Nick Clegg has called for the separation of the church and state in England – before the idea was immediately rejected by David Cameron.
The Deputy Prime Minister, who is an atheist, said disestablishing the Church of England would be "better for Anglicans" but admitted such a change would not happen overnight. "In the long run, having the state and the church bound up with each other, as we do in this country, I think it would be better for the church and better for people of faith and better for Anglicans if the church and the state were, over time, to stand on their own two separate feet,” he said.
But Mr Clegg defended Mr Cameron’s decision to describe Britain as a “Christian country,” adding that "all faiths and none" were able to share values of "fair play and tolerance". The Prime Minister’s comments attracted criticism from 50 intellectuals, scientists, writers and humanists last week.
The Liberal Democrat leader’s intervention is into sensitive territory for politicians because the Queen is head of the Church of England, a title held by the monarch since Henry VIII’s split with the Catholic Church in 1534.
Mr Cameron said: “I think our arrangements work well in this country. We are a Christian country, we have an established church,” adding that disestablishment was “a long term Liberal idea but it is not a Conservative one.”
He argued that leaders of other faiths believed the church-state link made the country more tolerant.