Bishop of Durham backs pro-EU campaign

One of the Church of England's most senior bishops has waded into the referendum debate and called for Britain to remain in the EU.

Rt Rev Paul Butler, the Bishop of Durham, has signed a pro-EU letter compiled by business leaders in the north-east of England. Alongside the Archbishop of Wales and the Archbishop of York he is one of the most senior Anglican figure to officially announce support for the EU. 

Bishop Paul Butler (right) with the Archbishop of York. The pair are among the three most senior Anglican figures and have both backed the campaign to stay in the EU.(Photo: Keith Blundy)

Butler said he understood why people found the decision difficult but added he had looked "carefully at a wide range of issues" and concluded he "very much" supports staying in the EU. 

In a statement after he signed the letter Butler said the most important question was what sort of nation we wanted to be. 

"I firmly believe that working together for the betterment of all our communities is best served by being part of a united EU, one where we are able to play our full part," he said.

"Here in the North East of England we have very strong ties with Europe across many sectors including manufacturing, education, farming and our service sector all of which positively benefit from us being part of the EU."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the C of E in the UK, has pointedly refused to take a side in the debate and stated there is not "one correct Christian view". But that has not stopped other Anglican figures coming out for either side.

The Archbishop of York has said he has yet to hear a "cogent argument for why we should be out" and the Church of Scotland has publically supported Remain.

Dozens of faith leaders including a number of senior Christians signed a letter in late-May calling on the UK to stay part of the EU. The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Baptist minister Steve Chalke were among the signatories to the letter which said faith was about "integration and building bridges, not about isolation and erecting barriers".

"As leaders and senior figures of faith communities, we urge our co-religionists and others to think about the implications of a Leave vote for the things about which we are most passionate," the letter said.

"The past 70 years have been the longest period of peace in Europe's history. Institutions that enable us to work together and understand both our differences and what we share in common contribute to our increased security and sense of collective endeavour."

Another former archbishop, Lord Carey of Clifton, is in the minority as a senior Anglican who has announced support for Brexit.

Carey argued the EU has now become a source of division, conflict and unhappiness.

In an article for the Daily Mail he wrote: "For the British in particular, it is the loss of sovereignty and the inability of Britain or indeed any member state to reform and restore the democratic freedom of the nation state which have made the impositions of the EU such a running sore for many people".

He added the EU had run an "unasked-for experiment in uncontrolled immigration" which left Brits with "no choice but to take back control of our borders".