Welby: Cross-party approach would 'draw poison' from Brexit

Justin Welby and Theresa May Image copyright PA
Image caption The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby urged Mrs May to set up a cross-party commission

The Archbishop of Canterbury has urged the prime minister to set up a cross-party commission to "draw much of the poison" from Brexit negotiations.

Justin Welby told the Mail on Sunday the UK needed a united negotiating strategy for exiting the EU.

He said the commission should be under Parliament's authority, chaired by a senior politician.

Cabinet minister Priti Patel rejected the idea and said ministers were focused on getting "the right deal".

Formal Brexit negotiations began last Monday in Brussels. Key subjects to be negotiated include the status of EU nationals and Britons living elsewhere in the EU, the size of any "divorce" bill and how the UK will trade with the EU once it leaves.

In his article, the archbishop wrote that - with a hung parliament - there was "an understandable temptation for every difference to become a vote of confidence".

But he said that would be a "disaster", as British negotiators would not have "confidence in their backing from the UK".

He claimed a commission, with parties from the whole political spectrum, could "hold the ring for the differences [in opinion] to be fought out".

It should be under the authority of the Commons, and chaired by a senior politician, but without the authority to bind Parliament, he said.

"We need the politicians to find a way of neutralising the temptation to take minor advantage domestically from these great events," the archbishop wrote.

He added that Britain's decision to leave the EU was the third time in two centuries that the UK had to "redefine the place of our country in the world".

But International Development Secretary Priti Patel rejected the idea of a cross-party commission.

She told BBC Radio 5 live's Pienaar's Politics: "I think the point is, this isn't about commissions. The public voted last year to leave the European Union. Our job as government now is obviously securing the right deal for the country and not rerunning those arguments of Remain and Leave from last year."

Image copyright Getty Images

In the same article, the archbishop said the Grenfell Tower fire - and the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London - had "brought out the best of communities in crisis".

"Communities have staggered, stumbled and pulled themselves up," he wrote.

"I am so proud and grateful to be part of a country where people at Westminster rush to treat a man who has just tried to kill them, where an imam ensures the would-be killer whose van is still resting on one of his congregation is protected."

The UK is due to leave the EU by the end of March 2019.