A group of senior UK Archbishops have waded into politics to launch an attack on the government’s Brexit plans, denouncing the Internal Market Bill, which starts to make its way through Parliament today, for tearing up parts of the country’s original divorce deal with Brussels.
The letter, printed in the Financial Times and signed by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, lambastes the bill as a “disaster”.
“The Bill is, of course, not just concerned with domestic law. It currently asks the country’s highest law-making body to equip a government minister to break international law. This has enormous moral, as well as political and legal, consequences," says the letter.
The five Bishops underscore the fact that if the law-breaking bill passes parliament, it will have set a lamentable pattern.
“We believe this would create a disastrous precedent. It is particularly disturbing for all of us who feel a sense of duty and responsibility to the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement – that international treaty on which peace and stability within and between the UK and Ireland depends,” write the Bishops.
Expressing profound concern for the country’s reputation, they question what foundations the UK’s democracy stands on if “negotiated terms are not honoured and laws can be ‘legally’ broken”.
Finally, the Bishops made an appeal to the politicians of the country:
“We urge lawmakers to consider this Bill in the light of values and principles we would wish to characterise relationships across these islands long after the transition period.”
The letter is signed by Archbishop of Armagh John McDowell, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church Mark Strange, Archbishop of Wales John Davies and Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell.
In a comment on the developments, Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, a leading Brexiteer, questioned the motives of the Bishops, saying:
“I hope this is not a distraction form the difficulties the Church of England has been in with the inquiry into Child Abuse, which reported back last week. I hope this is not an attempt at distraction from the Church of England’s own internal troubles.”
The Tory politician was referring to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse's report, dated 6 October, that concluded the Church of England had failed to protect children from sexual abuse, and created a culture where abusers "could hide".
Stating that 390 clergy members and other church leaders were convicted of abuse between the 1940s and 2018, the report deplored the Church's failure to respond to abuse victims, claiming that alleged perpetrators were often given more support than victims.
In response, the Church said it felt "shame" over its perceived failings.
Contentious Brexit Bill
As talks between the UK and the European Union on their post-Brexit relationship have made negligible progress, on Friday Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Brussels that London was prepared to opt for a no-deal scenario unless it was prepared to fundamentally change its approach towards post-Brexit trade negotiations.
One of the more contentious issues in the talks has been the controversial Brexit legislation, slammed by Brussels as contradicting the provisions of the previously-hammered out agreement shaping the United Kingdom’s divorce from the bloc.
While in turn admitting that the Internal Market Bill breaks international law, UK ministers insist it is needed to stop Brussels from putting trade barriers up between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, thus acting as a kind of “safety net” legislation.
However, reports have surfaced that UK officials might be ready to sacrifice the more tricky parts of the Market Bill in the weeks ahead, in a bid to revive flagging talks with the EU, according to Bloomberg.