It was tragic that Easter week should start with the devastating fire that engulfed the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Mercifully, the external structure of the building has survived, even though the roof and spire were destroyed, along with many precious artefacts. This iconic church was founded in 1163 and has withstood more than 850 years of European history; including the French revolution, the coronation of Napoleon and the Nazi occupation during the Second World War. As a place of worship, all Christians recognise the importance of the cathedral of Notre Dame, but it has huge cultural significance for the world as well. When the art historian, and former resident of Saltwood Castle Kenneth Clark, made is 1969 television series called Civilisation, he opened it looking at Notre Dame and stating, ‘What is Civilisation? I don’t know. I can’t define it in abstract terms, yet. But I think I can recognise it when I see it.’ Notre Dame is a symbol for the achievements of European civilisation, not least the great Rose window which shows how beauty and order are centred on the Divine. Perhaps this Easter week we should think on the fire at Notre Dame, and thank the fire crews whose bravery prevented a tragedy from becoming a complete disaster. It is also a reminder that when many of the day to day quarrels that can take up so much of our time are forgotten, there are some things which endure and will remain relevant to the lives of people on this planet for many generations to come.
Last week the House of Commons rose for a short Easter recess, without yet having resolved the question of when Britain will leave the European Union (EU). At the meeting of the leaders of the EU member states last week, the prospect was left open that Brexit may not happen before the end of October, however if parliament votes to approve the EU withdraw agreement we could leave sooner. This means that the UK may be required to elect members of the European Parliament on 23rd May. I do not want us to be in this position. I want parliament to agree as soon as possible to approve a withdrawal agreement so that we can leave before the European elections. There will still be many issues to resolve, including reaching an agreement on our long-term trading relationship with the EU, but we will have taken the step of leaving the political structures of the European Union. I believe that a deal can be reached, but that will require compromise. The longer parliament digs its heels waiting for the perfect Brexit to come along, the greater will be the length of the delay. For the EU as well, their hard-line position on the withdrawal agreement and in particular the terms for the backstop have helped to create this impasse. If they were to allow the UK to exit the backstop, subject to us fulfilling our obligations in Northern Ireland under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, then I believe it would quickly be passed by the House of Commons. These delays are no good for any of us; it is time to move on.