[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Church of England’s Diocese in Europe has begun exploring the implications that Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) might have on British-national clergy deployed to the continent. At present, as members of the EU, British nationals – including clergy – can travel, reside, and work in any of the other 27-member states without requiring visas or work permits. That may change when Britain leaves the EU. There are also questions about whether the reciprocal health-care arrangements for citizens of EU member states will also continue to apply to British nationals once the UK completes the withdrawal process.
The decision to leave the EU was made by the British people in a referendum last year with 52 per cent voting in favour of departure and 48 per cent voting to remain. Prime Minister Theresa May has said that she intends to trigger Article 50 of the EU Treaty – the formal start of a two-year exit negotiation period – by the end of March. This will allow the UK to complete its exit before the next round of European Parliamentary elections. This week the country’s Supreme Court ruled that, despite the referendum, the government could not trigger Article 50 using reserved executive powers known as the Royal Prerogative. The justices ruled that an Act of Parliament, approved by both Houses of Parliament, was required before the Article 50 notification could be triggered.
The shape of the implications of Brexit on British citizens in Europe won’t be known until the conclusion of the negotiations on Britain’s new relationship with the EU. But the Diocese in Europe is beginning the process of exploring what the effects might be on its churches and their members across the continent.
The diocesan bishop, Robert Innes, hosted a meeting last month involving delegates from across the Diocese and British government minister Lord Bridges. “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,” the Diocese in Europe explained on its website.
“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. . . ” Bishop Robert said. “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.”