“God of all Hopefulness, Upholding and Renewing your Creation:
Give your Grace abundantly to our European Union Leaders, that they may
Lead with Wisdom and Insight, With a Willingness to Lead and be Led.
In your mercy cast out, in us, all fear, godlessness, sin and love of money;
And help us to live Truth, Justice, Peace, Compassion and Joy.
To the Glory of your Name. Amen”
++ John Sentamu, Archbishop of York
©Archbishop of York
Crunch time is approaching fast and the prayer above, drafted by the Archbishop of York last week, is so appropriate. The key to unlocking the Brexit impasse lies in Dublin, not in London; and, having led the negotiations up to this point, it is time for Leo Varadkar to be led by his people - who know that it is critically important for Ireland that the UK leaves the EU with a deal.
Ireland has done spectacularly well out of its EU membership, and has achieved most from being part of the Eurozone club. Now it is time to bank some of that success, by taking a pragmatic view on the backstop: so that the deal gets done.
A couple of weeks after the 2016 Brexit referendum, I attended a political gathering of the governing Conservative party. A question was asked, bearing in mind that Northern Ireland had voted overwhelmingly in favour of ‘Remain’, whether it might make sense to hold a specific Northern Ireland referendum: on whether to stay within the United Kingdom and leave the European Union, or to join with the Republic of Ireland at that point and remain.
Of course, at that stage there was a clear, albeit modest, overall Conservative majority: so no complications with the Democratic Unionists holding the balance of power. There was, however, a sharp intake of breath, and all sorts of reasons were given as to why the Good Friday Agreement would not allow such a referendum.
Fast forward to today’s impasse over the Northern Ireland backstop, and it’s not difficult to see how even just having held such a referendum - let alone getting a vote in favour of Irish unification and ‘Remain’ - would have simplified the whole Brexit withdrawal.
I spent a very enjoyable 24 hours in Ireland last week, and it was clear that people have a good deal of admiration for the way Leo Varadkar has played his hand in the Brexit negotiations. Of course, everyone wants an open border between north and south, and clearly not nearly enough people, neither here nor there, are aware of the French precedent for open borders to which we have drawn attention at several times over the past few months.
However, the Irish also see a Brexit deal as absolutely essential. We’ve heard on frequent occasions in the general media about the massive reliance on trade that Ireland has with the United Kingdom, and there is little doubt that admiration and support for Leo Varadkar would swiftly evaporate if his unwillingness to compromise over the backstop were to lead to a 'no deal' scenario. If he thinks that intransigence would simply lead to a second referendum in which ‘Remain’ would win, he might be severely mistaken.
So now is the time for Leo to read, mark and inwardly digest the Archbishop of York’s prayer and, in particular, to allow himself to be led by his people’s wish for a pragmatic outcome. A little bit of movement in order to provide legal confirmation that any application of the backstop would be time-limited should suffice, and the European Research Group has helpfully provided a summary of what they are looking for in order to get Theresa May’s deal through the House of Commons. Perhaps Leo should also remember that, in any case, the north-south border can always revert to a ‘Backstop à la France’
But the Archbishop’s prayer is not only of short-term relevance, but also of such long-term significance: since it should help European leaders to address the weighty issue of the Eurozone itself. ‘To lead and be led’ is a critical pointer to the political integration which so urgently needs to be put in place in order to underpin the stability of the single currency.
So thanks indeed are due to ++ John Sentamu. May we see his prayers for both the UK Parliament and EU leaders bearing fruit for the reconciliation which we so urgently need.
The Share Centre