Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams has waded into the debate on Britain’s membership of the European Union, voicing his support for the country remaining part of the bloc.
The controversial cleric even indicated that he may be in favour of the single currency when he expressed disappointment at the lack of progress the federalists had made in economic policy.
“Some of the high hopes for financial convergence have been deeply undermined,” probably referring to the catastrophic eurozone crisis where the forcing together of economic management has caused widespread poverty and unemployment particularly in the South.
In an interview with the Church of Ireland Gazette Lord Williams, who once said Sharia law in the UK was “unavoidable” and that it could increase community cohesion in the country, voiced concerns that independence would be a “deeply regressive” step for the country.
His reasoning was based on a fear the UK would be left “dangerously dependent” on the City of London which, as a major business and employer in the country, contributes billions to the Treasury each year.
He had previously said that the Church of England had a “proper interest in the ethics of the financial world” and warned that there had been “little visible change in banking practices” following the recession.
Lord Williams said going it alone outside of political union could turn the country into an “offshore financial facility” and even claimed that the country, which has been a global player in terms of history and culture for centuries, would have nothing “distinctive” apart from banking services.
It is thought to be the first time that a senior Anglican cleric has waded into the debate on Britain’s future EU membership.
At the beginning of the month, Pope Francis caused some upset amongst Eurocrats and MEPs by saying the EU had become “Somewhat elderly and haggard” and warned of ignoring the responsibilities which people have as well as their ‘rights’.
Responding to the speech, the former Archbishop said he felt the organisation had lost some of its early “moral energy” and said that the EU was about “more than simply keeping a lot of officials happy and avoiding conflict.”
The plan of Monnet and others after the First World War was “one of the most important visions that we could have”, he added, saying that he thought freedom of movement and economic stability were the basis for the avoidance of conflict in Europe.
But the member of the House of Lords added “I don’t think we’ve begun to have a really serious discussion about [withdrawal] yet.”
In a statement which may cause anger amongst a population who for decades had been told any discussion on immigration was ‘racist’, he said it was also becoming impossible to have a “reasonable conversation” about immigration in the UK, blaming it for the increasing numbers of people who say they would vote to leave in a future referendum.
Dismissing concerns about Human Rights judgements handed down from the Strasbourg court which have enraged voters and politicians alike he said:
“The fact is, of course, we have absorbed the European Convention on Human Rights into British law anyway, so it is not as if there is some sinister global tyranny forcing us.
“There aren’t any sanctions anyway which the European Court of Human Rights can apply,” he said.
“They can only state that such and such a decision is ‘incompatible’, they can’t do anything much about it.”
However the court can impose considerable fines on the UK and significantly in constitutional law. rulings of EU courts are considered superior to domestic law in the UK, in particular since the Factortame case of 1988 which ruled that the House of Lords was not the highest court in the land.
But at the heart of his concerns for Britain leaving the EU there seemed to be concern about funding of NGOs and agencies that he is personally involved in, rather in whether the Union had brought any benefit to the daily lives of the people who pay for it.
“Certainly as someone involved in the NGO world I feel there is an impact there and we and other aid agencies would be adversely affected,” he said.