Language in Brexit debate has become 'unacceptable', say bishops

(Photo: Reuters)

Church of England bishops have called for people on all sides of the Brexit debate to "speak to others with respect" after a week in which the Prime Minister came under fire over his comments on Britain's withdrawal from the EU and a number of MPs revealed they had received threats.

In a statement on Friday, the Church of England's College of Bishops made an urgent appeal for people to start listening to each other as it warned against denigrating and patronising others. 

"In the last few days, the use of language, both in debates and outside Parliament, has been unacceptable," the statement reads. 

"We should speak to others with respect. And we should also listen. We should do this especially with the poor, with the marginalised, and with those whose voices are often not heard in our national conversation.

"We should not denigrate, patronise or ignore the honest views of fellow citizens, but seek to respect their opinions, their participation in society, and their votes.

"The teachings of Jesus Christ call for us to be generous and humble servants; virtues which are for all leaders, whatever their faith.

"We call on politicians to adhere rigorously to the rule of law and on all to respect and uphold the impartiality of the courts and our judiciary." 

The bishops go on to call for a renewal of the structures "that enable us to 'love one another'" and caution that changes should only be made to the principles of government after "careful planning and consultation".

"It is easy to descend into division and abuse – climbing out and finding unity again takes far longer," the bishops write.

"Further entrenching our divisions, whether from uncertainty or from partisanship, is not worthy of our country nor the leadership we now need.

"We are a body that understands from our own experience the dangers of division. It is our view and most solemn warning that we must find better ways of acting." 

The statement was put together by senior bishops in the Church of England following the College's three-day residential meeting in Oxford last week. 

It follows the launch earlier this year of the Church of England's Digital Charter encouraging people to make a commitment to engaging respectfully on social media platforms and the web.