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Support grows for splitting church-state link in UK

Nearly half of all British voters believe it is time that the Church of England lost its privileged position as the only official national church, according to the results of this month's Guardian/ICM poll.

As Tony Blair prepares for his task later this year of choosing who should succeed Dr George Carey as the Archbishop of Canterbury, some 48% of voters say it is time to end the role of the prime minister and break the historic link between church and state. Only one in three voters - 36% - says that it should keep its special position as the only state recognised religion.

The ICM poll is the first for many years showing that support for the idea of disestablishing the Church of England outstrips opposition to the move.

The pollsters asked the voters: "Do you think the Church of England should keep its special position as the only state recognised religion, which means, for example, the prime minister has the final say over who should be the Archbishop of Canterbury."

The poll result also mirrors a change of mind among some leading members of the church itself, including the Archbishop of York, David Hope, and the Archbishop of the Church in Wales and a contender for the top job, Rowan Williams, who have both supported disestablishment.

Even a vice-chairman of the traditional church party, the Conservatives, called this month for a "grown-up" debate on whether to break the link between church and state.