Politicians need to be more civil to make success of Brexit, says archbishop

The archbishop of Canterbury has called for a “ceasefire from insults” in British politics in order to make a success of leaving the European Union.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, which was broadcast from Lambeth Palace, the archbishop’s home, Justin Welby said: “It would be very good to have a ceasefire from insults and the use of pejorative terms about people at this time.

“As a country we have a future ahead of us, we’ve made a decision about Brexit, that is clear. Both sides are saying that. How we do that is a question for robust political argument.

“But there’s a difference between disagreeing and personalised attacks, and those have to be avoided,” said Welby, who backed remain in the Brexit referendum. “Because if we’re going to make a success of Brexit … then we need a political leadership that is united in their attitude to the future even if divided on policy. And therefore we do need reconciliation and unity.”

The archbishop said there was “a very profound movement across every part of our society, across every part of politics, that says: yes, it’s very good that our economy is growing, it’s very good that unemployment is low, but that must be accompanied by things that demonstrate the value of human beings.”

He cited positive moves such as the government’s “living wage” and greater understanding of mental illness, but restated his desire to see corporations pay tax “for the common good; for economic justice”.

“The tax system should ensure that those who benefit from a society should pay to that society properly,” he added.

Welby, who was due to give a blessing at a memorial service for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire at St Paul’s Cathedral on Thursday, said the tragic event had shown that “there was less attention being paid to the people of Grenfell Tower and similar buildings than to others in more prosperous areas”.

But he added that the response of communities in the aftermath of Grenfell and of the terror attacks at London Bridge, Westminster and Manchester Arena this year was a source of hope. “The fact that people were horrified … that this should happen in a tower block in London [and] a sense that this is wrong” was comforting, he said.

Asked about recent statistics revealing that more than half of the UK’s population say they have no religion, and fewer than a million people regularly attend Anglican churches each week, Welby said the church was “doing more in society than for a long time”, citing activities such as night shelters and food banks.

The church was reforming and becoming much more focused, deliberate and purposeful, he said.

Asked about the church wedding next year of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Welby said the event was “no tickbox exercise”, and that the couple had a “profound sense of commitment” to faith and to each other.

He declined to say whether he would officiate at the wedding, as it was a decision for the couple.

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