People are coming together after Brexit divisions, says PM

Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May

Theresa May has used her Easter message to suggest people are “coming together and uniting” following divisions over the Brexit referendum.

The Prime Minister stressed the opportunities for the country as it leaves the European Union and said the shared values of Britons “can - and must - bring us together”.

Brexit, which is now under way after the triggering of Article 50. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

Brexit, which is now under way after the triggering of Article 50. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

Mrs May, the daughter of a vicar, said the UK should be “confident” about Christianity’s role in society and stand up for people’s freedom to speak about their faith.

She said: “This year, after a period of intense debate over the right future for our country, there is a sense that people are coming together and uniting behind the opportunities that lie ahead.

“For at heart, this country is one great union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future.

“And as we face the opportunities ahead of us - the opportunities that stem from our decision to leave the European Union and embrace the world - our shared interests, our shared ambitions and above all our shared values can - and must - bring us together.”

Turning to faith, she said: “We should be confident about the role that Christianity has to play in the lives of people in our country.

“And we should treasure the strong tradition that we have in this country of religious tolerance and freedom of speech.

“We must continue to ensure that people feel able to speak about their faith, and that absolutely includes their faith in Christ.

“We must be mindful of Christians and religious minorities around the world who do not enjoy these same freedoms, but who practise their religion in secret and often in fear.

“And we must do more to stand up for the freedom of people of all religions to practice their beliefs openly and in peace and safety.”

Mrs May highlighted the values she learned in childhood growing up in a vicarage.

She said: “Values of compassion, community, citizenship. The sense of obligation we have to one another.

“These are values we all hold in common - and values that are visibly lived out every day by Christians - as well as by people of other faiths or none.”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron highlighted Mrs May’s intervention in the row over the National Trust and Cadbury Easter egg hunt in his message, while hitting out at nostalgia and nationalism.

He said: “I fear that what the Prime Minster and others were actually getting wound up about was the thought that the National Trust might have been airbrushing out something comfortable and traditional.

“And given that we are turning the clock back to the early 1970s with Brexit (or indeed the 1580s if we do end up declaring war on Spain), then nostalgia is most definitely the mood of the moment.”

He added: “Nostalgia and nationalism have become the fuel for an aggressive and irrational brand of politics that is the opposite of what liberals stand for.

“I don’t want the Christian message to be stolen by the nostalgic nationalists, just as no Liberal should seek to appropriate Jesus for their own purposes either.

“But the Easter message is one of internationalism, if you like - Jesus died for you no matter who you are or where you are from.

“And the Easter message is most definitely not about comfortable nostalgia, it is radical and disturbing.”

President of the National Secular Society, Terry Sanderson, said: “We are the only country in the world with bishops in our Parliament, we have an established church, a third of our schools are Christian and we pride ourselves as one of the countries with the greatest religious freedom.

“It is therefore difficult to take seriously any suggestion that Christians in the UK are not free to talk about or practise their faith.”

British Humanist Association chief executive Andrew Copson said: “Mrs May is right to speak up for the need to ensure freedom of religion around the world.

“But whenever one does this, it is vital not to forget the freedom of the non-religious to also openly hold and live out their beliefs.

“In many parts of the world it is effectively impossible to be openly non-religious, with blasphemy and apostasy punishable by death.”