LAST month’s overwhelming East Lancashire Euro-referendum vote for ‘Brexit’ reflected the desertion of its deprived estates by Church and State, the Bishop of Burnley, The Rt Rev Philip North has said.

He said the religious and political establishment had left residents feeling angry and powerless in the face of the national ‘Establishment’.


The Rt Rev North said the Church of England as well as politicians must reconnect with the residents of estates such as Blackburn’s Shadsworth and Stoops in Burnley.

Both Pendle Tory MP and Brexit campaigner Andrew Stephenson and Remain supporter and Blackburn Labour party agent Phil Riley accepted he had a point.

Writing in The Church Times, The Rt Rev North said he knew on referendum night the big turn out on Northern housing estates meant a vote to leave the EU.

He said: “The working-class vote in this referendum was an expression of anger by people who feel forgotten and disempowered, and who have developed an intense hatred of anything that seems to be ‘The Establishment’.

“History suggests that, whenever there is economic uncertainty or recession, it is the poor who suffer disproportionately.

“It would be easy to criticise those who have apparently voted to make their own lives harder.

“We need to listen to the voices of the poor expressed in this referendum, because when we do, we will hear not ignorance, but grief for a nation of which they are fiercely proud, but which they see being taken from them.

“It would be good to boast that the Church has stood up against this, but, sadly, with our neglect and passivity, we have colluded.

“We love to speak the language of a bias to the poor, and boast pompously about our ‘prophetic voice’, but the reality is that we are abandoning the people whom we purport to represent by closing down their churches and pulling out their clergy.

“The Church needs to take a lead in the journey of healing, and this must include an urgent programme of re-investment in areas of deprivation.

“This referendum shows that it is time to renew the urban Church.

“If the political classes can offer only austerity, abandonment, or cynical exploitation, it is vital that the Church speaks more loudly than ever the language of hope.”

The Rt Rev North said he had the residents of Shadsworth, Stoops and other estates in East Lancashire in mind when he wrote the article.

Mr Stephenson said: “Bishop Philip has a point. Politicians and the Church need to reconnect with these estates and their residents.

Cllr Riley said: “Years of austerity have left these people angry and disconnected.” from the political system and something needs to be done.”