On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, the Archbishop of Canterbury was asked about the disparity (/gulf) between the laity and clergy in the Church of England regarding the European Union. He was reminded that two-thirds of Anglicans who attend church voted for Brexit, and was asked how his being a prominent Remainer might be viewed “in the pews”. He responded:
O, I don’t think I’ve been prominent at all. I voted Remain. I didn’t make a big thing about it. I was writing an article about how we have a Christian duty to participate in politics and, for the point of transparency, declared my own interest. But I’ve said many times since that we’ve voted, that’s the decision we’ve taken, and now we must make it work for the common good, in the national interest, and so that Britain has a deep sense of commitment round the world; is a global force for good.
Marr probed the Archbishop on this “moment of crisis” in the nation’s politics, and he responded:
I’m a religious leader, not a political one. Let’s just be clear about that. At this time of year we’re in Advent. This is the time of year when we look forward to the first coming of Jesus Christ, where God came as a vulnerable baby to live among us, to grow up, be crucified. And we remember also the Second Coming; the judgment of God at the end of all time. At this time, between those two times, we have hope. Whatever the situation, whatever the crisis, there is hope, because of the faithfulness of God, the goodness of Jesus Christ. So, as a religious leader, I say yes, this is a crisis, but let’s make it a crisis where we restrain our language; we don’t use – I would love politicians to be restrained in their language…
I think the way forward is – there needs to be a reluctance to treat the ‘other’ as an enemy; but to say we are one nation, one people, and I hope and request that political leaders will be moderate in their language in the next few months; that we will calm down the hatreds that have arisen over the last few years; that we will move towards reconciliation. We are one nation under God. Let us act as that…
And right on cue, writing in the Yorkshire Post, the Archbishop of York tells all those who voted to leave the European Union that their desires are “childish”, and that “no serious politician should have entertained it”.
How’s that for moderation and restraint? How’s that for a thoughtful, considered and gracious contribution to the sacred mission of national reconciliation?
Dr Sentamu insists that the Prime Minister’s ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ is the only way of bringing order to chaos. There is an argument to be made for that, and there are some intelligent and discerning voices making the case. But not one (as yet) has answered the constitutional unacceptability (to put it mildly) of this Parliament binding its successors with an irrepealable ‘Backstop’. Not one has addressed the irreconcilable tension that a referendum designed to ‘Take back control’ actually, with this transitional deal, hands all the control to the European Union. At least as EU members we were always in control by dint of being able, as a sovereign Parliament, to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. All it ever needed was a parliamentary majority to enact it, and that would have been it. Theresa May’s deal nullifies sovereignty insofar as it renders this Parliament and all future parliaments subject to foreign political power and to foreign courts. With no unilateral right to withdraw from the Backstop (and nothing, bar a whole lot of blind faith in the EU’s goodwill and sense of fair play), it is hard to see how we might not end up in everlasting Brexit purgatory.
Dr Sentamu is perfectly free to make his case for the Prime Minister’s transition deal, and to believe sincerely that it is the wisest and most beneficial course of action – or ‘compromise’ – for national unity and the common good. But quite why he should feel the need to insult the intelligence and maturity of those who have qualms about the constitutional position, or who might prefer a ‘hard’ or ‘real’ or ‘pure’ Brexit for other reasons, is a mystery. After all, some of them fill the pews in his churches every Sunday, and might not take too kindly to being patronised and held in such contempt. And for those who don’t attend church, Dr Sentamu is informing potentially 17.4 million people that their desire for the United Kingdom to become a sovereign, democratic, self-governing nation is “childish”.
His intervention coincides with Matthew D’Ancona writing in the Guardian, who tells us that Brexit is driven by bigotry. Ergo, ‘hard’ or ‘pure’ Brexiteers are the worst kind of bigot. Fusing the two schools of thought, we arrive at Brexiteers basically being ‘childish bigots’.
One is reminded of the wisdom of Margaret Thatcher: “I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”
If Brexit is driven by bigotry, then bigotry drove the Diggers and Levellers. If Brexit is driven by bigotry, then bigotry drove the Protestant Reformers. If Brexit is driven by bigotry, then bigotry drove the Roundheads and Whigs; the Methodists and Chartists. One man’s bigotry is another man’s quest for liberty.
And one man’s childishness is another man’s childlikeness, which is the essence of the faithful Christian life. Those who dream of dwelling in liberty and security, beneath a sovereign canopy of democracy and transparency, are not childish, but virtuous, unpretentious, open, humble and honest. But patronise and insult us, if you wish. It simply means you have not a single political (or theological) argument left.