Archbishop of York speaks about Russian invasion of Ukraine and urges prayer for peace

On 25th February 2022, the Archbishop of York made a speech in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, urging prayers for peace and swift action to support peacemaking:

The Lord Archbishop of York: My Lords, noble Lords may have seen that my most reverend friend the Archbishop of Canterbury and I have already spoken about the unprovoked attack on Ukraine as a great act of evil. This is indeed a dark hour for Europe. We have called on Anglican churches to make this coming Sunday a day of prayer for peace and on Tuesday encourage parishes to join the Anglican diocese in Europe in prayer at 6 pm, especially for those who minister and witness for peace in Ukraine itself, where we have chaplaincies and minister alongside other denominations and faith communities. We are all invited to join Pope Francis in making Ash Wednesday—next Wednesday—a day of fasting and prayer for peace.

Perhaps in the West we have taken peace for granted. The horrors being visited on Ukraine must be a wake-up call for us that peace is something you need to work at. What is happening in Ukraine is truly shocking but, sadly, it is not surprising. We have seen it coming. Ukraine now stands alone, unprotected by the treaties that protect us and allow us to believe that peace is a normal state of affairs—but it is not. Peace is a choice, a decision that we make each day about the way we live and about our responsibilities to and with our neighbour, be that in our family, in our community or between the nations of the world. We need the policies, the wisdom, the tenacity and the international resolve that will deliver it.

Previous generations knew this, because they had experienced the horrors of war that most of us have not. In the post-war period, we invested in international bodies and associations that would bind us to each other. For instance, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman said in 1950, when announcing a plan to pool coal and steel production, that its motivation was that “solidarity in production” would make

“war between France and Germany … not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.”

But Ukraine is not defended by NATO. What we have seen from Vladimir Putin in the last few days is a terrible, flagrant disregard of the Ukrainian people’s legitimate right to self-determination. As the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, put it, he has chosen war.

Right now, as well as generous humanitarian aid and support for refugees, about which I hope the Minister will say more when summing up, we need to know what is happening. We must use all our diplomatic muscle and energy, stringent economic sanctions and focused political will to force Russia to step back from this aggression, withdraw its troops and silence its guns—not least because effective sanctions will mean that many innocent Russians suffer as well. Our actions must be swift and cohesive if they are to be decisive.

Jesus urged His followers to be peacemakers, not simply peace lovers. This is an important distinction because it is a call to action, first in support of Ukraine and especially the many innocent children and families—potential refugees living with this conflict and its consequences—and of those who are bravely protesting on the streets of Russia. But lasting peace requires more. It requires a new commitment to international instruments of law and order, accountability and investment, so that we make peace—not just hope to keep it.

The suffering of Ukraine, the imperialist ambition of Russia and our own acceptance of that immoral flood of corrupt money that flows from Russia through London have to stop. As followers of Jesus, we are praying about this because, yes, we believe that God’s grace will have the final word—not the horrors of sin and not death—but also because that prayer will shape our will and our resolve. Therefore, the prayers of Christian people and all people of faith and good will are with our Government and all the leaders of the free world as we implore Russia to change course. We are also determined to play our part in the active pursuit of peace in our world today.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab): Sadly, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds wrote yesterday:

“Ukrainians are no strangers to conflict or sacrifice. This is a land which saw millions killed under the jackboot of a dictator who, to echo Putin’s line, had no greater obligation than to ‘defend the security interests of our own people’.”

That false pretext of Hitler was no more convincing than the pretexts of today’s Russian dictator. As the right reverend Prelate wrote:

“History never repeats itself, but echoes can be felt for generations.”

That explains some of the deep anguish now being felt in Ukraine. We remember Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, but also, as the noble Lord, Lord Sedwill, said, we remember what we thought was a game-changer on that other 9/11 in 1989, when the wall came down. We were clearly wrong.

An attack on one is an attack on us all—something wider than NATO, wider than any military or territorial approach—for this attack is on the precious, invaluable, democratic family, a family with a free press, free and fair elections, the rule of law and respect for sovereignty, agreed borders and self-determination.

I do not know the Ukrainian equivalent of “Ich bin ein Berliner”. But I know why we weep for Ukraine.

Lord Alderdice (LD): It is ironic and appropriate that our sitting today was opened by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry, whose diocese and city stand as a symbol and reminder of the horror and destruction of war, as well as of the better spirit that can help us through it. I fear that today we may be looking down a long, dark tunnel, not just for the people of Ukraine but for all of us in Europe and much more widely. In the few minutes at my disposal, I will not focus so much on the immediate moves that have been and need to be made, but on the deeper and wider consequences and perspectives that we should consider.

The first is what we have been describing as sanctions, but which is actually economic warfare. The word “sanctions” implies an authority that imposes punishment consequent on the breach of rules. The global authority to which we should be able to look to impose, or at least approve, such sanctions is the Security Council of the United Nations, and it cannot do so. For years, the United States has shown less than full regard for the UN, and not only is Russia one of the other permanent, veto-wielding powers and is not going to vote for sanctions against itself but it is clear from statements in the past 24 hours that China is not prepared to use its vote to put pressure on Russia. This means that we do not have a functioning rules-based global order. That rules-based order is broken, and we do not know how, or even whether, it can be fixed.

More locally, the European project that emerged from the wreckage of the last world war seems to have been based on the assumption that such an international rules-based order could be maintained without the substantial military power that would protect it from internal and external threats. 

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con): My Lords, I support the government response to the Ukrainian situation that we have seen thus far. I join others in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Sedwill, and congratulating him on his fantastic contribution—his excellent maiden speech—today. We look forward to many such contributions.

Two events close to me stand out for me. One is that my mother, having been born and brought up in Denmark, lived for a number of years under German occupation, and her generation was scarred by that experience. The second is that I was in Berlin in November 1989, the day the Berlin Wall came down. I felt the euphoria of all Germans—indeed, all Europeans —as expressed on that day.

Today, we stand in solidarity with Ukraine. What I find perhaps most deeply disturbing is that an independent sovereign nation state purely expressing the desire to join a defence organisation, NATO, and an economic organisation, the European Union, has led to the act of aggression and war that we have seen. No remarks could be more apposite than those made today by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York about the Schuman plan and the foundations of the economic community that came to be known as the Common Market and the European Union as we know it today.

Lord Coaker (Lab): My Lords, what a privilege it is to speak on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition in this historic debate. I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Sedwill, on his maiden speech. We were all informed by it and that is what is important, as the noble Lords, Lord King and Lord Owen, pointed out.

This Chamber may be a revising Chamber, but the experience of the Members who come here informs the policy of Her Majesty’s Government in a way that makes for better legislation and better decision-making when it comes to historic and momentous events such as those which we are debating here today. To have former diplomats of the quality we have mentioned and former military officers, including those who have served at the highest level, informing these debates is of extreme importance. Alongside that, we have Members from the Church and those who have worked in humanitarian roles. All bring relevant experience to this debate, which can only help inform us on what are, to be fair to the Government—this would be the case whoever was in government—immensely difficult decisions as to the best way forward. There is no division between us—or 99.9% of us—but there is of course debate and discussion, even within government, on the best way forward.

I start by saying to the Government, as did my noble friend Lady Smith last night, that we stand four-square with them in supporting the actions they have taken in respect of Ukraine and trying to deter the aggression from Russia. That is a really important message for the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, who introduced this debate with her usual clarity and provided information for us all. I thank her again for that. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, will follow in that as well when he responds to this wide-ranging debate.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con): Of course, it is important to consider our response, and I hope during the time I have to pick up on a number of the questions raised by noble Lords. Let me assure the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, from the outset that we are using Britain’s position on the world stage to condemn the onslaught against Ukraine, and we will counter the Kremlin’s blizzard of lies and disinformation by telling the truth about Putin’s war of aggression. We are working together with a number of key allies to ensure that we never give up on peace, as the most reverend Primate reminded us we should never do. He quoted the words, “Blessed are the peacekeepers”, and we keep that very much at the forefront of our minds. The door of diplomacy should always remain open. However, when the opposite side rejects, as Mr Putin has done, the very existence of the nation of Ukraine, the challenge becomes all the more difficult.

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