Brexit: Archbishop of Canterbury asked to chair forum

  • Published
Media caption,
Archbishop of Canterbury: Forum can't be used to delay or cancel Brexit

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said he could consider chairing a proposed citizens' forum on Brexit.

He was asked to take on the role by a group of senior MPs who said a forum would "consider how to heal the divisions in our country since the Brexit referendum".

They said it would "benefit greatly" from the archbishop's involvement.

Responding to the letter, Justin Welby said the forum should not be a "Trojan Horse" used to delay or prevent Brexit.

He also said such a forum would have to have cross-party support and have time to be "properly organised".

Speaking to the BBC, he said the project was "not the solution" on its own but could be used to "heal" and bring "reconciliation" to the country.

He also said that he wanted the "will of the people to happen" but that his "personal inner likes or dislikes" were "irrelevant".

Defending his decision to get involved in political matters, he said: "I talk about politics because Jesus talked about politics, Christians talk about politics, we are all in politics."

The proposal came from the Labour MPs Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper, Independent MP Frank Field, Lib Dem Norman Lamb, the SNP's Angus MacNeil and the Conservative Dame Caroline Spelman.

In their letter to the archbishop they said a citizens' forum would "bring together people with very different views, listen to evidence and make recommendations" to inform the decisions the government and Parliament make.

They suggested the archbishop could chair an independent panel that would reflect the "diversity of views" throughout the UK.

Responding to their letter, Archbishop Welby said it was an "unexpected privilege" to be asked to chair the forum.

"The need for national healing and eventually for a move towards reconciliation is essential, and will take much time, a deep commitment to the common good, and contributions from every source," he wrote.

The archbishop has previously served on the Banking Standards Commission - a cross-party parliamentary group set up to consider scandals in the industry.

Speaking to the Times, Conservative Iain Duncan Smith said the archbishop "shouldn't allow himself to be tempted into what is essentially a very political issue right now".

This move comes as opposition MPs take steps towards trying to block a no-deal Brexit through legislation in Parliament.