eu withdrawal bishops house of lords nick baines brexit
European Union

EU Withdrawal: Bishops seek the ‘best shape’ Brexit (as opposed to dreamy Brexiteer ‘wishful thinking’)

In the ongoing saga of EU withdrawal, the House of Lords voted yesterday by 245 votes to 218, a majority of 27, to remain in the Single Market; that is, for the UK to join the EEA (European Economic Area) and thereby remain subject to the EU’s ‘Four Freedoms’, which includes free movement of persons. Two of those who voted for this option were Bishops – Ely (+Stephen Conway) and Leeds (+Nick Baines) – who are tasked in their episcopal vocation to be a focus of unity.

Don’t, whatever you do, suggest that this would effectively overturn the EU Referendum result, for thou shalt get slapped:

The only effective antidote to airy-fairy Brexit-dreaming is a good dose of salt and a positive flood of light, for bishops are tasked in their episcopal vocation to preserve the world from sin and evil, and to shine in the darkness as beacons of truth and justice. So, let us consider the ‘best shape’ Brexit, according to the Bishop of Leeds’ voting record on amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill:

On the Amendment that the European Communities Act 1972 should not be repealed until the Government has committed to “negotiate a customs union as part of the framework for a future UK-EU relationship”, +Nick Baines voted against the Government, along with the Bishops of Durham and St Albans. The Bishop of Chester voted with the Government.

On the Amendment that all EU law relating to employment and equality rights, health and safety protections, and consumer and environmental standards may only be amended or repealed by primary legislation, +Nick Baines voted against the Government, along with the Bishop of Coventry.

On the Amendment for the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to remain in force; that is, for Parliament to remain bound by an extraneous corpus of law (which includes the right to a private life, freedom of speech, equality provisions and employment rights, etc), +Nick Baines did not vote (he does have onerous diocesan duties), but the Bishops of Chester and St Albans voted against the Government.

On the Amendment to remove ministers’ ability to specify when individuals may bring challenges against the validity of retained EU law post-Brexit, +Nick Baines did not vote, but the Bishop of Chester voted with the Government.

On the Amendment that Parliament must approve the Withdrawal Agreement and transitional measures in an act of Parliament; and the the house of Commons should determine the next steps if the deal is rejected; that is, that the scope of the delegated powers that the Bill hands to ministers – the so-called ‘Henry VIII powers’ – are limited by raising the bar for doing so from whenever “the Minister considers appropriate” to when it “is necessary”, +Nick Baines did not vote, but the Bishops of Chester, Ely and Norwich voted against the Government.

On the Amendment that there must be parliamentary approval of the outcome of negotiations with the European Union; that is, to force the government to re-negotiate its Withdrawal Agreement with the EU in the event of a number of separate triggers being pulled, effectively enabling Parliament to delay, frustrate and ultimately reverse Brexit, +Nick Baines (back from his diocesan duties) voted against the Government. No other bishops voted.

On the Amendment to prohibit ministers from making regulations regarding the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement unless and until Parliament has approved a mandate for negotiations about the UK’s future relationship with the EU, +Nick Baines voted against the Government. No other bishops voted.

On the Amendment that ministers must continue to uphold the EU regulations relating to provisions and associated rights and obligations that allow for those seeking asylum – including unaccompanied minors, adults and children – to join a family member, sibling or relative in the UK, +Nick Baines voted against the Government. No other bishops voted.

On the Amendment to enshrine support for the Good Friday Agreement in the Bill (effectively giving the Irish Government a veto on any post-Brexit border arrangements), +Nick Baines did not vote (back to diocesan duties), but the Bishop of Chester voted with the Government.

On the Amendment, brought by the Lord Bishop of Leeds himself, to allow the Government to replicate any EU law in domestic law and to continue to participate in EU agencies after Brexit, +Nick Baines (unsurpisingly) voted against the Government, and his amendment was also supported by the Bishops of Ely and St Albans.

On the Amendment to remove the exit day of 29th March 2019 from the Bill and not to allow the Government to appoint an exit day until it has been approved by resolutions of both Houses of Parliament, +Nick Baines voted against the Government, as did the Bishop of St Albans.

On the Amendment to mandate the Government to negotiate continued membership of the European Economic Area – ie the ‘Norway option’, whereby the UK would have full access to the EU’s Single Market but without any influence over its rules and regulations; and be forced to accept the ‘Four Freedoms’, including free movement of persons, +Nick Baines voted against the Government, supported by the Bishop of Ely.

On the Amendment to create a parliamentary committee to sift certain regulations introduced under the legislation and to recommend whether they require further scrutiny, +Nick Baines voted against the Government. No other bishops voted.

Now then…

There are 26 Bishops in the House of Lords, each chosen and charged with the task of scrutinising legislation in order to mitigate evil. Of course, they all also have onerous diocesan duties and all manner of other ministry obligations which prevent them attending Parliament from time to time. But, as may be seen from his voting record, the Bishop of Leeds, often alone, voted consistently for a Brexit which is not quite a Brexit.

For what manner of Brexit is it which remains in the Single Market and in a Customs Union, which together combine to retain free movement of persons and inhibit bilateral trade deals with the rest of the world? How does that fulfil the Archbishop of Canterbury’s vision for “a wide and liberal future“? What manner of Brexit is it which has no fixed date for departure? How does that perpetual purgatory offer any hope of freedom to those who voted to ‘Take Back Control’? What manner of Brexit is it which permits Parliament to frustrate and overrule the will of the majority of people who voted to leave the EU? How does that fulfil the democratic aspirations of political accountability and national sovereignty?

The Bishop of Leeds tweets that any perception that he (and other bishops) are seeking to overturn the result of the EU Referendum is ‘ridiculous and you know it’ (slap). Well, if it waddles and quacks…

What this does for the episcopal vocation to be a focus for unity is a matter for valid debate. It may be enjoined without personal abuse, slander, insults or childish ad hom, for these Bishops are voting with their consciences, seared by the Holy Spirit. So please make your arguments respectfully, intelligently, thoughtfully, and, of course, in love.