22 Oct 2019

Brexit: Bishop Robert warns against no deal perils

Bishop Robert has warned against the perils of a no deal Brexit in a series of BBC interviews, and outlined how the Diocese is helping to support people amid Brexit uncertainties.  

Speaking to Radio 4’s Sunday Programme and in interviews across BBC local radio stations, the Bishop commented on latest Brexit developments.  These followed the European Council meeting of Heads of Government in Brussels on Thursday and the ensuing House of Commons debate and the letters issued by the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to the EU last Saturday evening.  

“The Letwin amendment [which requires the passage of legislation to implement a Brexit deal] is a positive, to avoid the prospect of the UK sliding into a no deal, which would be the worst possible outcome”, said Bishop Robert, adding his “hope and prayer that the Government does not seek to act in defiance of this vote to push through a no deal … a further extension should be requested of the EU, if needed.”

With just over ten days to go before 31st October, the Bishop explained the damaging impact a no deal would have, as seen from the perspective of real lives of people in the Diocese in Europe.  Recalling his appeals over recent months in approaches to the UK Government to heed the concerns of the "forgotten million" living in the EU27,  Bishop Robert quoted from a letter he had received from an anxious retiree currently living in Aquitaine in France:

“We have no representation. There is no regard for our circumstances and a no deal Brexit would be catastrophic for many of us.  Please, Bishop, plead our cause."

Bishop Robert outlined key areas of Diocese in Europe effort to respond to the urgent challenges an estimated 1.3M UK nationals resident in the EU27 are facing, namely applying for residency and healthcare provision: 

On residency applications in the EU27, Bishop Robert noted the Diocese is currently looking to work with other organisations to inform and sign-post people, especially the elderly and vulnerable.

As regards healthcare, Bishop Robert cited deep anxieties among the elderly in particular regarding the disappearance of reciprocal healthcare arrangements in the event of no deal.  He had received many such concerns from pensioners living in Spain, for example, notably around S1 certificates.  Another issue was European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) used currently to access healthcare when travelling from the UK to EU/EEA states. 

Bishop Robert noted sustained effort over the past three years from the Diocese in Europe to engage UK Government ministers and representatives on Brexit-related issues to help people with their anxieties and everyday concerns on everything from residency, healthcare and pensions to pet passports.  The Diocese was also providing and sign-posting people to official information sources from Government agencies and the EU.

Bishop Robert was asked to comment on the broader state of political life in the UK, as seen from the other side of the English Channel.  The Bishop said his continental European counterparts and friends were “sad, disappointed and bewildered” by Brexit and "frustrated by the length of time it was taking the UK to make up its mind."  He noted also that the EU has significant business on its agenda unrelated to Brexit.

The Bishop further expressed his view that:

“Brexit is part of a bigger set of moral issues around the erosion of trust people have in their politicians in the UK.   Trust, integrity and truth telling will need to be re-built to heal deep divisions.”   

He also declared his support for a confirmatory vote on a Brexit deal, that would enable UK electors to choose between the deal offered and the current terms of UK membership fo the EU.  “I’m with the crowds outside Parliament in London demonstrating in favour of a Final Say”, the Bishop commented.

Bishop Robert recalled that the Archbishop of Canterbury had offered to chair an assembly of UK citizens as a forum for dialogue and fostering national reconciliation on Brexit. 

As a senior leader in the Church of England, Bishop Robert affirmed the power of faith and fellowship in helping to bring people together across their communities, and the openness of Anglican welcome and support.  “Anglicans have been on the continent of Europe for over 400 years, and we’re here to stay”, the Bishop said. 

Addressing the annual Bishop’s Council meeting of representatives from across Archdeaconries in the Diocese on Friday in Brussels, the Bishop had recalled the ancient, yet timely words of the book of Ecclesiasticus 11: 7-8 in urging us to us listen to and hear prayerfully God’s Word in this period of deep uncertainty:

“Do not find fault before you investigate; examine first, and then criticize. Do not answer before you listen, and do not interrupt when another is speaking.”

The House of Commons will vote later today (Tuesday) on a programme motion that seeks to pass Withdrawal Bill legislation to implement the revised deal.  European Parliament ratification of the deal reached will also be required on the side of the EU27.

You can listen to Bishop Robert’s interviews on R4's Sunday Programme, and BBC Radio Merseyside at the links below:

R4 Sunday:  (scroll to 1:55-4:31 on the programme timeline)

BBC Radio Merseyside:  (scroll to 1:08-1:13 on the programme timeline)

Bishop Robert spoke live on Sunday to BBC correspondents across 16 areas from up and down the country, from Jersey/Guernsey and Cornwall, to Tees and Cumbria.