bishop liverpool paul bayes brexit
Democracy

Why is the Bishop of Liverpool fomenting Brexit discord?

As Parliament sets its face to debating the seismic European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, along with a plethora of nuanced amendments, many of which are designed to frustrate the process if not derail the whole endeavour, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, has announced (finally) that Parliament will get to vote on the final deal. That is to say, our elected representatives will either accept or reject the future UK/EU deal (or do deal) before (or at) the point of our departure (11.00pm, 29 March 2019), so we are not simply condemned to the Theresa-May/Tory-Right ‘Hard Brexit’ future, which, as we know, would be bad for jobs, bad for the economy, bad for the environment, bad for healthcare, and bad for Britain’s standing in the world.

For Remoaners, the only way to save British beef, builders, butchers, bankers, bats, badgers and bedridden is to reverse Brexit and thereby restore Britain’s badge of honour and global prestige.

While there is some doubt, if not a great deal of discontent, about the “verbal reassurance” offered by the Secretary of State regarding this final vote, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev’d Paul Bayes, immediately took to Twitter to urge voters (ie his followers) to “think, lobby our MPs, advocate…” He didn’t say what we ought to be lobbying them to do (or what we are supposed to be advocating for): he simply seems content, if not relieved, that Parliament is now back in control, and not those nasty Tories/hateful Brexiteers, who, as we know, would consign the poor to starvation and the sick to a long and painful death, for that is what Tories leap out of their beds every morning to do – especially those nasty Brexiteer types who love to genuflect to the damnable goat of hate.

But let’s be honest: the Bishop of Liverpool is not urging his followers to lobby their MPs to vote for the final deal (or no deal); he is stirring them up to lobby their MPs to vote against whatever deal (or no deal) is agreed (or not agreed), and thereby reverse Brexit. That is his understanding of the way forward: the EU Referendum was a mistake; the vote for Brexit an egregious error; it was only ‘advisory’ in any case; Parliament must ‘take back control’ (from the people, who know not what they do); Brexit must be stopped; we must remain in the EU. And now that Parliament is to have a final vote on the matter, the Bishop believes that remaining in the EU has become a distinct possibility.

What he appears to forget (or conveniently ignore) is the fact that the EU Referendum decision was swiftly followed by Parliament (both Houses) voting overwhelmingly to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. When Theresa May dispatched her letter to Brussels, she was not only obeying the will of the majority of those who voted in the Referendum; she was doing the bidding of Parliament (in accordance with the law). The Brexit timetable is fixed by Article 50, which says:

The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

And so, unless there is an extension agreed unanimously, the UK leaves the EU on 29th March 2019 (“two years after the notification”), with or without a deal. When David Davis was asked by Owen Paterson whether, in the event of Parliament rejecting the withdrawal Bill, the UK would still leave the EU, his answer was simple and unequivocal:

So it isn’t immediately clear what the Bishop of Liverpool is urging voters (ie his followers) to lobby or advocate for. Brexiteers are all for doing parliamentary democracy #BringBackRepresentativeDemocracy; and we’re all for the courts ensuring that the whole Brexit process proceeds in accordance with the rule of law. But the Bishop of Liverpool appears to believe that bringing back parliamentary democracy somehow involves subverting the will of the people, or if not that, being at the beck and call of lobby groups or Twitter advocacy campaigns for a particular cause – in this case, remaining in the EU – even if a national vote has already determined a particular outcome.

This is interesting because Article 50 makes it abundantly clear that the only way to #BringBackRepresentativeDemocracy is to leave the EU, because Parliament is manifestly not sovereign: MPs are impotent to enact the Bishop’s political objective to reverse Article 50 without the unanimous consent of the EU’s other 27 members.

So, yes, Bishop Paul, by all means encourage your followers (and, indeed, all Christians and true democrats) to think (which is always a good thing to do) and advocate to #BringBackRepresentativeDemocracy. But bringing back representative democracy is contingent on Brexit, if you think about it, which, with respect, you appear not to have done.

As the Archbishop of Canterbury has recognised and conceded, Brexit is happening, and far from heralding an apocalypse of confusion and chaos, it offers Britain “a wide and liberal future“. Those were his gracious and optimistic words. No one believes that this is going to be an easy adjustment in the national psyche, but the last thing the Church of England needs is “depressed” or “paranoid” Remoaner bishops fomenting further discord and division. Aren’t they supposed to be a focus of unity?