Print Version    Email to Friend
Britain in a mess over Brexit bishop says

MANCHESTER (CNS): “It’s an amazing political mess after last night’s vote in the House of Commons,” Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, the United Kingdom, said on Twitter on January 16, a day after the House of Commons overwhelmingly rejected a withdrawal agreement struck between the prime minister, Theresa May, and the European Union (EU).
The agreement sought to set out terms of a future relationship with the European Union following Britain’s withdrawal. 
The 432-202 vote on January 15 represented the biggest government defeat in British history and left May fighting for her political life.
“No one’s clear on the right way ahead,” Bishop Egan said, “Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to direct us all, but especially our politicians and leaders, in finding the best plan to take us forward.”
Later, Bishop Egan told CNS: “This is a time of uncertainty, and I do think we should praya for our politicians and our leaders, that the Lord will guide them in order to find some kind of active plan and also that people will really get behind them in it.”
He said he thought Catholics should pray for the unity of the nation, “because I think it has been quite bruising, this whole debate. When you talk to people, it (Brexit) often rouses quite strong feelings and passions.”
He noted that if Britain leaves the European Union, it is still part of Europe.
“As Catholics we are related to all people of our continent and that peace project—that led to the formation of the EU—we are a link to that. We should pray for that peace.”
The government survived a January 16 motion of no-confidence introduced by Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, by 325-306.
But with May’s withdrawal agreement effectively dead, Parliament must find another way to implement Brexit by the statutory leaving date of March 29.
Mike Kane, a Labour member of Parliament and a Catholic, told CNS on January 16 that he voted against the withdrawal agreement principally because he thought it was “bad for the country,” but also because it would make his political constituency, which covers south Manchester, “much poorer.”
He said he was in favour of remaining in the EU partly because, he said, “Manchester Airport is on my patch, and 74 per cent of its flights are to European nations.”
Kane, the founder of the Catholics for Labour group, said he also believed the EU was founded on the Catholic social teaching principles of solidarity and subsidiarity and that it has guaranteed decades of peace so “we are not sending our 18-year-olds to the trenches in wars year after year.”
A substantial number of politicians who voted against the agreement want Britain to remain within the EU and are seeking a second referendum, even though this is not provided by the terms of the 2018 European Union (Withdrawal) Act.
Others, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Conservative, pro-Brexit member of Parliament and a Catholic, opposed May’s deal because they believe Britain would be better placed outside the EU and without a deal.
Clive Chapman, senior officer for mission and advocacy for the Caritas Social Action Network, said he was concerned about ongoing uncertainty over the status of EU migrants living in Britain as well as for British citizens living in the EU.
Chapman called on Catholic politicians to heed the teachings of Pope Francis when weighing arguments about closing borders to migrants, warning that the “rhetoric around Brexit” could worsen the plight of genuine refugees.
“Any talk of Britain becoming a more isolated country could be seen to be at variance with the Church’s view that we practice humanitarian development well for people who are displaced,” he said.
Meanwhile, on January 21, May said that she would abolish the £65 ($8655) fee that all migrants from the European Union, except for Irish citizens, must pay when they apply to stay in Britain before the country leaves the EU.
Joanna Mludzinska, chairperson of the London-based Polish Social and Cultural Association, said the U-turn was a “very good decision” but that was insufficient in resolving the uncertainty that many European migrants felt.
“It is a good thing that the Church is involved,” she added. “The Church is one of the organisations that sees a lot of these vulnerable groups and is in touch with them ... the more good, strong voices we get, the better.”

More from this section