Splits Among Bishops Over Brexit Exposed By Lords Vote

The Palace of Westminster.Reuters

Bishops are called to show unity on controversial issues such as homosexuality.

But last night those Bishops who voted in the House of Lords, several of them heavyweights, were divided on an amendment to the Government's legislation triggering article 50 in order to press ahead with Brexit.

Voted against the Government: the Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman.Diocese of Newcastle

Peers overwhelmingly rebelled against the Government by passing an amendment demanding a guarantee of rights for EU nationals already in the UK.

The Government defeat, by 358 votes to 256, came thanks to an alliance of Labour, Liberal Democrats, cross-benchers, seven rebel Tories – and two Bishops.

The Bishops who voted for the amendment, and therefore against the Government, were the Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman and the Bishop of Leeds, Nicholas Baines.

Voted against the Government: the Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines

Bishop Baines, who is tipped by some church insiders to be the next Bishop of London, wrote on his blog: 'The people have spoken, but the concerns of nearly half of them also need to be heard.'

On the other side, the Government was backed by the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres and the Bishop of St Albans, Alan Smith.

Archbishop Sentamu, who voted for Britain to remain in the EU in the referendum last June,said in the debate that he was one of the people who had left Uganda in opposition to Idi Aminexpelling Asians - 'so I know how minorities can feel'.

But he surprised some by insisting that the legislation was simply about allowing article 50 to be triggered, and compared it to the start of a race.

Voted with the Government: the Archbishop of York, John SentamuReuters

'On your marks, get set, bang,' he said. 'Then they take off and it will take two years to run this race and during the running of the race we want to make sure concerns come back.'

The Archbishop added: 'I want to suggest that we leave the Bill as it is. Pass it as quickly as possible and, after all the speeches about guaranteeing European citizens their right to remain, let us do it as quickly as possible—but do not attach it to this Bill. As far as I am concerned, that is not revising or scrutinising the Bill. It is simply adding material which I do not think is very helpful.'

Voted with the Government: the Bishop of London, the Richard Chartres

But Bishop Baines added on his blog: 'It is clear that the Lords will not stop Article 50 from being triggered. But, the central plank of the Brexit campaign – that parliamentary sovereignty be restored to "the people" of the UK – surely means that this parliament should be encouraged to do its job as part of the democratic process. Does anyone really think that had the referendum gone the other way, the Leavers would have declared, "Well, the people have spoken and we must shut up, accept it and embrace membership of the EU without comment, demur or debate"?

'"The people" include not only the 48 per cent who voted to remain in the EU, but also those younger people who have (or will have before the two-year negotiation period is concluded) reached the magic age of suffrage – and will endure or enjoy the consequences of "the deal" that is done on their behalf. The people have spoken, but the concerns of nearly half of them also need to be heard as together we build the new country and settlement chosen by the majority in the referendum.'

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was among the remaining 21 bishops who did not vote in the debate.

You can read the full debate on House of Lords Hansard, and see which way each peer voted on the Lords' website. 

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