This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on the morning after the Inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris:

Why is it that the same words spoken by two different people can have such a different effect.

For example, listen to me read Shakespeare … and then listen to an actor use the same words. It’s the same with liturgy: one person grabs the attention of a congregation and they go through the words to a different place; someone else does it and it’s like having the telephone directory read out.

I say this because yesterday’s inauguration ceremony in Washington was pregnant with resonant language. For example, that we should be judged not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example. A truism? Maybe. But, the words create a space, suggesting a first word and not the final nail in a dogma. There is room to explore – as my own imagination did during the ceremony.

“Here we stand”, said the President. And I thought of Martin Luther, standing in front of the emperor five hundred years ago and articulating that all-too-human predicament: I hold to this conviction, but with vulnerability before the potential cost. We heard of St Augustine, often maligned as the original sinner when it comes to sex, but who couldn’t escape the depths of love and grace and mercy. We heard Amazing Grace – a familiar hymn which is dragged from the depths of a complex and conflicted man (John Newton) who knew that when all is stripped away, we are left with a human fragility that knows its need of unmerited generosity and mercy. As Jesus told his friends prior to his own death: if you are to live and give grace, you need first to recognise your own need of it and receive it.

The thing about yesterday was that, whether spoken or accompanied by music, words have the power to transcend mere pragmatism – policies and how to enact them in legislation, for instance; they inspire the imagination. This is language that resonates, that is spacious, that lifts our eyes and hearts to perceive an experience that might hitherto have eluded us.

I think this is what was being addressed yesterday. Not the language of settling scores. Not an articulation of pride or self-consciousness. Not an expression of dry dogma. But, as Amanda Gorman illustrated, a poetry that clears a way for hope.

Surely it’s the poets who penetrate the jungle of defended argument and debate. For the poet uses words to shine light from a different angle, surprising the imagination, subverting expectation, and opening our eyes to a new possibility.

In silent vigil for those who have died of Covid, Joe Biden said: “To heal, we must remember.” I would add: “ To heal, we must be surprised by subversive words of love.”

This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Before the latest lockdown I watched a man painting white lines in a park. The reason I stopped was simply that I was curious to know what game the white lines were going to frame. Before working out where to put them on the grass, you first have to know what game you want to play.

Now, this sounds obvious, I know. But, in the current climate it perhaps suggests something useful as the whole country tries to work out how to behave, which rules to follow and what guidance is most important. Repeated mantras of “it is absolutely clear” fail to recognise that clarity is defined by the hearer and not primarily the speaker. Hence, the first rule of communication: it’s not what you say that matters, but what is heard.

I am used to this. The gospels are full of Jesus telling a story or offering an image after which he asks the audience: “Do you know what I mean? Have you got the ears to hear?” Clearly, some couldn’t hear, didn’t want to hear, or refused to hear.

This is pertinent at a time when many people are clearly struggling to know how to behave best – within the white lines of rules and guidance. Does ‘best’ mean ‘in a way that makes me comfortable’ or ‘in a way that protects me and other people’? The point about white lines on a pitch is that everyone in the game knows where the ball can be played, can choose where to run, and is free to be creative within the parameters.

Debates in the last week about compliance with government rules come down to this. If I am to choose well, I need to understand not only where the white lines are, but also what game I think I’m playing. Mature citizenship can be exercised where people know why they are being expected to behave in particular ways – what the game is and how to play it.

For example, if I think the most important thing in the world is my individual freedom, unconstrained by the security of other people in a common and interdependent society, I will filter out guidance that infringes that freedom to do as I like. If, on the other hand, I take seriously that inherent interdependence, I might be ready to sacrifice my individual freedom on the altar of the common good.

To reprise the white lines theme, I might sacrifice my moment of glory by letting someone else score the goal that gives the team a victory. In my terms, this means, in the words of St Paul: “Do nothing from selfish ambition, … but look to the interests of others”.

This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, written late last night.

To be surprised by events in Washington is to ignore the fragility of democracy. If Covid has taught us that both human life and a stable economy are vulnerable, then the incited mob attack on the Capitol must reinforce the vital need for democracy, the rule of law, and the peaceful transition of power to be treasured at all times.

I have shaken the hand of more than one dictator whose fall from power was swift. When it is stripped away, all that is left is the same mortal human being whose imperial clothes proved to be as thick as mist.

But, we don’t have to look far for wisdom at a time like this when the hint of a smile will be seen on the face of other dictators and power-merchants. The ancient wisdom of the Hebrew Scriptures dig deeply into the cry for justice, generosity, peace and the common good. The prophets weep over how easily people can be seduced by words of strength or power or security that in the end undermine that very security itself.

I say this in the Christian season of Epiphany. Wise men travel from the familiarity and security of home to a place where, unlikely as it seems, they find hope in the scrap of humanity that is the baby Jesus. But, no sooner has the Christmas tree been cleared away than the violent King Herod sets his men in search of children to slaughter. The romance of the Christmas card crib gives way to the brutal reality of powerful people who are driven by fear and not drawn by hope or love or mercy.

According to this story – the one that has supposedly shaped those protestors carrying banners proclaiming ‘Jesus saves’ – strength and power have been powerfully reinterpreted in the scandal of a man on a cross. Not a man with a gun. This story challenges me to re-imagine what power looks like when coloured by love and mercy rather than entitlement and fear.

America is shocked today. But, the election to the Senate of Raphael Warnock, successor to Martin Luther King as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, offers an alternative vision. As a Christian, he knows that, “Jesus saves” us from ourselves. For the tradition of Jesus was rooted in people like Amos who, famously quoted by Martin Luther King, said: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Today might just hint at the beginning of a new awakening to the reality of the myths that power that great country. God bless America, maybe, but don’t just assume it.

This is an article commissioned by the Yorkshire Post and published today.

Last year my wife and I went to Germany where I conducted the marriage of two young friends. Just before lockdown. Recently they had their first baby (called Niamh – no idea how the Germans will pronounce it) and there is much rejoicing in the arrival in the world of this dependent little person.

And in that word ‘dependent’ we get a hint of what we might expect from Christmas this year – a year that has been challenging for many people on lots of fronts and in which our interdependence has been reinforced. The Covid pandemic has changed life in some way for everyone and we will be changed by the experience we have gone through – as individuals, families, communities, country and world. Life has been interrupted as the virus irrupted into the routines and ordinariness of ‘normality’, and we still don’t know what we will look like as we emerge.

In one sense, this is nothing new. The fact that we have come to harbour certain assumptions about life, the world and everything cannot supplant the reality that life is always fragile, uncertain and ultimately uncontrollable. For anyone who has suffered ill-health or the loss of loved ones, the brutality of this reality will be inescapable. The only certainty about the future is that it is always inherently uncertain.

Which is one of the reasons I am a Christian. Christian faith does not offer an escape from the uncomfortable or cruel contingencies of mortal life in a material world, but, rather, plunges us into that uncertain and fragile world. This is where Christmas comes in. Realistic, unromantic, brazen and with eyes open to all that life can throw at us.

In church or at home this Christmas I will be digging into the remarkable story of how the world was changed for ever by an event in an obscure part of the Roman Empire over two thousand years ago. The significance of it only grew through the ensuing years and centuries. We have often become so familiar with the narrative that it fades into some comfort-blanket romantic memory that warms the heart without intruding on real life and hard choices. Which is a pity.

For this story offers a radical challenge to anyone who is conscious of trying to navigate a complicated world with complicated people facing complex choices and no certainty that all will end well. It is the story of how God is more realistic than I am. Christmas tells of God’s unromantic coming – in “human dress” (as William Blake put it – into this uncertain and (often) unjust, cruel world. No hanging around in remote, uncontaminated purity, waiting for human beings to sort themselves out; rather, God opting into the messiness of the material world which brings us such glory and agony, pain and joy. No self-exemption.

This is important. Christian faith offers no escape. Like the baby Jesus himself, born in inauspicious circumstances in a violent and unjust world, growing up meant facing hard choices, making hard decisions, living through undeserved or unfair struggle, enduring loss and suffering. Yet, … this was described as bringing light into the world – light that the darkness cannot extinguish (as John’s Gospel puts it). No denying the darkness, its power or reality, but a defiant resistance to its ultimacy. Just read on in the gospel story and see what happened.

At the start I mentioned little Niamh, born just a few weeks ago in Germany. And I used the word ‘dependent’. Perhaps the defining characteristic of a baby is its utter dependence on those who love and care for it. A baby has no power, no claims, no negotiating demands. A baby has no shame in being totally dependent. But, dependence is sometimes seen in our society as a dirty word.

One thing we have learned through the pandemic is that we are all dependent on each other. I depend on a complex network of science, business, industry, finance, politics and social organisations in order to live and work – and for any vaccine to be administered across communities. If I become unwell, I depend on doctors, nurses and pharmacists to help me survive or die well. If I have to isolate, I need other people to provide food and moral support. In other words, we discover anew that “no man is an island, entire of itself” (as poet John Donne put it). We need each other. As Jesus grew he did so as an interdependent person in a society of mutual obligation and support. If, as Christians believe, Jesus is God incarnate, then this submission to interdependence becomes powerfully real. It suggests that Christmas is God’s invitation to everyone to get stuck into the world, loving our neighbours, serving our communities, giving up our lives for the sake of others. It is radical and challenging. It makes our choices harder, not simpler.

This Christmas will be different. But, the invitation remains the same. To open our mind to a different way of being, illuminated by the light who is born into our world as one of us, offering a different way of being together.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on the Zoe Ball Show on BBC Radio 4.

When I was a kid I found December a hard month. Waiting for Christmas was a sort of torture. Do you know what I mean? I’m not even sure I can remember what I was waiting for that made it so exciting: it was the ‘something’ that Christmas promised that couldn’t be nailed down to presents I might or might not get.

I now think it had something to do with just growing up and learning that some things can’t be rushed – they have to be waited for. You can buy cards and presents, but you can’t make Christmas Day come any quicker. A bit like pregnancy: you have to let nature take its course and wait for the time to come when the baby enters the world with a cry.

The Welsh poet RS Thomas wrote that in fact “the meaning is in the waiting”. The journey is as important as getting there. And if we simply waste the journey dreaming of what might meet us at the end, we’ll miss the surprises and mysteries along the way … if we keep our eyes and ears open for them.

But, waiting is really hard. Especially for children. And in a year when many families will have to reduce expectations of material gifts, this waiting might be coloured by a certain fear or regret. But, even this experience can bring its own gifts.

For example, lockdown restrictions can give us time and space to think afresh about what Christmas is for – not just a midwinter festival of light, but rooted in a story that changed the world. Like the teenaged Mary living through her pregnancy and not knowing what the future might hold for her or her child – probably just as well, really. Or her people longing for freedom from Roman oppression, but unable to bring it on. Or us wanting freedom from Covid and an end to restrictions, but finding any relaxation leading to further problems and the grinding pain of uncertainty.

Mary’s baby came when he was ready. And he came into a world as conflicted as ours to people as complex as we are.

So, we wait on. And mustn’t waste the waiting.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2 with Zoe Ball:

I don’t know about you, but I just find it impossible to read while listening to music which has lyrics. I can do it if the music is instrumental only, but I get stressed between the words on the page and the words in my ears, and lose out on both.

Unlike my kids who seem to have earphones in while doing anything … like work or study.

The other day I was trying to read Barack Obama’s new book, A Promised Land, and made the mistake of putting on Bruce Spingsteen’s new album, Letter to You. By the time I got through to the last song I gave up on the book. It was the words that got me.

One track – In My Dreams – is a beautiful song and I got distracted by remembering dreams I have had recently – especially since lockdown. I never usually remember dreams, but recently that has changed a bit, and I find it all a bit weird. Do my dreams really just replay the world as I would like it to be, or re-run things that have gone wrong in a subconscious move to put them right? I don’t know.

What I do know, though, is that dreams matter. Not just the line we keep hearing these days about “follow your dreams” and all will be well. Experience tells us that not everything in life works out as we would like. Not even dreams as vague hopes or aspirations. But, dreams have a habit of getting under our skin and shaking us up a bit.

In the Bible dreams are really important. They are often the turning points in someone’s life, offering a vision of how the future might be, or warning that trouble might be on the way. They sometimes provoke a crisis which demands action once the dreamer has woken up. Or they provide a way of checking if my vision is ambitious enough.

In my dreams I hope to glimpse how I might change in the real world, loving better, living better, choosing better. Like Obama, I might be energised by a vision of a promised land.  Or, like my kids, I might one day be able to do two things at once: listen and read.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Zoe Ball Show:

Good news! In only four weeks the days start getting longer again. The light will start to grow.

But, for me, the next four weeks won’t just herald the end of lockdown or the approach of the Christmas juggernaut, it’ll bring something even more powerful as we look towards the end of a tough year for everyone. Advent – the season that dares to defy the darkening days and awaken our imagination to the possibility of hope – and it starts next Sunday.

I was once in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, engaged in a difficult conversation with the then deputy Foreign Minister, a rabbi. At one point he stood up and banged the table. He said: “Sometimes it seems as if there is no light at the end of the tunnel. But, it is not because the light is not there; it’s because the tunnel is not straight.” And I wrote it down as I thought it might be a good line for a Pause for Thought script one day.

It’s a vivid image, isn’t it? Drive through the Mersey Tunnel and you’ll get the idea as the road bends around in the darkness. (And ignore the late great Terry Pratchett’s line: “There was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was a flamethrower.”)

But, Advent, as we anticipate Christmas, beckons us to wait – to look and watch and not be done in by the present gloom. For the people of the first Christmas this meant yearning for the end of military occupation and daily suffering or humiliation. The light was coming into the world and no darkness – not even imperial Roman violence – would be able to kill it off. Or, in the words of the songwriter Bruce Cockburn, in the darkness we are actually “closer to the light”.

So, in this sense, Advent needn’t just be for Christians. I think it offers an invitation for all of us in these days of gloom to lift our eyes towards the light that will come, however bendy the tunnel we are in.

This is the text of my Presidential Address to the Leeds Diocesan Synod which was, for the second time, conducted online.

One of the most beautiful cities in the world is Vienna. It is one of those places that echoes the heights of human culture and the depths of human misery. One of the things I was keen to see on my first visit there several years ago was the Holocaust memorial by Rachel Whiteread in the Judenplatz. It is really powerful: a large white inverted library with doors that don’t open – suggestive of books that had been burned by the Nazis and the attempt to extinguish the stories of people, 65,000 of them Austrian Jews who perished in the concentration camps. It is known as the ‘Nameless Library’.

What struck me when I visited a couple of years ago was that, standing about ten metres in front of it on the square, is a statue of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, the German writer, philosopher and thinker who died in 1781 and is regarded as a giant of the Enlightenment. Given Lessing’s powerful influence on German culture, not least education, and standing between the statue and the memorial, I found myself asking how on earth a country and a culture can descend so quickly – within a few generations – from Enlightenment to Holocaust.

Now, this might seem like a weird way into an address to a diocesan synod in Leeds in 2020. But, it isn’t. We live at a time of massive challenge in which all the assumptions of progress, democracy, patriotism, the common good, and so on, are being thrown up in the air. We do not know how they will land. I grew up in a world that was determined never again to allow genocide – but look what happened in Bosnia and Rwanda. The post-war generation built nations and societies that assumed progress – that the world could only get better; that human beings had evolved through the horrors of the first half of the twentieth century and there was to be no going back; that the conventions of public discourse could only get better.

Well, I give you climate change. I add in Donald Trump and the direct and deliberate undermining of confidence in democratic norms and processes; we don’t yet know the end of the US election story. Or the coronavirus pandemic that has thrown the world into disarray, exposing inequalities and inconsistencies across the globe, but also close to home. Or the hit to the economy of a convergence between the pandemic and the ending of the Brexit transition next month. The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh might seem small and distant, but so did Serbia in 1914.

Nothing is for ever. Nothing can be taken for granted. Norms are only norms for as long as they are normal (as opposed to extraordinary). We have no idea what tomorrow will bring; but, we do know that empires and ‘norms’ that take centuries to build can be demolished in weeks. We are not in control of everything.

And this is the context in which we meet as a synod today. We are in a second lockdown and are promised a vaccine soon; yet, we have been promised many things that have not been delivered. Our politics – at home and abroad – are being questioned everywhere, and going back to where we were fifty or thirty or even ten years ago is simply a nostalgic fantasy.

So, what does the church have to say in this context? The church that has been hit by two reports on its handling of sexual abuse in recent months? A church that has been forced by government to close its buildings for worship, rendering its ability to thrive and be properly resourced into the future at best questionable? A church that has just launched a process of addressing questions of love, faith, relationships and identity in Living in Love and Faith?

Let me briefly address each of these in turn.

I welcome the IICSA report and the light it throws onto how the Church of England has addressed abuse in and through the church. Light always exposes reality, and you can’t argue with reality. I am confident that we have a very good and experienced safeguarding team at the heart of this diocese, driving processes and systems that are strong. There is much further to go in offering care and redress to survivors of abuse – nationally – and we are alive to that. Bishop Jonathan leads for the bishops nationally in safeguarding matters and is making a significant difference. I will simply say, in the light of IICSA and the Whitsey Report, that many of the recommendations are already embedded in our systems here. For example, I always take the advice and leading of our Diocesan Safeguarding Advisers who, already, function as ‘officers’ in such matters.

The church, via the bishops, continues to question the rationale behind the closure of churches for worship in the latest lockdown. Closure of buildings does not close the church, but it changes it. We do not know what local church worship, attendance, and so on, will look like in the years to come. We know it will not look like it did a year ago. We can either mourn the loss of what was familiar, or we take responsibility for shaping what might become. As I said earlier, you can’t argue with reality, and lockdown has made immediate a number of challenges we had assumed might be addressed over time.

So, we have not only a challenge, but also an opportunity to be creative and bold and humble as we seek primarily not to recover a form of church life, but to renew the content of that life – our worship of God, our growth as followers of Jesus Christ, and our sacrificial service for our communities in the name of Christ. In short, we will discover whether we believe all this stuff about good news, death and resurrection, self-sacrifice, and Christian truth.

In other words, the situations that gave rise to the writing of the New Testament letters become more identifiable to us in our current situation. We are invited to read Scripture differently now. We can enter imaginatively into the minds of biblical writers because the precarious contingency of their situations is one into which we now have experienced a glimpse. And this, I suggest, is a gift. It reminds us of what we in England have too quickly forgotten: that life is fragile, social order is not a given, and control of the world is actually an illusion born of hubris.

Living in Love and Faith is not incidental to this. There has been a suggestion that the church is dragging its feet in questions of sexual identity because of its contentious or controversial nature. The opposite is true. This is the most significant and serious work done by any church anywhere and it has been published now – later than planned because of the impact on everything of the pandemic – in order to prevent further delay. It opens up a process for encounter with people, not just debate about a topic. I encourage you to look at the materials on the website and to engage with us as we roll out a programme of consultation during 2021-22. Bishop Helen-Ann is leading on this (as she is also part of the national ‘Next Steps’ group with the Bishop of London and others). Bishop Toby was part of the national group that has led on the process thus far.

Identity is not just a matter for people who like that sort of thing. If we are to value human beings as made in the image of God, then we have some complex and challenging – as well as engaging and potentially joyful – work to do. And we need to approach it with open hearts and generous minds.

So, today we have a varied agenda, set in the context I have described just now. Some items look more interesting than others and some are what we might call ‘housekeeping’ – how we order our common life and decision-making. We will consider the well-being of clergy, but recognise that this is not to downplay the well-being of lay people. We will discuss what a ‘re-imagining of ministry’ might look like in the months and years to come, but remembering that any ministry involves all people of all abilities and gifts. We will take seriously the life of the diocese as it is, and we will grow our confidence in its future.

Is that a rash thing to say, given the uncertainties with which we live? No, it isn’t. Our confidence is in the God who calls us, in the Jesus Christ whose church we are, and in the power of the Holy Spirit who constantly drives us out of what is familiar into the places of challenge where life is to be found. The risen Christ keeps telling his friends not to be afraid; we need to hear that clearly. We are called to be the church (and the Church of England with its unique vocation) now; it is no accident that we are here and called for just such a time as this. And we need to build one another up in faith as we venture into the uncertain world of 2021 and beyond. We are called to be faithful, even if some of what we attempt fails. We are called to do our business with faith, hope and – not least – charity.

There are many examples of individuals and churches fulfilling that calling over recent months in the way they have supported both their communities and the work of the church. We have seen parishes across the diocese respond graciously and sacrificially to the financial challenge that was laid out at our last Synod. Since then we have also benefited from the generosity of the national church who have given us the £1m we asked for to help the pressure on our finances. We have also received much generosity from individuals and parishes and I want to express my and our gratitude. We are not out of the woods and there is much to do, but we are moving in the right way and in the right direction.

To conclude. I began with reference to Rachel Whiteread’s Holocaust memorial in the Judenplatz in Vienna. We cannot know what the future holds, but we can so live now that when people in the future look back at how we handled this present world, they give thanks for our courage and wisdom … and don’t simply spot the things we failed to grasp out of fear or familiarity. I trust we will be a blessing to the next generation and not a curse.

As we approach Advent and an unusual Christmas, a changed shape to our collective worship and outreach does not impede in any way the shining hope of God’s presence in the world – even in the cry of a tiny babe (as Bruce Cockburn put it). Our gospel – of light shining in the darkness – is rich and is for today. Comfort and joy are what we have to offer, albeit in a variety of creative ways this year.

We turn to our business in this light and in this spirit. May God bless us in our deliberations together for the sake of his kingdom.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Zoe Ball Show as Joe Wicks was about to begin his 24 hour PE workout to raise cash for Children in Need.

A quick question: what is Joe Wicks wearing for the next 24 hours of PE?

I just hope he’s comfortable, that’s all. I once played a game of football when I tore my shorts and wouldn’t run – but was too embarrassed to tell anyone why not.

Well, if Joe wanted to wear a leotard, he’d be accidentally celebrating the very first flying trapeze act on this day in 1859 when Jules Léotard flew above Paris without a net. And the one-piece bit of kit he wore became known as the leotard. Of course, it descended eventually into Borat’s mankini, but let’s not go there.

He may not realise it, but whatever Joe wears for his marathon workout, he will also be demonstrating some deep thinking. Many people have understood human beings to be made of different components – body, mind and spirit (or soul) as if they can be separated out and that what happens in one bit has no impact on the others.

I come from a tradition that has had to learn afresh that you can’t divide people up into separate and independent bits. The writers of biblical books are absolutely clear that body, mind and spirit belong together. This is why people 3,000 years ago in the Middle East were being told to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.” Jesus repeated it years later. Loving God meant paying attention to how the body (heart) affects the mind and the spirit … and so on. They belong together and how we exercise the body or the mind or the spirit will determine how fit we are.

This isn’t pseudo-psychology. It assumes that if our children – particularly those in need – can’t exercise their body, flex and grow their mind and imagination, and aren’t given space for spiritual wonder and discipline, then don’t be surprised if they end up with problems.

Joe, whatever you’re wearing, go for it. And we’ll support you as you raise the cash to help kids keep body, mind and spirit healthy.

I noticed I hadn’t published the text of my speech on 26 October at Second Reading of the internal Market Bill, so here goes. The speech at Committee (published earlier today) makes more sense if read after this one.

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and look forward to her future contributions to this House. I fully endorse the arguments set out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. I concur with the concerns set out in the report cited by other noble Lords earlier. I even welcome the commitments articulated by the Minister, but I question how they can be trusted, given the underlying ethic of the Bill—and it is absolutely right for archbishops to ask questions of such matters.

Relations with potential partners usually depend on integrity. Trade, security, migration and so on all rest on fundamental trust. Trust cannot be one-sided, or it is not trust at all. Respecting one’s interlocutors is essential. This is inevitably evidenced in language. The Bill before us assumes that our interlocutors cannot be trusted and will behave in bad faith, and that we need to be protected from them. If they do not give us what we demand, we are free to do our own thing, including breaking the law and reneging on agreements made less than a year ago that were said at the time to be “oven ready”—a good arrangement that required “no more negotiations”. What the Bill does not ask is why our word should be trusted by others.

Integrity and morality matter at the level of international relations and agreements—unless, of course, we are now agreeing to reduce all our relations and transactions to some sort of utilitarian pragmatism. Morality also applies to how we remember history and establish what will shape the national mythologies that future generations will inherit. What story will be celebrated or commemorated next year, the centenary of partition on the island of Ireland: one that chose to end violence and respect difference, including different perspectives on identity, justice and unity, or one of a conscious abrogation of agreements built from bloodshed and courageous willingness to stem the wounds of grievance? Ireland, both the Province and the Republic, needs some certainty and shape in the future narrative, but what sort of certainty is built on a broken word, the negation of trust or the arrogance of exceptionalism?

Irish church leaders are surely right to be concerned about what the Bill implies for relations between the devolved institutions and with the UK Government. These leaders are not talking into fresh air; they straddle the border in Ireland and their deep concerns about a breach of the Good Friday agreement need to be listened to, not simply dismissed with a wave of boosterish optimism from Westminster.

Others will speak about the implications of closing an illegal route to challenge the Government’s implementation of the protocol, but let us be clear: parliamentary sovereignty does not translate easily into executive sovereignty. A decision to prefer short-term pragmatism over long-term ethics will lead to a future ​in which a question mark will hang over any statement by those whose word and adherence to the rule of law cannot be trusted. More is at stake here than economics.