Bishops Warn of ‘Disastrous’ Consequences of Internal Market Bill

October 19, 2020 Updated: October 20, 2020

Britain’s top Anglican bishops have warned that the government’s controversial Internal Market Bill will undermine the strength of the union.

In a rare joint letter published in the Financial Times, the top archbishops in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland said the bill could damage the relationship between the UK’s four nations and undermine peace in Northern Ireland.

The letter was signed by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of Wales John Davies, Archbishop of Armagh John McDowell, and the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church Mark Strange.

The bishops said they wanted to “highlight the grave responsibility of peers in the House of Lords” as they were due to start debating the bill on Monday, after it cleared the House of Commons last month.

The proposed bill, which, by the government’s own admission, breaks international law, will have “enormous moral, as well as political and legal, consequences,” the bishops said.

“We believe this would create a disastrous precedent,” they said. “It is particularly disturbing for all of us who feel a sense of duty and responsibility to the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement—that international treaty on which peace and stability within and between the UK and Ireland depends.”

“If carefully negotiated terms are not honoured and laws can be ‘legally’ broken, on what foundations does our democracy stand?”

The Internal Market Bill, if passed, will override parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, an international treaty Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government had negotiated and signed with the European Union.

Stephen Cottrell, the 98th Archbishop of York, takes a service of evensong
Stephen Cottrell, the 98th Archbishop of York, takes a service of evensong at York Minster in northern England on Oct. 18, 2020. (Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images)

All of Britain’s living former prime ministers have expressed concern about the bill. On Oct. 1, the EU took legal action against the UK over its “breach of the obligation of good faith laid down in the Withdrawal Agreement.”

In response to the archbishops’ letter, a government spokesperson reiterated the reasons set out by ministers for introducing the bill.

“We need to create a legal safety net to protect the integrity of the UK’s internal market, to ensure ministers can always deliver on their obligations to Northern Ireland, and protect the gains from the peace process,” the spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement.

The archbishops also expressed concerns over the bill’s consequences for the UK’s internal unity.

“The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Senedd have made clear that the bill’s weakening of both the principles and the effect of devolved policy-making is of constitutional significance,” they wrote.

“Moreover, if the bill is made law without consent from devolved legislatures (as will happen if it is not amended to address their concerns), this will further undermine trust and goodwill among those who govern the different parts of the UK.”

The archbishops urged lawmakers to consider this bill “in the light of values and principles we would wish to characterise relationships across these islands long after the transition period.”

But the government argued that the UK’s devolved administrations will not be weakened.

“When the transition period ends, vast numbers of powers will return from Brussels back to Holyrood, the Senedd, and Stormont, who will enjoy a power surge and become more powerful than they were when the UK was inside the EU,” the government statement said.

The Internal Market Bill “will continue to strengthen our union by maintaining our internal market—providing certainty for businesses and consumers across the UK,” the spokesperson said.