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Bishop of Chelmsford criticises Sandi Toksvig’s comparison of UK system to Iran’s

by Kelly Valencia

The Iranian-born Bishop of Chelmsford has criticised broadcaster Sandi Toksvig’s comparison of the UK political system to that of Iran.

Rt Rev Guli Francis-Dehqani, who sits in the House of Lords as part of the 'bishops’ bench', said the two systems are “incomparable”.

“I normally stay out of Twitter debates but, for what it’s worth, as an Iranian now utterly amazed to find myself in Parliament, I feel bound to comment,” Bishop Guli wrote on Twitter.

“I get the irony of what @sanditoksvig says of course and it makes for good rhetoric but really the two systems in Iran and the UK are incomparable - one based within an established and historic democracy, the other with unchecked powers upholding an autocratic theocracy.”

On Friday, broadcaster Sandi Toksvig launched a petition to remove Church of England bishops from the House of Lords, following the church’s decision not to allow same-sex marriage.

While explaining her reasoning behind the petition, she also grouped the UK and Iran as the two only countries in the world where religious leaders get an automatic seat in the nation’s political system.

“A curious and indeed uncomfortable club,” Toksvig said.

 But Bishop Guli defended the work of the 26 bishops in the House of Lords.

“The removal of the Bishops from Parliament is a legitimate public debate and I have no problem with @sanditoksvig raising it. We might be there because of a historic anomaly and we may have made mistakes in the past and probably will again.

“But most of my Lord Spiritual colleagues work very hard indeed to shape & improve laws on issues from housing to health, criminal justice to online safety, immigration to gambling and many more. And they speak with grassroots knowledge of and care for the regions they represent.

“I was pleased to raise the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe while she was still incarcerated in Iran, and our collective voice (heard only very rarely) on the cruel policies around sending asylum seekers to Rwanda had a powerful impact.

“Many undoubtedly want bishops out of parliament. Others, however, disagree, including many leaders from other faith communities who know we often speak for them too. The final decision is way above my pay grade but while I’m there I’m committed to contributing as best I can,” she concluded.

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