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UK Bishops Call in Vain for Civility in Brexit Debate

The College of Bishops of the Church of England has waded into the debate over the looming departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, in a September 27 letter saying “the use of language, both in debates and outside Parliament, has been unacceptable.”

Referring to the Brexit referendum, in which UK voters chose to leave the EU, the bishops also said “we affirm our respect for the June 2016 Referendum, and our belief that the result should be honoured.” This passage drew criticism for taking sides in a political debate.

Since the referendum, Great Britain and the EU have been trying to negotiate an agreement on trade and border issues following the divorce. The Bank of England has warned that a “no-deal Brexit” could result in high inflation, a doubling of unemployment and a dramatic drop in the country’s economic productivity. Analysts have discussed the possibility of food shortages and paralysis at the border.

The Church Times described the bishops’ letter, which called on all parties to treat each other with respect, as “a very Anglican betrayal.”

The publication, an independent Anglican news organization founded in 1863, said in an unsigned editorial titled “The Bishops’ Misplaced Respect“:

“… the Bishops, by lining themselves up behind the concept of ‘honouring’ the Referendum result, as currently defined, place themselves at variance with the Liberal Democrats and, it could be argued, the Labour Party, which supports a second referendum. Church of England congregations are unused to seeing their leaders overlook the policies of two mainstream parties in order to side with the right wing of the Conservative Party without realising that this is what they are doing.”

The letter from the bishops also said:

“Our concern is also for the structure and the constitution of the United Kingdom. To use the words of Jesus, we must renew the structures that enable us to ‘love one another.’ Changes to our principles and values of government, if necessary, should be through careful planning and consultation.”

“It is easy to descend into division and abuse – climbing out and finding unity again takes far longer. Further entrenching our divisions, whether from uncertainty or from partisanship, is not worthy of our country nor the leadership we now need. We are a body that understands from our own experience the dangers of division. It is our view and most solemn warning that we must find better ways of acting.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to leave the EU by October 31, with or without a deal, despite the fact that Parliament has passed a law requiring him to ask the EU for a three-month extension if no deal is reached by October 19. But the EU is under no obligation to grant an extension, and British news organizations warned that Johnson might try to undermine or evade the request.

After an October 8 telephone call between Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, CBS reports Johnson told British journalists “reaching a Brexit deal with the European Union ahead of the upcoming October 31 deadline was ‘essentially impossible.'”


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