A Conservative MP has suggested that the Prime Minister could sever ties with senior church leaders if they continue to criticise government policy.
Following yesterday's open letter from a number of senior clergy decrying the government's new Internal Market Bill, Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister, told The Times that a new parliamentary motion may be required to eke out more space between church and state.
“God bless the archbishops, but I wish that they were better advised legally,” Baker said of their latest statement, which insisted that the new Brexit bill, criticised for breaking international law, sets a "disastrous precedent".
Baker, who is a committed Christian, said the Archbishops had "inadvertently sown division where they might have promoted unity" by releasing the statement.
"I hope they will apologise," he added.
Baker went on to float the idea of disestablishing the church altogether, so as to prevent any future clerical interventions.
He said: "Of course they’re entitled to their political views while they sit in the House of Lords.
“If people don’t want them to have these views, perhaps the prime minister ought to move to a paving motion on the disestablishment of the Church of England.”
In response to Baker's comments, the rector of London's Great St Bartholomew, Rev's Marcus Walker, tweeted:
"I do wish that Tory MPs would stop throwing tantrums every time the bishops disagree with them. Say they’re wrong, argue with them, use the power of establishment to ensure a diversity of episcopal opinion...but stop throwing toys out of prams."
During a speech in the House of Lords yesterday, Archbishop Justin Welby — who signed the letter alongside the Archbishop of York, the Archbishop of Wales (Church in Wales), the Archbishop of Armagh (Church of Ireland) and the Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness (Scottish Episcopal Church) — insisted that the group was compelled to speak out on issues relating to peace and reconciliation.
"What we are above all called to do in this country, deeply embedded in our Christian culture and history, is to act justly and honestly," Welby said. "We cannot do so if we openly speak of breaking a treaty under international law reached at properly on which peace in part of the UK relies."
Welby expressed concerns over the protection of the Good Friday Agreement - the historic 1998 peace accord which brought an official end to decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Under the new Internal Market Bill, there are some concerns that aspects of the agreement, particularly related the protection of equality and human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), may not be fully upheld.
"There are some who claim that I and my colleagues who wrote in theft this morning are misinformed, but the letter and this intervention follow the lead of those who have spent their lives seeking peace in Ireland," Welby added, insisting that "peace is surely something of which religious leaders should speak".
"This country has different characteristics and needs in its regions and nations," he said. "They must be reflected in all our relationships if the Union is to survive."