As the British government continues progress towards leaving the European Union, after last year’s referendum, a number initiatives within the Diocese in Europe are looking at the effects of Brexit on churches and their members across the continent.
Major concerns centre on future health provision abroad and in the UK, pensions affected by the lower rate of exchange for sterling, clergy recruitment and the problems of families with dual nationality.
I was among a group of volunteer delegates who joined Bishop Robert in late January at a meeting facilitated by the UK Ambassador to Belgium, Alison Rose, using a video-conference link to the embassy in Brussels for Lord George Bridges, a Minister in the UK government’s Brexit Department, who was able to hear and respond to concerns.
After the two hour meeting Bishop Robert said; “I was personally very pleased that the Government, in the form of Lord Bridges, was prepared to put a whole day in his diary to meet with us. In the event, a Prime Minister’s speech and an appearance in the House of Lords meant that the morning event had to be rescheduled – probably for March – and the in the afternoon we only got him for a short time on video link to Brussels. But that is the reality of dealing with government ministers.
“We were taken very seriously by the staff at the UK Representation in Brussels, and it is staff in this building who will be conducting the actual negotiations, so I do feel we have been properly listened to, and by the right people.
“The event brought home to me the sheer range and complexity of the issues that the government will have to sort out. It was very clear that the biggest worries are over health care and pensions. Of course for me as a bishop, I have particular concerns that the most vulnerable people should not be placed in situations of real stress, uncertainty and possible poverty. I will want to keep up my own contacts with government as the actual negotiations get underway to help ensure that the needs of people in our diocese, who sadly risk being treated as negotiating chips in a bigger game, are properly understood and respected.”
I too feel that our concerns, some of which were presented by us from a different perspective, were carefully listened to, and were received in a very open way. We look forward to progress in protecting the rights of all citizens living outside their home country who are affected by this move.