MP’s Column - Britain has many friends

After a pleasing tenure and to make room for others, I have stepped down from the council of Lincoln Cathedral, one of the great monuments of our county and of all England.

In medieval times, pilgrims from all across Europe travelled in very rough conditions to see this architectural marvel and to venerate the relics of Saint Hugh.

Lincolnshire enjoyed strong and deep links with the continent as part of a network of pilgrimage and trade: a free county in a free kingdom in a free Europe.

Of course, medieval England was a very different country from the one we know today, but I like to think that some of the character and mettle of the men who fought at Agincourt survives to this day.

In the run-up to the referendum on our membership of the European Union, it is important that we avoid misleading terminology about being “pro-European” or “anti-European”.

We want to have a deep and fruitful partnership with all our friends on the European continent, many of whom stood by us through thick and thin during the Second World War.

It is also for them, not just ourselves, that we want to reform Europe and prevent a continental superstate from emerging.

Just recently, I was in Rome where I had the privilege of meeting the Pope. I, Edward Leigh, representing an electorate of 73,000; his holiness, Pope Francis, at the head of a church of over 1.25 billion people.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed. But the purpose of my trip was as part of a parliamentary delegation exploring the wide work that the Vatican and its departments undertake.

The history of the relationship between Great Britain and the Holy See is a long and varied one, with periods of violent discord – such as the Protestant Reformation – and times of fruitful co-operation, like during the European conflict, which ended with the Battle of Waterloo.

Our current reciprocity of full diplomatic relations dates only from 1982, but it was encouraging to see the work the Catholic Church is doing, particularly for refugees and for inter-religious dialogue, so much of which coincides with our priorities here in Britain.

The recent attacks in Paris have provoked a deep sorrow in the hearts of many of us.

So often, we jest that the French are our closest enemy. Chesterton remarked that our Lord taught us to love our enemies and to love our neighbours, usually because they are the same people.

But the histories of these two nations are inextricably linked.

I was moved to know that a minute’s silence was being observed in our part of the country, and I have written to the French ambassador expressing our solidarity with her people in this difficult time.

Britain has friends in Europe, which makes it all the more important that we work out the best relationship with them. This is the Government’s priority for renegotiation.

Sir Edward Leigh MP

Gainsborough constituency