▶ Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury tells of deep­en­ing di­vi­sions that led to ex­trem­ism and shoot­ing of MP

The National - News - - NEWS - THE NA­TIONAL

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

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