UK’S TOP CLERIC BLAMES PM FOR TOXIC BREXIT ROW
▶ Archbishop of Canterbury tells of deepening divisions that led to extremism and shooting of MP
The UK’s most senior religious figure has rebuked Boris Johnson, the prime minister, for inflammatory language that has entrenched national divisions over Brexit.
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and most senior cleric in the Church of England, said he was shocked when Mr Johnson dismissed fears about attacks on MPs as “humbug”.
The archbishop claimed that the increasingly confrontational style of British politics was amplified by social media that had fuelled wider public anger as the UK grappled with the question of whether to leave the European Union.
“I think we have become addicted to an abusive and binary approach to political decisions: ‘It’s either this or you’re my total enemy,” he told The Sunday Times.
A British opposition MP, Jo Cox, was murdered by a rightwing extremist days before the 2016 referendum when the UK voted by 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave the EU.
Tension has risen as Parliament has refused to support two “divorce agreements” with the EU struck by Mr Johnson and his predecessor Theresa May that were designed to ease the economic turmoil of departure and pave the way for a future trade deal.
Mr Johnson’s “humbug” comment last month came after an MP urged him to moderate his comments after receiving death threats following highly-charged scenes inside and outside Parliament over Brexit.
“I was shocked by that,” the newspaper quoted Mr Welby as saying. “It should never be dismissed in that way. Death threats are really serious and they need to be taken seriously. All sides need to say: ‘That is totally and utterly unacceptable’.”
Only one in seven Britons describes themselves as belonging to the Church of England, Britain’s major survey of social attitudes shows. The political influence of senior religious leaders is limited, although 26 bishops sit in the upper house of Parliament.
Senior church leaders have criticised the upheaval and said the “lies and misrepresentation” of political leaders was one of the major factors that threaten the social fabric of Britain. A group of bishops warned in August against the dangers of a no-deal Brexit on the poorest in society.
A general election on December 12 to break the political deadlock after MPs blocked Mr
Johnson’s plans to leave the EU fore October 31.
The government requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament to hold an early vote before the next planned election in 2022 but Mr Johnson was hoping to capitalise on splits within the opposition to secure one. Polls suggest he is in prime position to form a new government if an election is held.
The Labour party said that it wants a no-deal Brexit to be ruled out before it is prepared to back an election. But two smaller parties said they will conditionally back the plan if an election was held on December 9 – move dismissed as a “stunt” by the government.
Justin Welby says the adversarial style of British politics over Brexit has fuelled wider public anger