. People who want to leave the EU have shown that they care about more than money and are prepared to bear economic cost for the gain of other prizes. Perhaps that sets a vision for our nation’s place in the world: to be a champion of goods and values, principles and purposes, that have a higher price than gold; to provide financial, legal and commercial services and manufacturing products of the highest income-generating capacity, but in a way that serves the common good of humanity by being a good neighbour and a reliable friend.

In conclusion, does the Minister agree that the way to fulfil the noble aspiration to be a moral lantern in the world is to be the sort of friend and neighbour who is truly concerned with not only our interests but the interests and the good of others, and that that is tested by our attitude to our nearest neighbours?

Lord Alderdice (LD): [extract] …In the Prayers at the start of the day, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry laid out from the scriptures how those who behave with integrity and virtue will be blessed. Yes, at times that has been the case. However, I think that the words of the psalmist in Psalm 37, verse 35, are more appropriate:

“I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree”.

It looks as though wickedness, arrogance and abuse are getting further than virtue at the moment. …

Baroness Northover (LD): [extract] …The battle raging over our membership of the EU is about so much more than our economic strength or global influence. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry movingly recounted the story of his own family. His son married his German wife amid the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, with grandmothers there whose fathers had fought each other in the Second World War. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, made very clear, the EU has been an outstanding project for peace. …

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): [extract] …I want to pick up a couple of points, especially the point made yesterday by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry in his excellent contribution and the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, in her contribution today. This is not simply about relationships with countries and Governments; it is very much about relationships with peoples. That is how we will be successful in our future relationships with many countries. Unfortunately, I recently had to spend a couple of weeks in hospital. Three of the nurses who treated me in the special care unit were from European countries. While we might give them guarantees, all three said that they felt rejected by this country. We must address that issue. I would also note that my husband is Spanish and that, for the first time in 22 years in this country, after the referendum he faced racist abuse while working in a shop: “Go back home”, he was told. I hope that the Minister will address the contribution made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry. Whatever happens in terms of Brexit or remain, we have to focus on building trust with the people of Europe. It is vital that we do so. …

The Minister of State, Department for Exiting the EU, Lord Callanan (Con): [extract] …I agree that, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry reminded us, it is important that throughout this process we must work constructively together and seek to nurture our relationships, both in Europe and further afield. …


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