THE BISHOP of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth, has responded to the Queen’s Speech by calling for ‘a strategy to repair the damage done to our relationships with European partners.”
Speaking in the House of Lords on Tuesday (October 15) to debate proposals put forward by the government in the Queen’s Speech, the bishop noted how “friendship between the UK and other countries of the EU has been under much strain since the referendum, especially in recent weeks.”
Following the birth of his granddaughter in Cologne, Germany, last Tuesday (October 8), the Bishop said friendly co-operation gave him a “personal interest” in European relations.
Addressing the Lords, the bishop said: “The Queen’s Speech made clear the Government’s intention ‘to work towards a new partnership with the European Union based on free trade and friendly co-operation.’
“As we have heard, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House spoke of the Government forging ‘a new relationship with our partners in the EU that will cement our reputation as a strong and reliable neighbour.’
“I declare a very personal interest in such friendly co-operation: a hope that we may indeed be a strong and reliable – good – neighbour with the sort of obligations and responsibilities noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter.
“Last Tuesday morning (Oct 8), my German daughter-in-law gave birth to her first child in Cologne. I have spoken in your Lordships’ House before about her wedding to our son in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral: a place once desecrated by hatred and violence, sanctified by their vows of love, and witnessed – most movingly, I found – by their grandmothers, whose fathers and husbands had fought to kill each other in the First and Second World Wars.
“It was the fulfilment in two families of a 1940 Christmas Day commitment, broadcast by the BBC from the ruins of the bombed cathedral, to find a way to reach out to enemies and turn them into friends.
“There is no doubt that friendship between the UK and other countries of the EU has been under much strain since the referendum, especially in recent weeks. On Sunday night, I spoke with the chairman of the German board of the Community of the Cross of Nails, which emanates from Coventry and works for reconciliation in places of conflict in every land.
“He told me how he could not help feeling personally rejected by the UK and how troubled he was by the violence being done to language, with truth, he said, being bent for domestic political ends, releasing anti-German sentiment in popular discourse. We agreed that the work on European reconciliation, which we had thought was largely done, has become an urgent priority again.
“I ask the Minister: what is the strategy for repairing the damage done to our relationships with European partners, not only in government but at every other level of society?
“How are the government encouraging civil society to get ready for Brexit by shoring up relationships and friendships between cities, organisations and schools, just as we are in the churches?
“Will the government commit to making every effort to ease the flow of interaction in the future between people, not only for the exchange of goods and services but for human exchanges of every sort including, critically, those between young people and schools?
“Will they give detailed attention to that in future legislation? Moreover, although there has been some toning down of the military language avowed even by the Prime Minister himself, are the government determined to ensure that the language and methods of the final stages of negotiation of a deal will allow what John Henry Newman, canonised in Rome on Sunday, described as the “parting of friends” when he moved on from the Church of England?
“When the result of the referendum was heard in Dresden, the main act of a large festival was interrupted by a spontaneous outburst from the crowd singing, “You say goodbye, we say hello”.
“For the sake of my granddaughter, alive today because of the friendships built between our nations after the enmity of the past, I pray that the future between her two countries will begin with a new hello, perhaps marked by some form of powerful national symbolic gesture, and that it will be sustained by the virtues of friendship and good neighbourliness: reliability, mutual concern, commitment to each other’s interests, loyalty, truth, kindness, crossing to the side of the road where there is need, binding up wounds and the like.
“A new partnership, ‘based on free trade and friendly co-operation’, will, as we have heard, raise questions about the relationship between competition and co-operation. How do we safeguard our commitment to friendship from erosion by our quest for economic advantage?
” It is a particular form of challenge for our foreign policy that will loom large right across our international trade negotiations post Brexit. Will we be as resolute as the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, was in a previous debate on this subject – I know this is also very much the Minister’s intention – in ensuring that the values, including those on human rights of every sort which underlie our nation, will be carried into the negotiating room and not left at the door?
“If Brexit has taught us one thing, it must be that the money god is an unreliable master. The EU has shown that it has higher ideals than money and it has remained impressively faithful to them. People who want to leave the EU have shown that they care about more than money and are prepared to bear economic cost for the gain of other prizes. Perhaps that sets a vision for our nation’s place in the world: to be a champion of goods and values, principles and purposes, that have a higher price than gold; to provide financial, legal and commercial services and manufacturing products of the highest income-generating capacity, but in a way that serves the common good of humanity by being a good neighbour and a reliable friend.
“In conclusion, does the Minister agree that the way to fulfil the noble aspiration to be a moral lantern in the world is to be the sort of friend and neighbour who is truly concerned with not only our interests but the interests and the good of others, and that that is tested by our attitude to our nearest neighbours?”