Bishop Christopher has today (14th January 2019) taken part in the Brexit debate in the House of Lords.

It is possible, courtesy of parliamentlive.tv, to view the speech by clicking on the image below, and the full transcript is also published on this page.


My Lords, I am honoured to speak after the Noble Baroness, Boothroyd.

I wish to say something about my context and then consider what a bishop might usefully add to this debate.

Lincolnshire is one of the parts of the United Kingdom which voted most emphatically in favour of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU with 66% voting to leave.

I have thought hard about why that should be the case.

There are the obvious reasons – the tip of the iceberg.

Nationally these would be described in terms of sovereignty and immigration.

We who live and work in rural Lincolnshire are prisoners of our geography (the countryside comprises a series of sparsely-populated settlements disconnected from each other where you learn to fend for yourself) but we are also heavily influenced by our history in which, over the centuries, external forces have sought to take control of our land and laws – sometimes against our best interests. People have come to:

* demand money with menaces,

* to conquer,

* to trade,

* to work

* and, in more recent years, to seek refuge and a better life for their families.

Sometimes we have fought back – occasionally we have grumbled, but most of the time, as a generous people, we have gone with the flow of all this and adapted.

But then there is what lies below the surface: an international rise in populism playing on fear, with its accompanying narrative of the purity of what it means (in our case), to be British. There is also a naïve view of democracy as plebiscite – ‘the people have spoken’. You don’t need to be a polling expert to understand that people vote in elections and referenda for a variety of reasons: some noble, some flawed.

We in Westminster are under intense scrutiny. The questions in the lanes of Lincolnshire (and I was in in a fen village near Holbeach last Sunday) appear to be why is it taking ‘them in London’ so long to sort this out and from some, why can’t we explore some kind of compromise to get it done?

So what can a bishop from Lincolnshire add?

I have heard almost all the speeches in this debate and I am grateful for their differing perspectives. I have heard quite a lot of rhetorical certainty when we really know that the situation is extraordinarily complicated.

Over the years the church has learned and is learning, sometimes quite painfully, to manage diversity and it does so by recognising the compromised nation of our institution. I hope the most reverend primates will forgive me if I say that, this side of heaven, the church is not perfect.

One former member of your Lordship’s House knew Lincolnshire well. Michael Ramsey, 100th archbishop of Canterbury began his ministry there.

Ramsey was a brave and challenging thinker and spoke out clearly against injustice, including homophobia and apartheid; but in those early years in Lincolnshire he counselled the Church of England to understand itself much more carefully as a compromised body. He wrote:

(The Church of England’s) credentials are its incompleteness, with tension and travail in its soul. It is clumsy and untidy; it baffles neatness and logic... for it is sent not to commend itself as “the best type of Christianity” but by its very brokenness to point to the universal Church wherein all have died.

The Church of England has always had to manage diversity and still needs to do so.

Whatever happens over the next few weeks and months – and no one really knows what it is going to happen – I suggest, as a nation, we need to recognise that we are profoundly divided and need to manage diversity better – with respect and humility.

My Lords, the Regret Motion as worded does present problems for those Members of your Lordships House who might agree with the sentiments about a no deal Brexit, but are less inclined to dismiss the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement in the absence of any worked-through alternative, or indeed any alternative model of Brexit that might not also have the effects the Motion describes. For that reason, your Lordships should not be too surprised if they see members of this bench exercising their democratic rights in either lobby, or choosing to abstain, if and when the Motion is put to a Division.

The people of the United Kingdom are a mixed bunch – we are in this together and we need to remember and practise the art of compromise in order to be the best nation we can be.

Arthur Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and the Catholic Church, Longmans, London, 1936, p. 220.