European Union

As Brexit Bill receives Royal Assent, a lone bishop urges retention of free movement

By now Her Majesty will have set her seal upon the Brexit Bill: La Reyne le veult. At last we have The European Union (Notice of Withdrawal) Act, for which we must all thank Mrs Gina Miller, who single-handedly (with a bit of money from somewhere) ensured that the sovereign UK Parliament has endorsed what the sovereign British people decreed, thereby ending forever all legal doubt and constitutional wrangling over the dubious use of prerogative powers. The Prime Minister is now free to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. We are leaving the European Union. Hallel.. #slap. #Lent.

No bishops voted against the Commons to reinstate the Lords’ amendments. But now, even now, one bishop is insisting that as we leave we must retain free movement of persons (ie uncontrolled and uncontrollable immigration), as prescribed by the Treaty of Rome. The Rt Rev’d Robert Innes writes:

The ability of people to move freely across the UK and continental Europe to find work when they are younger, or to find a more pleasant climate when they are older, has been a wonderful thing. It has brought income to poorer people; it has been culturally enriching; it has probably added years to the lives of some older folk. People sometimes ask me what I’m looking for in the negotiations. It’s quite simple: I’d like things to stay the same. I think that is quite a reasonable negotiating goal, and I’m hoping our government will be able to achieve it.

Robert Innes is the Bishop of in Europe (by which very title the church de-Europeanises England, distinguishing it from the continental ‘other’), and his soothing appeal is to compassion for the elderly, jobs for the young, prosperity for the poor, cultural enrichment for all, and longevity (..really? EU free movement helps people to live longer?).

Here’s what the Rt Rev’d Mark Rylands, Bishop of Shrewsbury, thinks about free movement:

The UK has a proud history of welcoming migrants, and has benefited from the presence and contribution migrants make to society. Unrestricted EU immigration, however, means that we end up discriminating against non-EU nationals. This seems especially perverse when the UK has strong relationships with many other countries of the world through the Commonwealth, not just with the EU. The barriers to employing people from beyond the EU have become more numerous. For a Church in the UK that is weak in mission, it would be particularly welcome to have greater freedom to invite missionaries from the global South here to help us evangelise our country and rediscover our Christian roots.

Unrestricted EU immigration has been adversely affecting the poorest people in the UK. It may seem great if you want to employ a plumber, a nanny, or a builder; but to those competing with immigrants for jobs, houses, or places at schools, it looks very different.

So, far from free movement helping people to live longer, it adds to the sum of human misery by increasing unemployment, exacerbating poverty and placing an intolerable strain on public services, all of which tend to increase blood pressure and cause heart attacks, not mention being a hindrance to global mission.

But the Bishop in Europe wants to keep uncontrolled and uncontrollable immigration for 508 million people. That’s free movement for half a billion people so they can migrate to whichever country offers the best welfare or the highest minimum wage. Perhaps the Bishop never has a problem trying to obtain an appointment with a doctor or a dentist. Perhaps his worries about getting his children into a good school are non-existent. Perhaps he doesn’t meet many people like Sonia from Clacton, who faces a 15-year wait for a council home and “is worried about the impact of immigration on her town”.

Tsk, racists.. xenophobes.. ignorant little-Englanders..

The stupid electorate just don’t know what’s good for them, so we need elite philosopher-guardians like Richard Dawkins (and the Bishops?) to direct and restrain us. With near unanimity, the Bishops of the Church of England urged the British people to vote Remain in the EU Referendum, thereby exacerbating national division. It is impossible for the Church to be a focus for unity, peace and reconciliation when its leaders are themselves divided. What are people to make of an Archbishop of Canterbury who says:

The referendum campaign and its aftermath revealed deep divisions in our society… this feels like the most divided country that I have lived in in my lifetime. Whatever the outcome of the next two years, our nation’s future, particularly for the most vulnerable, will be profoundly damaged if we arrive in 2019 even more divided, without a common vision to confront the opportunities and challenges before us. To meet these opportunities and challenges in every aspect of policy and every level of society, we must find a level of national reconciliation…

..while his representative in Europe is praying for the retention of free movement? Where is national reconciliation to be found when parochial bishops seek to subvert the very national sovereignty for which the majority voted on 23rd June last year, and that is the restoration of our national borders?

The Rt Rev’d Mark Rylands was the only bishop (brave enough?) to declare his support for Brexit, so today the Supreme Governor finds herself giving assent to a Bill which was opposed by her bishops with virtual unanimity. Bishop Philip North urged his fellow bishops “to pay proper attention to the voices of those whose votes have caused this revolution, whether or not we like what we hear”. Perhaps the Bishop in Europe needs to do a bit more listening – to his fellow Bishop in Shrewsbury and the shut-out Bishop of Burnley, if not to the ignorant little-Englanders of Clacton.