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Bishop Robert: We should give thanks for the EU

Speaking in a series of BBC interviews following the announcement of a provisional trade deal between the UK and the EU, Bishop Robert has said “we should give thanks for all that EU membership has given to the UK.”  

What has the EU ever done for the UK … ?

Bishop Robert was asked across his interviews broadcast on 27 December about the benefits of EU membership for the UK.  The Bishop said, first, the EU has always been and continues to be a peace-building project for European security. He recalled the three attempts the UK had made to join the (then) European Economic Community. In the 1970s, the UK lagged behind France and Italy economically.  “The Single Market made the UK significantly more prosperous and the present scale of the UK/EU trading relationship is worth over £650 billion to both sides” the Bishop added.  In addition, as a member of the EU, the UK has been able to benefit from the Union’s global presence and standing, alongside the likes of the US and China.  Bishop Robert spoke also of the everyday and practical benefits of free movement the UK had enjoyed during its membership, including travel, work, study and retirement opportunities. 

Bishop Robert also praised the contributions UK officials in the European Institutions had made to the development of the European Union.  He said that overall “the EU has been a good news story for the UK” and cited Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s remarks that the UK would remain connected economically and culturally, and that the UK and Europe “could not change their geography.”   There is now “a new project to work out what the UK as a sovereign power will look like”, said Bishop Robert, expressing the clear hope that the UK and the EU would remain “good partners and close friends.”

The deal:

Bishop Robert said there was a sense in the EU of “relief that four-and-a-half years of wearying negotiation and wrangling have ended with the deal reached.”  He noted that EU ambassadors had met in extraordinary session on Christmas Day to review the agreement proposed by the European Commission, following conclusion of negotiations with senior UK negotiators on 24 December.

There was, however, “an abiding sense of disappointment” about the UK leaving the EU, ending its membership that began on 1 January 1973.  The formal UK exit from the Union took place on 31 January last year.  Provisional application of the terms of the UKEU deal are now in force until 28 February, and the approval of the European Parliament will be required, followed by final agreement by the 27 EU Member State Governments.  

The 1246-page UK/EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement was published on 26 December and it will require close study.   In an initial reaction, Bishop Robert said the agreement was “better than a no deal outcome, but nonetheless it is a thin deal” whose practical effects would include UK nationals once again standing in passport queues across Europe, with stays across the EU limited to 90 days out of 180 days in almost all EU member states.  The deal looked as if it would cover reciprocity in healthcare, social security and pensions between the UK and the EU.

Faith across Europe:

Bishop Robert was asked about relationships between Anglicans in Europe and faith partners.  Speaking on Radio Norfolk, Bishop Robert said there had been an Anglican presence in Europe ever since Pope Gregory had sent St Augustine to Britain in the 6th century.  These links had been sustained over the centuries.  “We enjoy good relationships with majority Churches in Europe and want to strengthen these ties,” said Bishop Robert.  Bishop Robert emphasized their closeness and fraternal warmth reaching out across borders, among Roman Catholic and Protestant Bishops including in France and Germany, as well as with the Orthodox Churches; and links with other faith leaders in the forty-two countries in the diocese.

In a number of interviews, including on Radio Coventry and Warwickshire, Bishop Robert spoke of the enduring links and twinning relationships between cathedrals and churches in England and the continent.   And he added that, during the Pandemic, Zoom-wide worship and services had helped greatly in bringing people together right across the diocese.   He had attended two Christmas services in Brussels, including preaching a Christmas Day sermon, in accordance with maximum capacity (of ten), with both services broadcast online.  The Bishop added that our congregations across the diocese are becoming more diverse.

Future residency for UK Nationals in the EU:

Bishop Robert was asked across his interviews about the residency rights of UK Nationals in the EU, given that some may have difficulty completing their residency applications in EU member states.   The Bishop said future residency in the EU has been the single greatest concern raised in the Diocese in Europe over the past four-and-a-half years.  He informed listeners that, through the Diocese in Europe, the Church of England is one of the organisations running a residency support project in the EU, funded by the UK Government.  The Bishop outlined our Diocesan helpline and website guiding people who may need extra support, especially the elderly and vulnerable, who may feel particular anxiety, to apply for the new French residency permit, and on what steps people need to take. He said we are getting appreciative comments on our services, and that UK Nationals in France are welcome to get in touch with us, noting that our team are fielding calls and enquiries from the UK as well as across France.

On Radio Nottingham, Bishop Robert was asked about Church efforts on ending violence against women and domestic violence. The Bishop outlined our contribution as a diocese to the 2020 global 16 Days campaign, drawing particular attention to the Istanbul Convention in the Council of Europe context.  Bishop Robert noted that whilst the UK may have left the EU, it remains a member among the 47 states in the Council of Europe; and that the UK has still to ratify the Istanbul Convention.

Bishop Robert also issued a warning from the past against one possible consequence of the UK having left the EU, namely a return xenophobia and racism.  “These are the last things we need. I hope the UK will see off the forces of nationalism”, the Bishop said.  Bishop Robert said the UK would also need to address reducing inequality, as its levels are among the worst in Europe.

Hopes for the new year:

Bishop Robert was asked for his hopes and wisdom for 2021.  He noted the arrival of new vaccines against the Coronavirus, and the rollout of the first vaccinations in the EU were starting on 27 December (the day of the interviews), as in the UK.

From a faith perspective, speaking on Three Counties Radio, Bishop Robert said:

“I believe in the expansion of the Kingdom of God.  I believe the EU stands for such virtues as peaceful, harmonious relationships across borders, and as a Bishop I will continue my role as a pontifex – as a bridge builder – for reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel. As your listeners seek hope and wisdom for this coming New Year, my message is this: Christ was born for you, the light that shines in the darkness.”

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The full list of BBC local radio stations which featured an interview with Bishop Robert is below – and you can currently access the interviews from 27 December on their websites (from 0800-1100 CET/0700-1000 GMT):

Berkshire (starts 1.09); Suffolk (starts 1.27); Jersey (starts 1.33); Cumbria (starts 1.46); Coventry & Warwickshire (starts 2.41); Surrey & Sussex (starts 1.48); Norfolk (starts 2.53); Gloucestershire (starts 3.07); Kent (starts 3.17); Nottingham (starts 3.24); Three Counties (starts 3.38); Somerset (starts 3.47).

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Gibraltar

On 31 December 2020, the UK and Spain agreed, in principle, a separate a framework deal covering freedom of movement. This is set to be formalized in a treaty-based agreement, and envisions Gibraltar joining the Schengen Agreement (in which the UK does not participate), which will allow continuing free movement across the frontier between Gibraltar and Spain.  In the 2016 UK Referendum, there was a 96% vote in Gibraltar to remain in the EU.

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We will continue to update and signpost resources on the UK/EU Trade & Co-operation Agreement.