The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev’d Paul Bayes, has been honing his episcopal vocation to be a “focus of unity”, to which end he tweeted that the presently fraught and complex UK-EU Brexit negotiations are like something out of ‘Dad’s Army’. He was responding to a Wigan vicar, the Rev’d Philip Anderson, who facetiously tweeted:
The sneer of both is palpable; the contempt oozes. Presumably the Bishop thinks Boris Johnson is the blustering Captain Mainwaring, and Michael Gove the erudite Sergeant Wilson. You can work out for yourself who might play Corporal Jones and privates Frazer, Walker, Godfrey and Pike.
It isn’t entirely clear why a senior Bishop in the Church of England would fuel division in the Church and heighten controversy in the nation at this time. When Bishops speak in public, they convey something of the spiritual state of society and express something of the role of the Church and Christian beliefs in that society. What benefit does it bring to mock the Prime Minister in fraught negotiations, or make light of a particular potential political hazard? It doesn’t help to perpetuate the caricature that Michel Barnier and Ursula von der Leyen are latter-day Nazis, and that the Walmington-on-Sea decrepit Home Guard are all we have to shield us from evil, does it? Surely this sort of tweet makes it more difficult for a bishop to act as an effective focus of unity when he patently despises Her Majesty’s Government (and, presumably, those who support it) in this particular endeavour.
The responses to the Bishop’s tweet were robust:
Perhaps the Rt Rev’d Paul Bayes just doesn’t care. Perhaps, like certain other waspish Bishops, he views all Brexiteer politicians with contempt and loathing, and has no time to discern anything sacred in the secular because God opposes Brexit: light can have no fellowship with darkness, and anybody who thinks so is taking a Dad’s Army approach to applied theology.
What does the Bishop of Liverpool believe the future UK-EU relationship should be? One of respect and cooperation, or suzerainty and submission? That is what this negotiation is about. It is entirely possible to respect EU principles and UK sovereignty in a new partnership if both sides are willing. This would be good for trade, security, intelligence, law enforcement and citizens’ rights. But if the EU is determined to bind the UK by future (presently unknown) laws and regulations; and determined that the European Court of Justice will be the body which adjudicates in matters of dispute, then the UK will not have ‘taken back control’.
It is perfectly possible for the EU to offer the UK a Free Trade Agreement of the sort it has secured with Canada, and this was indeed initially on the table. But in a volte-face of manifest bad faith, they took it off the table. Perhaps the Bishop of Liverpool might explain why the UK Government should agree to be treated differently from Canada. Perhaps he might explain why the UK Government should consent to burden businesses with the costs of (presently unknown) social, labour and environmental regulations over which the British people can have no influence or democratic say?
If the Bishop of Liverpool believes that ‘No Deal’/WTO Rules are something out of Dad’s Army, perhaps he might explain why two-thirds of the world trades quite happily under Captain Mainwaring’s authority. Why add to the hysteria by harking back to World War II, in which the EU regulatory straitjacket is pushing at the Channel, and UK sovereignty defended only by our fishing waters?
Most importantly, what does this rather crass intervention contribute to the Church’s essential mission? How does it improve church attendance in the Liverpool Diocese on Sundays? Since Paul Bayes became Bishop of Liverpool, those attending his churches have fallen from 21,200 to 17,600; and children’s weekly average attendance has fallen from 4,400 to 3,700. Even Christmas attendance has fallen from 37,800 to 35,100. Perhaps he’s just shedding Tories, or (better still) Tory Brexiteers. What tetchy vicar wants pompous buffoons like Captain Mainwaring in the church hall?