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Church leaders urge UK government to sign UN anti-nuclear treaty via The Guardian

Archbishops and bishops express ‘much regret’ in letter at refusal to join international peace accord

The leadership of the Church of England is calling on the UK government to stand with 50 other nations in signing a historic international treaty banning nuclear weapons.

Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, and Stephen Cottrell, the archbishop of York, have put their names alongside those of 29 bishops to a letter published in the Observer and reproduced below saying that the UK’s support for the United Nations’ Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would give hope to people seeking a peaceful future.

The treaty will come into force on 22 January 2021, having reached the required 50-signatory threshold after Honduras ratified it three weeks ago. None of the world’s nuclear powers, however, have signed up, and the US has called support for the move a “strategic error”.

But António Guterres, the UN secretary general, said the treaty’s ratification was “the culmination of a worldwide movement to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons”. Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said it was “a victory for humanity, and a promise of a safer future”.


The bishops’ letter applauds the treaty’s ratification, saying: “For so many of the nations of the world to speak clearly of the need to ban these weapons of mass destruction is an encouraging and hopeful sign.


The UK had taken a stand to outlaw cluster bombs and landmines. “If we think it’s immoral to possess or use a cluster bomb, how much more so a nuclear weapon? International treaties do achieve things, but it’s usually a long road, and this is a significant step along the way.”


Cottrell, has a long track record of speaking out on the issue of nuclear weapons. In 2016, he told a rally in London the renewal of Trident was “an affront to God”, and in 2018, he told the C of E’s ruling body, the general synod, that there were “no circumstances” in which Trident’s use could be justified.

“This comes from very deep inside me. For me it’s an ethical issue, but there are all sorts of very good reasons – financial, military, legal – why we need a serious debate about the possession of nuclear weapons,” he said.

The letter: Britain must sign treaty

As bishops of the Church of England, we warmly welcome and applaud the recent ratification, by the required number of member states, of the United Nations’ treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons and we rejoice that the treaty will therefore come into force on 22 January 2021.

For so many of the nations of the world to speak clearly of the need to ban these weapons of mass destruction is an encouraging and hopeful sign. We commit ourselves to pray and to work so that this ratification will indeed help to see an end to nuclear weapons in the future. We very much regret that the UK, together with other nuclear states, has not yet signed the accord. We call on the UK government to do so and thereby to give hope to all people of goodwill who seek a peaceful future.

We echo the UN secretary general who “commends the states that have ratified the treaty and salutes the work of civil society, which has been instrumental in f acilitating the negotiation and ratification of the treaty”. Accordingly, we renew our support for the work of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, together with sister organisations and agencies in each nation, whose advocacy and commitment continues to make such a difference.

Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury; Stephen Cottrell, archbishop of York; Paul Bayes, bishop of Liverpool; Christopher Cocksworth, bishop of Coventry; Richard Atkinson, bishop of Bedford; Jo Bailey Wells, bishop of Dorking; Pete Broadbent, bishop of Willesden; Sarah Bullock, bishop of Shrewsbury; Jonathan Clark, bishop of Croydon; David Court, bishop of Grimsby; Guli Francis-Dehqani, bishop of Loughborough; Jonathan Goodall, bishop of Ebbsfleet; Martin Gorick, bishop of Dudley; Olivia Graham, bishop of Reading; Clive Gregory, bishop of Wolverhampton; Joanne Grenfell, bishop of Stepney; David Hamid, suffragan bishop in Europe; Peter Hill, bishop of Barking; Anne Hollinghurst, bishop of Aston; John Inge, bishop of Worcester; Roger Morris, bishop of Colchester; Philip North, bishop of Burnley; John Perumbalath, bishop of Bradwell; Lee Rayfield, bishop of Swindon; Tony Robinson, bishop of Wakefield; Alan Smith, bishop of St Albans; John Thomson, bishop of Selby; Graham Tomlin, bishop of Kensington; Rachel Treweek, bishop of Gloucester; David Walker, bishop of Manchester and Pete Wilcox, bishop of Sheffield

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