The Archbishop of York: I voted Remain, but now I’ll be backing the Brexit deal and here’s why

Dr John Sentamu is the Archbishop of York.
Dr John Sentamu is the Archbishop of York.
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HAVING argued for a Remain vote at the time of the referendum, and voted Remain, I have often been asked by concerned people in large numbers about my response to the current situation regarding Brexit.

They tell me: “Archbishop, when will you come off the fence – in or out? The people need to know. After all, you were voted Yorkshireman of the Year in 2007 and you’re supposed to be direct. In or out, deal or no deal?”

Theresa May.

Theresa May.

Our first concern must be maintaining respect for democratic law-making institutions, which are under heavier pressure today than for more than a century.

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Rerunning referenda, whatever proximate political goods may be in view, subverts agreed decision-making procedures after the event, and that undermines trust.

The further draining away of trust from an already discredited political class would be of very great danger to the future government of Britain.

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Permanent loss of confidence in governmental institutions always results in civil unrest and violence.

The House of Commons has the primary responsibility to shape the laws and forge the consensus by which the Queen’s government may be carried on to the benefit of the country as a whole.

To act in ways that bring about the collapse of a government’s position without the prospect of an alternative would be to betray the trust we place in our representatives.

When the political situation is chaotic, the duty of the House is to bring order out of that chaos. To do otherwise is to abuse the considerable power the people have entrusted in it.

The aim of any Brexit arrangement must be to extricate the country from certain legal and administrative arrangements while preserving the foundations for positive relations with those who have been our neighbours immemorially, and will be our neighbours so long as life continues on this continent.

Any satisfactory Brexit deal was necessarily a compromise.

The idea of a “pure” or “maximal” Brexit, which would somehow make a clean sweep and give us a completely blank page to write on, was a childish dream, and no serious politician should have entertained it.

The work of politics is to find workable and just compromises.

There are no blank pages in politics; there are only good relationships, strengthened by past co-operation, and bad relationships soured by disappointments and betrayals.

In the next generation, Britons will be living next door to Europeans, as we do now.

Whether we shall then live as friends or enemies may depend to a very considerable extent on how we conduct ourselves in the next few weeks.

Is not politics “the art of the possible”?

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The “Brexit deal”, negotiated by Her Majesty’s Government and agreed by the Cabinet, is a government deal and not Theresa May’s deal.

She may have secured it, but it is now a deal the Government is putting before Parliament and the people of our four nations.

Having read the document and gone through it with a fine-tooth comb, I have come to the conclusion after much thought and prayer, I will walk in the content lobby in the House of Lords.

One of the enduring British characteristics, nurtured and honed by the Christian ethic in its application to human responsibility, accountability and the ever changing challenges, is that of tenacity.

Like a Yorkshire terrier never letting go and doing so only in order to get a firmer grip, we should stick to the rule book when we disagree with others’ decisions and interpretations.

We should continue to work and walk together. Reconciliation and honourable political and economic accommodation are always possible.

This goes some way to explain why British membership of the UN, Nato, the Commonwealth and now the EU have survived this long.

Isn’t the best way of winning over those we disagree with, to make them our friends? Moral responsibilities must never give way to pragmatism. The failure to remember promises is a failure to remember oneself.

“No, we do not want to get stuck in the past… But nothing is sadder than someone who has lost his memory – and it can be very tragic.”

Finally, as the African proverb says: “When two elephants fight, the grass gets hurt.”

This is the time to find a still small voice of calm and begin the process of healing any divisions.

I, for one, will be praying that members of the House of Commons will lead us with wisdom and insight, and put aside all partial affections, and demonstrate true charity towards each other.