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Church of Ireland Notes from ‘The Irish Times’


In recent months much of the public converse, inevitably, has been about Covid 19 and its effects on society. As in society so too in the church, and we have spent much of our time leaning about new ways to worship, to conduct our business and to support each other. But that other threat to our stability, Brexit, has not gone away and the church has not forgotten about it.

In a remarkable, though little remarked upon, initiative the Primates of the British Isles came together to formulate a warning to the members of the House of Lords concerning the controversial Internal Markets Bill. The initiative was significant, as the Archbishop of Armagh noted, at least in the sense that the Primates of these islands seldom, if ever, have spoken together.

The Archbishop of Armagh, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Archbishop of Wales explained that:

‘The UK Internal Market Bill represents a profound shift in the way trading relationships within the UK will be regulated and governed in the future. This will not be a return to a trade regime which existed before the UK’s entry into the EU; it is the construction of an entirely novel system to replace one that evolved slowly and by careful negotiation over decades.

‘As the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Senedd have made clear, the fact that Bill weakens both the principles and the effect of devolved policymaking is of constitutional significance.  What is more, if the Bill is made law without the consent of the devolved legislatures (as will happen if it is not amended to address their concerns), then this will only further undermine trust and goodwill among those who govern the different parts of the United Kingdom.

‘The Bill is, of course, not just concerned with domestic law. As it currently stands, it is asking the highest law–making body of the country to equip a government minister to break international law. This has enormous moral, as well as political and legal, consequences.

‘We believe that this would create a disastrous precedent. It is particularly disturbing for those of us who feel a sense of duty and responsibility towards the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement – that international treaty upon which peace and stability within and between the UK and Ireland depends.

‘The UK negotiated the Northern Ireland Protocol with the European Union in order to “protect the 1998 Agreement in all its dimensions”. One year on, in this Bill, the UK Government is not only preparing to break the Protocol but also now to breach a fundamental tenet of the Agreement in the process, namely by limiting the incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights in Northern Ireland law.

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

‘We urge lawmakers to consider this Bill in the light of the type of values and principles we would wish to characterize relationships across these islands long after the end of the transition period.’

This is not the Archbishop of Armagh’s first public intervention in the Brexit debate. Some will remember his open letter, as Bishop of Clogher, to the British PM which was published in the Daily Telegraph. This has since received the accolade of being quoted by Glenn Patterson in his Brexit themed latest book, Backstop Land: ‘No Government should commit a country to a course of action in which the consequences were so opaque as to be incalculable’.

Church of Ireland Notes

Published in the Saturday edition of The Irish Times