Archbishop sounds alarm about 'poison and hatred' after Brexit

Renewal of values, commitment to tackle inequality needed to challenge racism, xenophobia

By Mark Brolly

July 8 2016 


The Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed alarm at “an out-welling of poison and hatred that I cannot remember in this country for very many years” since the UK’s vote to leave the European Union after 43 years.

In a speech to the House of Lords on 5 July, Archbishop Justin Welby said events flowing from the referendum result – in which 52 per cent of voters backed the “Leave” or so-called “Brexit” proposition – had led to some of the most dramatic and dynamic changes in memory.

The vote on 23 June exposed sharp differences in the UK, with England – apart from London – and Wales supporting a Brexit, while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. It also prompted the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron – to take effect when a new Conservative Party leader is elected – put pressure on Labour Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn, raised the spectre of the departure of Scotland and Northern Ireland from the UK and had a big effect on currency and share markets.

But the Archbishop expressed deepest concerns about the effects on Britain’s multicultural and multi-faith population and the threats to social cohesion.

“The course of the campaign was both robust, as it properly should be on such great issues, but at times veered over the line on both sides into being not merely robust but unacceptable,” Archbishop Welby told the Lords.

“Through those comments were created cracks in the thin crust of the politeness and tolerance of our society, through which, since the referendum, we have seen an out-welling of poison and hatred that I cannot remember in this country for very many years.

“It is essential, not only in this House but for the leaders of both sides, and throughout our society, to challenge the attacks, the xenophobia and the racism that seem to have been felt to be acceptable, at least for a while.”

'Love one another, cease to tear at one another'

Archbishop Welby told the chamber that he had recently hosted an Iftar meal – marking the breaking of the fast during the holy month of Ramadan – at his official London residence, Lambeth Palace, with the new Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn, and the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis.

“We had over a hundred young people of every faith and of no faith, and that sense of hope and energy and a future was one that carried through the rest of the week. It is there, and we can reach for it.”

The Archbishop quoted St Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “Love one another, cease to tear at one another, lest at the end you consume one another.”

“We are in danger of that in the way that our politics is developing at the moment,” Archbishop Welby said.

“If we are to tackle that, we have to look at some of the fundamental issues which must be put in place if we are to have a society that is capable of creating the agile, flexible, creative, entrepreneurial, exciting society, full of the common good, of solidarity, of love for one another, that is the only way that this country will flourish and prosper for all its citizens, in the world outside the European Union of the future.

“The biggest thing it seems to me that we must challenge, my Lords, if we are to be effective in this creation of a new vision for Britain – a vision that enables hope and reconciliation to begin to flower – is to tackle the issues of inequality. It is inequality that thins out the crust of our society. It is inequality that raises the levels of anger and bitterness.”

Archbishop Welby said the UK had tackled inequality before, in the 19th century and also after 1945 “we tackled the inequality that had been so ruinous to our society in the 1930s and led to the failures of that time”.

“The tools to tackle inequality are as readily available as they ever were… They are the obvious ones of education, of public health – and we would add today mental health – of housing. But those tools are tools that we have to take up and invest in.”

Deep renewal of values needed

He said the Church of England had just launched a fresh vision for education, which drew together not only the need for skills but also the need for a whole person deeply imbued with the virtues, hopes and aspirations that were needed in society.

More investment also was needed in public health and recent figures on child poverty were “horrifying”.

“We have seen a widening of the unfairness in our society, and with that it is no surprise that some of the things that have so shocked us have emerged in the last few days,” Archbishop Welby said.

“But my Lords, if those tools are to be used effectively, they are no use held in some kind of vacuum of values. We need a deep renewal of our values in this country. We need a renewal of a commitment to the common good. We need a renewal of solidarity. We need a sense of generosity, of hospitality, of gratuity, of the overflowing of the riches and the flourishing that we possess, not only into our society.

“The issues of immigration, the issues of the hatred expressed to those who may have been here for two or three generations, are not to be solved simply by pulling up the drawbridge.

“I started with scripture in St Paul, I will finish with Deuteronomy. As the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, God said to Moses: ‘The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.’

“We live in a society deeply embedded in that sense of destiny, in that sense of hope. We can catch hold of that hope and be that agile, flourishing and entrepreneurial society that will benefit the poorest and the richest. That will reach out with a forward foreign policy to the poorest around the world. That can renew the standards that we believe are the best of this country.”

*The Archbishop of Canterbury is one of 26 bishops of the Church of England to sit in the House of Lords. They are known as the Lords Spiritual, and their places in Parliament reflect the fact that the Church of England is the Established (i.e. State) Church, with the Queen having the title of the Church’s Supreme Governor. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester are ex-officio members of the House of Lords, with another 21 diocesan bishops who have served the longest also sitting in the upper house at Westminster.

The Church of England is the only Established Church of the 38 member churches (also called provinces) and six other “extra-provincial” churches making up the 85-million strong worldwide Anglican Communion, which includes the Anglican Church of Australia.

Section 116 of the Australian Constitution declares that “the Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth”. But the Preamble to the Constitution says the Australian people, “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God”, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown.

*Read Archbishop Welby’s speech to the House of Lords at

*See the Archbishop of Canterbury deliver his speech at

*Go to for more about the historic role of Anglican bishops in Britain’s House of Lords.