Reflecting on ‘Brexit’ from a Christian perspective

With the bizarre events of the last few weeks continuing to unfold, I felt I wanted to write something by way of reflection on everything that has gone on. After all, it might be felt to be odd to have nothing to say from a theological or spiritual point of view on the political and national event that will probably have the most significance in our lifetime.

Yet there are some good reasons for holding back from commenting! For one, the whole debate seems to be mired in such complexity that it is hard to say anything useful that doesn’t sound completely trivial or simplistic. Secondly, it is very difficult to offer clear theological principles that have some bearing on the big questions that face us, since a slight change in understanding the complexities can easily push the theological reflection in a different direction. Thirdly, one of the dangers facing Christian leaders in commenting on this question is ending up sounding partisan. I agree with those who say it is of concern when the bishops of the Church of England appear to be almost uniformly convinced ‘Remainers’ when not only the regions in which they live but also the churches that they lead tend to the opposite view. Is the gap between the ‘ordinary’ and the ‘elite’ which has shaped this debate nationally simply reproduced in the Church? And, lastly, when Christian leaders have made comments, they have often been neither nuanced nor convincing.

And yet there are some dynamics around the current discussion that cry out for comment—and these are some observations that I think we need to reflect on and learn from, both within our national life and in thinking about our life as the people of God.

1. Language

One of the striking features of the whole debate has been the way that language has been used, mostly in a very unhelpful way, and as this has trickled down into the crevices of social media it has become increasingly toxic. The simplification, the polarisation of views, and the slurs and slanders about people in the ‘other’ camp has been dismal and depressing. I am amazed, watching the continued sloganizing even during the last few days, as if this was still some school debating society competition.

In part, this use of language is result of the vice-like grip that PR advisers have over politicians; they are told that actually answering difficult questions will make them look awkward and unpersuasive, and that they need to stay ‘on message’ and simply repeat the core message. (Kenneth Clarke is the most obvious exception to this practice.) Hence the bizarre spectacle of Theresa May last year repeating the mantra ‘strong and stable’ ad infinitum without ever really explaining what she meant by it. (You can actually watch her repeating this for five whole hours if you want to—though the most entertaining part of this video is around 18 minutes in, where you realise that it sounds as though she is talking about wanting ‘tables’…)

But in this particular debate, the biggest problem has been the word ‘Brexit’. Apart from tripping speakers up (so people constantly talk about delivering breakfast rather than Brexit), the main concern is that the word has no actual meaning. Despite Theresa May claiming that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, she couldn’t say exactly what it meant, since the binary ‘In/Out’ referendum didn’t explain it, and people clearly voted ‘Leave’ with a range of different ideas about what that meant. Even on social media yesterday, I was involved in an animated debate with two ‘Leavers’ who disagreed on whether leaving the EU but staying in the Customs Union actually really constituted leaving.

The word was coined by Peter Wilding, who now regrets the term, and he had all but forgotten its origins himself until it was seized on with gusto by the main Leave campaign. The repeated use of the word achieved two things: first, it simplified the debate into a binary choice between two clear alternatives; and secondly, it then polarised both the debate and the nation into these two camps (note my use of the word ‘Leaver’ above, as if these two people have the same view, which they don’t). Simplification and polarisation are the hallmarks of the problems of debate in a social media age, and the whole ‘Brexit’ saga has this writ large over it.

2. Leadership

Opinions seemed divided regarding the verdict that history will come to on Theresa May’s leadership. One view from the left (which I am sure will be disputed) argues that the ‘Brexit’ project was flawed from the beginning—but makes the interesting observation that May was dealt a bad hand, but played it as badly as was possible.

All of this merely distracts from where the blame truly lies: with the Brexiteers themselves. The problem is not that May has failed to deliver on the Leave campaign’s promises — the problem is that no prime minister could have done so. In 2016, the Brexiteers vowed to end free movement, retain the economics benefits of EU membership, withdraw the UK from the customs union and avoid a hard Irish border — aims that were inherently irreconcilable.

May has played a bad hand badly — she triggered Article 50 recklessly early, squandered her parliamentary majority in an unnecessary election and carelessly alienated EU leaders and Remain MPs — but a bad hand it always was. From the moment that she reaffirmed Leave’s pledge to avoid a hard Irish border, a softer Brexit became inevitable. None of the alleged “technological” solutions offered by Leavers have ever been credible. The dream of “Empire 2.0” — a buccaneering Britannia that strikes trade deals with the “Anglosphere” — has been thwarted by the legacy of Empire 1.0: the Irish border.

It seems clear that Theresa May prefers to work in isolation. She makes decisions on her own; she surrounds herself with people who will not question her or disagree; she fails to consult widely; she has refused to engage in cross-party conversation in order to address shared concerns. She appears to think that ‘strong’ leadership involves sticking to her position in spite of all the evidence, and refusing to engage with well-informed views that contradict her own. There is a strange rigidity in her approach, and one of the odd dynamics is that, having been a moderate ‘Remainer’ herself, she decided that the only way to have credibility as Prime Minister was to adopt fiercely a view at the other end of the spectrum that she was never convinced about. This effectively paralysed her in debate; she didn’t have answers to the questions she was asked, because she didn’t really believe in the position herself. (It is worth noting that this tendency to surround oneself with those who agree has also, disappointingly, been the hallmark of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in the Labour Party, and these symmetrical tendencies has led to the creation of the more central ‘Independent Group’ drawing from the more ‘moderate’ wings of both parties.)

I have been in contexts in churches and Christian organisations where the leadership has failed to have a view or a vision, and has avoided making any decisions for fear of upsetting one group or another, and this is a serious problem in leading a community. But as I reflect on it, I have more often been in contexts where the leadership has isolated itself, stuck to its guns regardless, and even at times played a game of ‘divide and conquer’ with other members of the team in order to keep questions at bay. There is a great temptation for Christian leaders to surround themselves with people of the same view, and avoid difficult questions—since engaging with contrary viewpoints can be time-consuming and exhausting, and some ‘contraries’ are in fact aiming at sabotage rather than genuine engagement.

But, in the context of both church and politics, effective leadership needs to combine a sense of clear direction, beliefs and values with a willingness to engage with others and an openness to learn. That, surely, is why leadership in the New Testament is always plural. (I hope it is something that shapes this blog as well; I don’t think anyone would accuse me of not having clear views—but I hope that I combine that with engagement with different points of view, both in the content and in the discussion in comments.)

3. Power

The most worrying thing is the way that vested interests in the preservation of personal power have come to the fore in this debate, most notably in the last few weeks. The idea that a deal which has been both decisively rejected in Parliament and roundly denounced in the most extravagant terms as a ‘betrayal’ can suddenly become acceptable when attached to the promise of Theresa May’s resignation is a clear indication of what is really at stake here. We have the undignified vision of a good number of MPs jostling for position at the trough of power, without noticing that the trough itself—indeed the whole farm—is teetering on the edge of a cliff. Once again, it seems to me that the same dynamic is at work on the other side of the House, with Labour policy being designed more with an eye to gaining and keeping power than with doing the best for the country or tackling the issues.

It would be easy to pick on individuals for whom this is true, and it sits alongside the ignominious spectacle of those who have left political office to step straight into highly paid roles where they very quickly rake in the millions. (This is not about the politics of envy; it is asking questions about the integrity of public service.) But it seems to me that the ill-fated rush to trigger Article 50 before really exploring the issues was driven by MPs as a whole fearful of losing power in their constituencies if they gave the wrong impression, rather than anyone having the courage to point out that the Brexit emperor didn’t so much have no clothes as appearing to be wearing four or five contradictory outfits as the same time.

I am not so naive as to think that MPs are all drawn to office by a sense of selfless service to the wider community—but a good number are, and I think my previous Labour MP, Nick Palmer, was one such. Part of the problem has been the shift in recent years to the domination in Westminster by career politicians, rather than people coming into politics from some other life experience. We need to recapture the spirit of the ‘amateur’ politician, who seeks to serve, and who brings significant expertise and perspective from having working in another context—and preferably not just the banking sector.

4. Integrity

This last observation is inextricably connected with the previous one. Again, it would take too long to list the number of MPs who have flatly contradicted the views that they previously stated, on this issue but also on other subjects. There appears to be a constant jockeying for position, which seeks to express the view which is most helpful in getting to a desired position, so that values and analysis are entirely malleable, a means to serve another end. The opposite of this is not the kind of wooden rigidity which has been the problem with Theresa May’s leadership, but a sense of consistency and integrity which means that, sometimes, it is important to say what is not popular because you do not believe that the popular view is actually true. This can look disastrous in the short term (and British politics is beset with short-termism that refuses to think strategically), but is actually the most fruitful position in the long term.

One of the important things to pray for is Christians called by God into this vocation of service in national leadership.

There are other observations that could be made; I think that the binaries of a two-party system, bolstered by our first-past-the-post voting practice (the two go hand in hand) is a serious problem, and needs reform. (I am not sure there is much doubt that the new central group, today announcing that they will form a party called Change UK, cannot have a long-term future, since FPTP always penalises third parties.) And moving away from binary voting and binary politics might address many of the issues above. But surely we have something to say about these issues from a Christian theological point of view, without falling into the traps of being simplistic or partisan—so I wonder why national Christian leaders haven’t commented on this much? (Perhaps they have, and I have just missed it.)

There are some really good things, both practically and theologically, about the British political set up, the two most important being the independence of the judiciary from the executive (which I think derives ultimately from a biblical understanding of law and leadership, but is not the case in the States) and the accountability of the executive to the elected Parliament (which has not always been the case in Europe, and led to a little local difficulty in Germany in the 1930s).

On the question of Europe itself, it is worth reminding ourselves of the complexities and what I think are very evenly balanced arguments on either side. Andrew Goddard set this out well in his Grove booklet at the time of the referendum, and his comments are worth revisiting:

It Hurts To Go Away: A Christian Case To Remain

We should stay because the EU’s vision, shaped by Christianity, has led it to much good for its members and more widely. The proper response to difficulties in relationships is not to walk out but to work at them and influence others for the good by being present. The UK has modelled this through the EU after initially standing apart and we should persevere in that commitment. EU membership recognises the value of international co-operation and the need for many political questions to be addressed at a trans-national level. The UK and other nations benefit from our involvement in institutions working for justice. These bodies can never be as representative as local and national political structures but the EU ensures all nations are represented in its deliberations and respects their different histories and perspectives. Its commitment to subsidiarity gives a powerful basis for sustaining such distinctiveness.

To leave would diminish our input in conversations and decisions which will inevitably impact our lives and would isolate us from structures which bring us into regular political contact with our nearest neighbours. It would give credence to erroneous views, especially that national sovereignty is inviolable, and risk fuelling nationalistic or xenophobic attitudes. Voting to remain does not mean accepting the Euro or all other recent developments. Rather, it means being committed to working with our neighbours to seek our shared common good.

It’s Impossible To Stay: A Christian Case To Leave

We should leave because the EU, despite Christian elements in its vision, and past successes for example in relation to peace, is now failing and damaging members and others. It is increasingly captive to contemporary, particularly economic, idols as seen in the Euro, and is developing characteristics of an imperial project which do not adequately respect national integrity. Given its history, the UK is well able to discern and to alert the EU to these trends but attempts at reform have largely failed. Subsidiarity, for example, is honoured in word but not action as EU competences extend across so much of our lives. Particularly since the EU’s expansion, the possibility of representative political authority structures has diminished. There is even less—and far from sufficient—common identity uniting us and we should not seek to engineer or impose such an identity.

The principle of free movement of EU citizens denies the importance of our locatedness and does not do justice to distinct national identities. It is no longer enabling solidarity but increasing tensions and, as with other policies, leads to an unjustifiable preferential option for the EU rather than other, poorer, parts of the world. Brexit, though it will have costs, opens the possibility of creatively rethinking and reconfiguring this negative dynamic to enable the creation of a better situation not just for the UK but for the EU and wider world.

(See also the earlier Grove booklet by Guy Milton, on the history and theological issues in the EU.)

Let us pray for our leaders and our nation at this time, not simply in general terms, but in relation to right use of language in debate, good leadership, the right exercise of power, and a renewed integrity.

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129 thoughts on “Reflecting on ‘Brexit’ from a Christian perspective”

    • Thanks…but ‘many’? I have just gone through and corrected the three I found, two of which came about from copying and pasting from a PDF with different formatting.

      Do feel free to send a message if you spot any others.

      • Since you asked… (I meant to highlight but the system doesn’t seem to allow that in comments):

        views, and **that** slurs and slanders about people in the ‘other’ camp
        the continued sloganizing even during the last **fews** days
        The most worrying thing is **that** way that vested interests
        called Change **Britain**, cannot [actually Change UK]
        I wonder why national **Christians** leaders haven’t

        You had indeed already corrected the worst one (“rough” for “trough”), and one instance of “that” for “the”.

        I’m particularly sensitive to typos, I’m afraid, which can be both a blessing and a curse!

        More importantly, I definitely agree that the FPTP system is seriously flawed; maybe this crisis will lead to a reform? 🙂

        • Thanks–corrected. Do feel free to message in future!

          Yes, FTPT is flawed…but no previous crisis has pushed us into this logic, and I don’t suppose this one will either. The answer is always that we need ‘strong’ government i.e. we need to be able to do what we want without talking to others. I think it is a serious problem, and one that will always be present as long as we have career politicians dominating.

          • The answer is always that we need ‘strong’ government i.e. we need to be able to do what we want without talking to others

            Actualy I don’t think that’s quite it… it’s not often put this way, but I think that what the British people want out of a system is a clear ‘winner’ so:

            1. They know who is in charge.

            2. They know who to blame.

            3. They can chuck them out.

            The UK system is pretty good at delivering this. By contrast, more proportional system can often end up with at least some of the members in an unpopular government coming back after the government itself fell in a general election, in a different coalition combination.

            For an extreme example, look at the last German election, which was generally reckoned by to a pretty damning verdict on the ruling CDU/CSU/SPD coalition — and yet exactly the same coalition is now back in power! Admittedly this was a pretty extreme example of electoral dysfunction, but you can see the principle.

            (The UK system clearly isn’t immune to this: a slightly different result in 2015, for example, could have seen an unpopular Conservative/Lib Dem coalition fall, only for Nick Clegg to end up back in government as part of a Labour/Lib Dem[possibly/SNP] coalition. I suspect many people in Britian would have seen this as rather dodgy: ‘hang on, we voted him out, how is he back?’ so it’s lucky that in the event it didn’t happen, and that the UK system makes such occurances much les likely than any alternative).

          • “Strong government” is, as suggested, a problem. Obe6can translate it as “as much power as possible held in one fist”.

            We have experienced that over many years (nearly forever?) in that a party in power has no need or desire to work to maximise the inclusion of all the voters. Effectively isn’t this an elected dictatorship? Voting for any party is taken as agreeing with all its policies… but a party might also abandon policies or create them out of the blue once in office.

            Leadership is teamwork (and biblical as you suggest) and is it beyond the current system to extend this across all the parties?I suspect that’s an oxymoron.

          • “Strong government” is, as suggested, a problem. Obe6can translate it as “as much power as possible held in one fist”.

            Yeah but on the other hand, it means just one head to cut off.

            Whereas if power is distributed in a ‘blob’, with everyone able to pass the buck, and replacing any one individual doesn’t change the groupthink… how can one ever cause a change of direction?

            Effectively isn’t this an elected dictatorship?

            Have you heard the Conservative party described as ‘an absolute monarchy, moderated by regicide’? The leader gets to do whatever they want, but if they go too far and annoy enough people, they are removed (unless the MPs make a terrible terrible mistake; this may have happened in December).

            I think the UK works on somewhat similar principles, only with the benefit these days that we don’t actually have to do that messy business with the chopping block in front of the Banqueting House.

          • “Strong Government” is not the problem. A government that is strong because it seeks the common good, listens to the people and find a consensus is indeed strong. I think we can see this in the lives of the Old Testament Judges and Kings.

            I would suggest that a government that seeks to exert power outside those parameters is only trying to exert force to cover up the fact that it is fundamentally weak. We all must know people who are stubborn because of the inherent weakness of their situation.

          • So the system didn’t work well in Germany under STV and coalitions?

            Can you tell me how that has affected German economic policy, or education, or manufacturing strategy, or the delivery of its health service? How are they all doing under this ‘flawed’ system?

          • So the system didn’t work well in Germany under STV and coalitions?

            A system works ‘well’ when it achieves its aims. My point is that what the Germans want out of their system, and what the Brits want, are different things. So the German system can have worked well for what the Germans want out of it, while the British system works… well, less badly for what the British want out of it.

          • The German system has worked very well in delivering a strong economy, based on manufacturing and not consumer credit, an excellent health service, and something better than a one-size fits all education system.

            I am not sure many people in the UK would poo-poo that.

          • I am not sure many people in the UK would poo-poo that.

            Ah, but revealled preferences are more truthful than expressed preferences.

          • Exactly. The fundamental problem was the choice by the current PM and government to simply refuse to talk to other non-conservative MPs over the last 2-3 years over a decision that affects the whole country, and then were surprised the majority disliked it. This was especially irritating given the current government are in power with only 35% of the voters. Not what I would call a good or even fair system.

            Perhaps after this fiasco ‘leavers’ will realise the sort of people they want governing them, with no input from ‘others’. You know, like a certain MP with a double-barreled surname who after months of dismissing the current proposal literally at the last minute delegated his final view of it to a motley crew of MPs from a different party! You really couldnt make it up. Sadly.

    • Possibly not—but then, shouldn’t we be finding ground with people of good will?

      And what would a more radical Christian account of the *process* look like do you think? That is the question I have been struggling with, and I am not sure I have found a convincing answer yet.

      Also interesting that, to my knowledge, no other national Christian leaders have offered a ‘radical’ response…

      • How about a call to humility and repentance?
        Your comment about the gap between the ordinary and the elite strikes a chord and one which a number of other thoughtful commentators have noted. And yet the elite do not seem to have recognised the problem. They are the articulate ones – good at making a case and arguing it – and so they win the argument. But winning the argument does not win over the ordinarys, and makes it worse as it creates a gap for the populists to step in and champion them. The recent march, with its clever banners and grotesque puppets then just looks like the elite parading their cleverness in front of the ordinarys, and the divisions are deepened. Wither self examination, humility and repentance?
        It is then ironic that the Guardian had an article yesterday headed “the elite must give us an opportunity to vote again”, not recognising who the ordinarys see as the elite. And to add further irony there is the commentator (I can’t remember who or where) who accused May of having cloth ears.

    • Not many atheists I suspect go with this: ‘One of the important things to pray for is Christians called by God into this vocation of service in national leadership.’

  1. Ian – finding common ground is fine, but there seems little in most Christian responses other than the common ground! That no other national Christian leaders have offered a radical response is grounds for shame imho. I’ll write something up on my blog.

  2. Here ya go – first thoughts. I thought I’d set out the ways in which I see a properly Christian understanding being brought to bear. Most specifically, I don’t see this analysis as something that a ‘well-meaning atheist’ could share in – and that is the point and revealing of the fundamental problem.

    Point one: we are not in charge, God is. One of the most debilitating aspects of the Westminster bubble is the way it encourages a sense of self-sufficiency and centrality, that ‘here is where the important things happen and are decided’. One way in which this is going to go ‘pop’ is when the EU chooses a no-deal exit (I give that about 60% chance at the moment) and Westminster suddenly realises that all these shenanigans were only one part of the equation. However, much more important is the Christian claim that God is present and active in our world, and that our calling is to find what he is doing and then get out of the way, to use Peterson’s language. This sense of something outside of our own preferences and choices, which has a greater authority and power than our own preferences and choices, is the principal thing that is missing in our conversation – that is, in our Christian conversations most of all.

    Point two: we do not have to be afraid. There are standpoints on both sides of the Brexit divide which seem to be rooted in fear of what might happen. This is the corollary of point one – if everything rests upon our own choices then there is much greater pressure to get them right. If, however, we believe in a God who can always redeem our fallen choices then that pressure is relieved, and, I suspect, the odds of making the best choices increase. We are not to make decisions on the basis of fear, whether that be Project Fear itself or the fears about ‘losing’ Brexit on the Leave side.

    Point three: communities, nations and multi-national states (the EU) are real things that are more than simply the sum of their parts. They are ‘principalities and powers’. Their reality is denied by the contemporary dominance of global capitalism, which seeks to minimise such inefficiencies, and therefore undermines them at every turn. Yet Christianity recognises that such things, whilst fallen, can also be redeemed, and calls us to work for such redemption. We need to be much more clear-sighted about the nature of the institutions with which we are dealing, and the ways in which power is being asserted against the vulnerable. Which leads to…

    Point four: God has a bias to the poor, and we need to listen to the poor, for it is often through those who are small and of no account to the great and good through whom God speaks to us. It is a shocking thing that the bench of Bishops has no voice affirming the choice of the poor in our society; it is even more shocking that none see the plight of southern Europe as bringing in to question the moral legitimacy of the European polity. Such things do not necessarily entail Brexit – they do, however, require a more prophetic response that comfortable silence.

    Point five: sometimes God calls us away from compromise towards radical and unpopular choices; sometimes those who are shepherds of the sheep are called upon to proclaim justice against the oppressor; sometimes what we most need is the Old Testament Heart. The Via Media is not always a virtue – sometimes, to adapt a saying by Mencken, “Every [Christian] must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” Metaphorically speaking, of course. And in love.

    So: five elements of a radical Christian response. Read Stringfellow!!

    • Sam, this is really interesting; thanks for taking the time to spell this out. But here’s my problem: each of your points can lead to exactly opposite conclusions.

      To take two: yes, the EU might become one of The Powers, and we need to oppose such supranational forces at work in our world, which belittle and marginalise human responsibility. And what was the major motivation for its foundation? To oppose the dominance of one Nationalist power which willed authority over other nations! Nationalism can be just as much a Power as internationalism.

      And we want to side with the poor? Ok, so what economic force has lifted more poor people out of poverty than any other, and at a remarkable rate? International trading facilitated by the kind of tariff-free arrangements pursued by the EU! Some would argue that EU membership has lifted Poland out of poverty more than anything else, and bishops might point out that poor people have voted for something that will harm them more than anything else! In relation to Greece, yes, they are suffering–but this has arisen (arguably) through the unsustainable and corrupt practices of the Greek government, which only the EU has been able to challenge.

      So I am still not sure how helpful this ‘radical’ thinking is in practice!!

    • ‘our calling is to find what he is doing and then get out of the way, to use Peterson’s language. ‘

      – an odd and wrong view.

  3. I come from a Swiss /Anglo-Swiss family and Switzerland has rejected the EU 5 times (3 times by popular nationwide referendum and twice by Kantonal governments [who actually have MORE authority than the federal Parliament] telling the Federal Parliament that they can’t join the EU.
    Contrary to the frequent mis-reporting of the MSM (Mainstream Media) here in the UK the consistent view of the Swiss is that the EU is simply NOT democratic.
    Consequently I don’t either fit Brexit or Bremain and I don’t feel I have to.

    I am incredibly disappointed how excessively anti-Brexit this piece is. For example it says: “All of this merely distracts from where the blame truly lies: with the Brexiteers themselves.”
    ….which is actually a deeply abusive, divisive and incredibly unhelpful thing to say ….and almost certainly not true anyway – Besides the government should have never asked for the vote if that is what they really felt and therefore the stupidity lies with the government itself.

    Contrary to this article it is Bremain people, including MPs, who have shown themselves incapable of making a competent argument in favour of staying or leaving. I do recognise that Brexit supporters make several arguments rather than one but that cannot ever excuse the inability of Bremain supporters to make any half-decent argument at all.

    I have been amazed by the disrespect and actual hatred shown by British people towards their fellow Brits. In Switzerland you RESPECT how people have voted even if you disagree with them. To listen to people who say intelligent people wouldn’t have voted that way just makes me realise that if they were really that intelligent then they would have made the argument BEFORE the vote. To listen to the whingeing and false arguments now just reveals how unintelligent they are even though they stupidly think of themselves as intelligent.

    This is about HUMILITY.

    LANGUAGE is hugely difficult and has been the Achilles’ heel in all of this.

    In Switzerland there are MORE border crossings, small and large, than between Northern Ireland and Eire and to listen to talk of “Hard” and “Soft” borders comes across to all Swiss as absolute meaningless nonsense and, worringly, thoroughly dishonest and misleading terminology.

    So for Christians we learn of using CLEAR (not necessarily always simple) and TRUTHFUL language in an age when many are assuming, wrongly, that truth is relative and so there is no such thing as truth. CLEAR and TRUTHFUL language about Christ’s salvation, even though it is foolishness to the Greeks, and the essential nature of Repentance and allowing Christ to change us.
    We also learn the importance of HUMILITY where humility helps us in conversations with others much more that supersiliousness.

    • “I am incredibly disappointed how excessively anti-Brexit this piece is. For example it says: “All of this merely distracts from where the blame truly lies: with the Brexiteers themselves.”
      ….which is actually a deeply abusive, divisive and incredibly unhelpful thing to say ….and almost certainly not true anyway – Besides the government should have never asked for the vote if that is what they really felt and therefore the stupidity lies with the government itself”

      It depends how you understand the rather ill-defined term “Brexeteers”. If you mean all the 17.4 million who voted to leave than it is clearly wrong to blame them. If you mean those few people who led the various campaigns who promoted something without a plan then they must share the fault with those who posed such a polarised question in the first place particularly without a credible plan.

      • Dear Nick

        It is sadly normal and characteristic for one side to blame other about false statements made in campaigning. In truth BOTH sides can hang their heads in shame at the dishonest statements and claims made.
        You are probably thinking of the false claims about the NHS started by Boris Johnson (as far as I know) but my favourite campaign lie of all was made by the Prime Minister acting for the “Bremain” campaign who said that anyone who votes for Brexit will be starting World War 3.

        Fortunately the dishonestly and stupidity of the Prime Minister’s statement has been revealed to everyone.

        So both sides lied through their teeth and it is characteristic of the division to blame whichever side you feel like.

        • I am not going to enter into a debate who did or did not lie in this forum, as I do not think it would be helpful or constructive. The point I was making was a different one.

          To advocate remaining did not need a plan. So those promoting remain did not need to provide one.
          To advocate leaving did require a plan. It was therefore incumbent on those proposing to leave to provide such a plan, and those proposing the referendum to ensure that a plan was in place.

    • In Switzerland there are MORE border crossings, small and large, than between Northern Ireland and Eire and to listen to talk of “Hard” and “Soft” borders comes across to all Swiss as absolute meaningless nonsense and, worringly, thoroughly dishonest and misleading terminology.

      This comment shows a lack of understanding about Ireland and the significance of the Irish Border. The controls on that border during ‘The Troubles’ were a very concrete (pun intended) emblem of the deep divisions in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement, a formal treaty between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, is predicated on both being members of the EU, thereby enabling the free movement of both people and goods across the border.

      The border between Switzerland and its EU neighbours is very different. One significant difference is that Switzerland is in the Schengen Agreement, so there is free movement of people across the border, no passport checks are required. The UK is not part of Schengen, therefore there are passport checks on people travelling between the UK and Europe. However, currently for citizens of EU (and EEA) countries, this is just to establish their right to enter the UK. The current lack of passport checks on the Irish border is possible because both are EU countries, and therefore something like Schengen applies there. However, if there is a ‘hard’ Brexit, then EU citizens will lose their right to travel freely to the UK. Irish citizens will retain that right, by other agreements, but since EU citizens can travel freely to the Republic of Ireland, passport checks will be required at the border as these people will not be permitted to travel freely into Northern Ireland.

      I don’t know how customs controls operate between Switzerland and its neighbours. Unless the UK were to be part of a customs union, then customs controls on goods would be required at the border.

      Many of those living near the border need to cross that border frequently, and transport goods across it. Any controls would be very inconvenient. More significantly, any appearance of the significant border would open ancient wounds, and would it is a justifiable fear that troubles would return.

      I grew up in Birmingham, and although I was at university in November, 1974, I remember that time very well and the atmosphere in the city when I returned home. Then, almost 10 years later in October 1984 I was woken up by the sound of the bomb in the Grand Hotel in Brighton. I do not want to return to those days.

      • Dear David

        Noticeably you have changed the argument from the claim of “Hard” and “Soft” borders to that of terrorism / “The Troubles” rather than trade. Perhaps that is misrepresentation. Yet even the Irish times notes that politicians have wilfully fudged these issues completely and notes that “hard”/”soft” is not a real concept and is however you want to define it. As long ago as 22nd January the Irish Times wrote “This is why Brexit, and the harder the better, is good for us….”

        You have then mistakenly referred to the Schengen agreement whilst avoiding stating what Switzerland actually does: Try going there and you will go through a manned border post and just trying getting passed the border post without paying your 40 Swiss Francs for the Motorway usage charge, normally called a Vignette (although there are other names).

        You failed to show any “lack of understanding” at all. I prefer instead the Irish comedian who pointed out that even animals like cows can Mooo in a Northern Irish accent whereas those in Eire Mooo in a Southern Irish tone – but fish in the rivers …. How can you tell whether they are from Northern Ireland or Eire?

      • Even with a no-deal Brexit, the reality is both the UK and Irish governments have said there will be no hard border. That means the most they will do is use some sort of technology or other means to monitor cross-border trade. Given the refusal of the UK government to set up checks between NI and GB, I suspect if the worst comes to the worst Ireland will have to set up goods and people checks at their ports and airports so that mainland EU countries are ‘protected’.

        • Given the history of government sponsored IT projects, the opinion of many is that thinking that “some sort of technology” is any kind of answer is probably naive.

    • Clive, I am not sure why you think this piece is ‘anti-Brexit’. The quotation you cite is not by me; I introduce it with that caveat, and note that many will disagree with it. The point of the article is that May has handled badly a bad hand. Both are important in understanding why this has all gone so horribly wrong.

    • The most refreshing comment I have heard for many days. Thank you. It is as if Democracy is only respected when it suits the predispositions of the unelected elites – and when they get their own way.

  4. Is it not the case that the real antagonist in creating this mess is the EU itself? Its insistence in trying to mould a group sovereign states with different economies, different cultures and different histories stretching over hundreds of years into a regulatory framework where one size fits all and try to do this in less than half a century, was bound to end in tears.

    I think it would have been better to have formulated a more commonwealth model of European cooperation that accommodated the disparity of nation states and focused only on those issues which were of mutual benefit.

    Paradoxically the EU is now the only entity that can break the current impasse we see in Parliament . They should resolutely refuse to countenance any extension beyond April 12th which should concentrate the minds of our frankly hopeless and self-serving MPs.

    • I am only half persuaded by this. Yes, the EU is about uniformity of regulation, but that is because it believes in interchangeably trade which creates wealth (as all the evidence shows), and the two belong together.

      I am not convinced that it is personal antagonism that is the issue as your comment suggests; this is the nature of the enterprise, and has been for some time. Like all issues in the EU, it has serious strengths and equally serious weaknesses. And it is odd that in the UK we have not taken as much advantage of subsidiarity as we might have.

    • The Maastricht treaty says that the EU should negotiate a treaty for a member to leave but they don’t seem to have obeyed their own Maastricht treaty and instead chosen intransigence …. but then that’s politicians for you!

  5. I see several parallels of the current situation with J-exit (Jerusalem’s first-century fight for independence from Roman rule).

    So, what the author calls ‘the simplification, the polarisation of views” is not just attributable to parliamentary rhetoric, since the very question on the Referendum ballot-paper was over-simplified: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

    Wasn’t this question as over-simplified as the question meant to expose Christ as siding with Zealots against Roman rule: “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar?”

    It should be noted that those posing this question subsequently marvelled. They were astounded by prescience of Jesus’ request for a coin (by which He had astutely unmasked their compromised loyalties) and his uncompromising instruction (which exposed them to be lacking the courage of their convictions).

    Similarly, Leavers and Remainers alike are grappling with whether “render unto the EU the things that belong to the EU” could ever be implemented.

    And, as constituents, we are now hearing over-simplified reasons for rejecting any and every Brexit proposal in Westminster, including the far-fetched belief that, as it stands, the Withdrawal Agreement would turn the UK into a “vassal state”.

    Ultimately, Jerusalem’s fate was sealed by its inability to unite for the common good. As Wikipedia describes it, the leaders of the zealots (Simon Bar Giora, John of Gischala and Eleazar ben Simon) “vied for control…while attempting to expel the Roman army, but inciting a bitter internecine war in the process.”

    The conduct of several MPs embroiled in the current debate bears more than a passing political resemblance to the strife among zealot leadership who engaged in Jerusalem’s first-century conflict.

  6. “Is it not the case that the real antagonist in creating this mess is the EU itself? Its insistence in trying to mould a group sovereign states with different economies, different cultures and different histories stretching over hundreds of years into a regulatory framework where one size fits all and try to do this in less than half a century, was bound to end in tears.”

    I am not sure. I think in part you may be right. There are some extreme politicians who have been trying to force greater uniformity than the people have found desirable. Also the EU has pursued liberal economic policies which have not been popular with some, but for many years the UK was a driver for this. Also UK politicians of all persuasions over the last 40 years have found it convenient to blame the ECC/EC/EU for unpopular decisions that were largely their own.

    Many of the grievances that those voting leave felt (and still feel – because nothing has been done about them) were decisions made firmly in Westminster, not in Brussels.

  7. Although I voted leave, in one sense I am sorry we are leaving the EU. The main driver for setting up the EU as it is, was to avoid another European war. The 20th Century saw two major European wars where millions of people were killed. My own father fought in the 2nd world war and came out disabled and troubled which left deep impressions on us all as a family when I was growing up. The rationale of European integration seems to me predicated on the assumption that if nation states are bound together in such a way in mutual dependence, then there is less incentive for them to start start fighting each other. This does seem to me a laudable aim and has echoes of a christian view of community, although the way the EU has gone about it has given the impression to many that it is behaving increasingly like an imperial power.

    Can you give me some examples of liberal economic and uniformitarian polices that originated in the UK that have been pursued by the EU?

    • “Can you give me some examples of liberal economic and uniformitarian polices that originated in the UK that have been pursued by the EU?”

      The single market

  8. I see a very similar parallel between the way the decision whether or not to leave the EU has been handled and the debate within the C of E over sexual ethics. In both cases there has been a failure by a lot of people to follow a logical process in the business of coming to the right conclusion.

    Simply put, you have first to sort out what are the essential principles which apply to any situation before you look at the specifics of the situation about which you have to decide. In the case of the C of E it was always necessary to have a firm grasp and acceptance of Biblical teaching on sexual ethics before any suggestion of what, how or if any changes should happen in the church’s practice. That was not done, and we all know the damage that has happened as a result. I’ll leave it there with that issue.

    But, similarly, with Brexit there was always a need to ask, and answer, the right preliminary questions; I’ll offer four:
    1. Are free, independent nation states with well defined borders preferable to huge protectionist blocs?
    2. Do I think democracy is the least worst system of national government?
    3. Is democracy best served within smaller, coherent nations or large conglomerations of nations?
    4. Where does sovereignty ultimately lie in a democracy: people or parliament?
    (My own answers are ‘Yes,’ ‘Yes,’ Yes,’ ‘People’)

    It might be argued that these are simplistic questions. But that’s the point: they are indeed simple questions but they’re anything but simplistic. In fact they’re questions which will always elicit visceral, non rational (but not irrational), instinctive answers which stem from the deepest human emotions of identity, independence, self reliance, family, history, culture, the fatherland, nation, power, security, life and death, the home. The Old Testament is filled, end to end with these concepts; the New Testament takes them to a new spiritual level. They’re certainly not concepts which are alien to God’s purposes, so we need to take them seriously, particularly in a world where it’s currently cool to be a globalist.

    No matter what the arguments over economics or trade or tariff barriers or the cost of extricating us from the EU they are still as nothing to a great many people when compared to those four simple but important principles. And I’d suggest that, despite the massive effort to frighten people into accepting the status quo (project fear), very many people – a clear, if small, majority – instinctively followed the correct, logical process of decision-making. They may not have done so consciously but, in effect, that’s what they did. And so the principles they held dear trumped the cost of the practicalities. Project fear never touched them.

    They also happened to vote on a written promise that the government would carry out their decision (it was not advisory) which would include leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union – no ambiguity whatsoever. Clearly any government and parliament of integrity would get the message, keep their word, and get on with the job of preparation and enacting legislation to achieve the unambiguous Brexit which had been promised.

    So, given the way that people’s deepest instincts have been characterised as ‘ignorance’; that there has been a concerted and (thus far) successful attempt by government to redefine (renege?) on what was promised; that leadership from the Prime Minister to inspire, energise, inform and prepare individuals and businesses has been absent; that there have been overt establishment attempts to frustrate Brexit and clothe it in a shroud of negativity; it’s hardly surprising that there has been a sense of betrayal – democracy has taken a big hit – and everything points to us never really leaving the EU. No wonder we’re in a national spasm of gloom and mutual recriminations! Remainer or Leaver, we know that the handling of this has been a national embarrassment. So we’re all fed up, demoralised and ashamed.

    But I don’t think any of this caused or need have meant the alleged ill feeling between Remainers and Leavers that we hear about. I wonder if that is more a symptom of a nation that was already no longer at ease with itself even before the Brexit issue arose? Reasons for that may be for another day, but probably many of us would observe a sensitivity, hysteria and insecurity which has grown in recent times and for which one could point to a plethora of causes. But I’ve gone on long enough!

    • Thanks Don, that is an interesting reflection. But I am interested in whether the answers to your questions actually have a theological basis for your answers.

      To take one: where do we find in Scripture a *theological* defence of the modern idea of the nation state? ISTM that, for most of history, most of the world has been grouped into semi-permeable ethnic groups most often united under some form of imperial-type government.

      The Wiki article on this is worth a read: It points out that the idea of a nation state really depends on the matching of ethnic, linguistic and political identities. In the early 19th century during the formation of France and Italy as nation states, only 12% of the population spoke French as we know it, and the proportion in Italy speaking Italian was even lower!

      • “for most of history, most of the world has been grouped into semi-permeable ethnic groups most often united under some form of imperial-type government.”

        Indeed. But does world history provide a theological justification for being subsumed into a league of nations in which unelected officials can impose policies which can and do override the democratically discerned ‘will of the people’?

      • Thanks, Ian. Yes, I am wary of claiming any direct theological basis for any particular political position. When invited, Jesus certainly gave no political prescriptions. I think I avoided using the term nation-state because I was thinking in terms of the basic principle of how people seem naturally to divide themselves into geographical areas and share a broadly common history; over time there have been a variety of manifestations of how this has worked out in practice.

        Could it be said that God’s great concern for humans is primarily at the individual level and that, if they love him and grow more like him (and keep his commandments), that will allow the right instincts to surface in deciding how to live well alongside each other? If that is so, then in fulfilling his invitation to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, God set people free to use their own imagination, creativity and the basic instincts he had given them in deciding how to organise themselves in larger groupings beyond the immediate family.

        So that could be thought of as frustratingly vague. In fact it means there’s no theological mandate for any particular way of doing things such as democracy or national borders. All we can say is that the Bible talks in relaxed terms about tribes or ownership of land; geographical location in which recognised groups dwell appears to be a natural assumption.

        But the Tower of Babel story suggests that large, purposely hubristic human enterprises can stray into territory which belongs to God and so, in today’s terms, we should beware any huge political project which intends vast central command and control of people’s lives from cradle to grave. Perhaps ‘small is beautiful’ is as biblical as it gets in this debate? And that poses a real question about the seemingly unstoppable march of technologies which tend towards global systems of connection and therefore global power structures. Perhaps it is the sense of loss of individual input and control of what is happening that is making people feel more threatened – it’s a direct challenge to personal autonomy. Perhaps that’s part of the reason for more person to person antagonism as reflected in the Brexit situation?

    • “They also happened to vote on a written promise that the government would carry out their decision (it was not advisory) which would include leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union – no ambiguity whatsoever. ”

      Can you point me to a contemporary source for this?

      • On this, I would point out that according to the Electoral Commission investigating the funding issues with the Leave campaign the referendum was advisory.

        • David

          I’m not qualified to pontificate on the function and powers of the Electoral Commission. So I’d ask:
          a) Does its remit extend to a definitive declaration of the constitutional significance of a national referendum?
          b) Does it have the legal right to overrule a government which it believes has made a wrong interpretation of whether or not it is bound by a referendum result?
          c) Whichever way a) and b) are answered, does a government nevertheless have the right to word a referendum in such a way that it binds itself to abide by the result?
          d) Irrespective of a) to c) do the people have a moral or legal right to be able to take a government at its word in a referendum if no qualifications to that right have been published before the vote takes place?
          e) Does a government have a duty to inform people of the exact legal significance of a referendum in advance of it being held?

          Whatever the answers may be in the generality, I think the significance for the nation of the Brexit referendum is such that it is wholly unacceptable to come up with the ‘small print’ regarding its legal implications long after the event. I’d suggest that the government’s promise was so unequivocal that, in the absence of any further information, it must be taken to mean what it says. The democratic imperative is unassailable.

          • I was in error in saying that it was the Electoral Commission which stated that the referendum was ‘advisory’. It was the Supreme Court.

            “The referendum was not legally binding, merely “advisory,” according to a Supreme Court judgement in December 2016, so it can’t be ordered to be re-run by a court – any decision to have a fresh referendum would have to be made by the government and Parliament would have to pass a referendum act.”

            I seem to recollect that it was this decision by the Supreme Court which led to them being branded “enemies of the people” by some of the right-wing, pro-Brexit press. The irony of that is that if the SC had not stated that it was advisory, then, given that the EC found that the Leave Campaign had acted criminally, it might have been entitled to order a re-run.

            Here is the dilemma: if the referendum is binding, it should be re-run. If you don’t want a re-run, then you have to admit that it was only advisory and not binding…

          • Thanks, David. That clarification puts my questions to bed!

            Just for the record, I’m not inclined to excuse criminality just because my side won any more than I take for granted that our Supreme Court always comes to the right conclusion. I think there were shades of grey on all sides and we’re unlikely to know exactly what happened or if any of it could have changed the result.

            In a comment to James Byron (somewhere lower down), I did say that I thought both the Remain and Leave campaigns were dire. I’d also point out that HMG spent £9million on its very one-sided leaflet to every home – but apparently that didn’t count, nor did the overwhelming establishment campaign of ‘Project Fear’! There was much that could have been done better.

            But now, as I write this, any expectation that the result would be honoured both in letter and spirit is being killed off. If the referendum campaigns were bad, they were as nothing to the performance of the Prime Minister who succeeded David Cameron! Over the last couple of years my side has been progressively stitched up like a kipper. And I’m sorry to say that dishonesty has been at the heart of the process.

            As Christians we know, in contrast, that honesty is at the heart of the Gospel and that the Devil is the father of lies. So, whichever way we voted, our first call must be for honesty (not ‘compromise’) in our political life. If people were able to trust that their politicians were honest (honourable), they would know that calls for compromise were not merely virtue-signalling fig leaves to cover up further deceit. And that applies to how we treat each other in our churches too!

          • Do all of you mind if we all stop the “far-right”, “right wing” slanderous labels that are such absolute utter nonsense now so widely used in MSM including the BBC. Before the referendum happened none of the MSM would have been so extremely silly as to label ordinary decent people as “far-right” etc.

            The hateful, slanderous labelling of people with whom you disagree is a really big part of the problem in which no Christian should be participating other than to refute.

      • Hi Nick

        On 6th April 2016 the Government published ‘Why the Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK’; they sent a copy to every British household. It is archived at:

        It clearly states:
        ‘The referendum on Thursday, 23rd June is your chance to decide if we should remain in or leave the European Union…This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.’

        It is a campaigning document – spin rather than balanced facts – but that statement is unequivocal; it concludes with a promise. By definition leaving the EU would mean ceasing to be a member of the Single Market and the Customs Union.

        At the time there was public debate around what trading arrangement we might want to negotiate with the EU subsequent to our leaving (Canada+, Norway etc) but none of those ideas were mentioned in the Government document. However, such debate was all about looking at leaving the EU purely as an economic issue. The visceral decision (which is what my comment was about) was based on the much more profound issue of sovereignty. The Leave campaign summarised it as ‘taking back control’; Boris Johnson memorably coined the phrase ‘Independence Day’ for the final exit day.

        A few days ago the MP, Steve Baker, said: “What is our liberty for, if not to govern ourselves?” I think that encapsulates the expressed will of the people in the referendum. Since then, the British Prime Minister appears to have been doing her best to hand back significant chunks of that liberty before we’ve even regained it.

        • Thank you. I have now read that through careful a number of times and cannot find the passage you are referring to that says that leaving the EU would mean leaving the customs union and the single market. I am happy to be guided.

          I am aware of another government report at that time “Alternatives to membership: possible models for the United Kingdom outside the European Union” that did set out various alternatives.

          I am also aware that some prominent campaigners on the Leave side (e.g. Owen Patterson) did propose staying in the single market who proposed staying in the single market.

          • You’re right, Nick, the government’s leaflet doesn’t specify leaving either the Single Market or the Customs Union. Perhaps it should have made that clear but, technically speaking, it didn’t need to because, by definition, ceasing to be a member of the EU (ie leaving it) would automatically mean ceasing to be a member of both of those arrangements. So for voters there could be no ambiguity about that.

            It’s also true that the referendum was specifically about whether or not to leave, and nothing else. Although there was of course debate about what might happen after we left, the referendum only gave a decision about what would happen up to exit day but not beyond it. However, it would be perverse to try and argue (as some do) that voters wanted a complete return of sovereignty on exit day but would then be happy to negotiate to hand parts, or all of it, back on the day after exit day!

            So it is simple common sense to assume that it was the principle (sovereignty) which was decided, and all future arrangements should be negotiated in accordance with that principle. (Theresa May initially gave the impression of being on board with preserving full sovereignty; later on she changed from that position.)

            The EU has trade deals with about 50 (I think) other countries over which it has no sovereignty; it makes obvious good sense for the UK to negotiate one of those deals. Canada+ is widely considered to be a good model from where to start.

            Theresa May was offered such a deal (Canada+) by Donald Tusk a year ago. She never responded and instead proceeded to ‘negotiate’ a treaty which would immediately give up a large chunk of sovereignty (as well as £39billion) with no guarantee of any future trade deal. Hence our present national discomfort!

  9. S… Sorry that I couldn’t post this immediately after your response earlier…

    ““Strong government” Whereas if power is distributed in a ‘blob’, with everyone able to pass the buck, and replacing any one individual doesn’t change the groupthink… how can one ever cause a change of direction?”

    I was protesting that the problem isn’t with the aim but that the current definition and means were a poor definition. Strong isn’t the same as ignoring others. Strong national leadership has, must be, to do with some greater degree of participation than merely (at best?) one’s own party members. Church leaders must surely recognise that the independent, do what I say, leader might well be a tyrant. Follow me or else. (“Vote this through and I’ll resign” is a new one to me though!)

    “Have you heard the Conservative party described as ‘an absolute monarchy, moderated by regicide’? The leader gets to do whatever they want…”

    I’ve heard it but where has this got anyone? What point a manifesto when the pro – tem leader can add or subtract at will? We don’t even have Cabinet Government anymore.

    Both major parties are demonstrating a complete inability to arrive at anything like a common mind. Pleasing one’s own party factions… Christians usually end up voting for the least worse option… and being increasingly disappointed. I was quite encouraged when Tim Farron led the Lib Dems but look at the gross intolerance within the party.

    I’m praying for our country and people. Its an all-time mess and I’m at an all-time low in confidence in the way we are governed.

  10. We should always think backwards, and see which conditions and systems have actually in practice produced the best results. Then replicate these so far as possible.

    The idea that Parliament is representative of the people is very far from true, and I am surprised that this idea is swallowed.

    But if there is no such thing as Parliamentary democracy, and no actual democracy either (one vote ever 5 years where realistically only one random person can win, or at most 2; one period of jury service – this means that you ‘rule’?) what is there? Oligarchy, and rule by elites. Whether it is the media elite, political elite, or financial elite that wields the most power is hard to say.

    And yet there are political paths that are well worth studying and implementing:
    (1) There is only one Christian Democrat in Parliament: Lord Alton. He also happens to be the best person in the building – together with Baroness Cox. No coincidence.
    (2) The distributism of Chesterton and Belloc. There is a false dichotomy between state and individual, Neither is a good key unit, But don’t forget there is also the option of *family* as the key unit.
    (3) As for theocracy, I am in a minority in what I think. We either believe God’s ways are best and they should be implemented, or (if they are not to be implemented) they cannot be best at all.

  11. Ian, this is really helpful, and I agree with almost all 100%. Can I add two things? a) re language: one of the worst aspects is the constant use of the emotional word “betray”, which is not helpful? b) if you think, as I do, that Brexit would be a national disaster, Christians and churches have to have a place helping people through this disaster, providing space for mourning, despair and terror. Even if you don’t think this, a lot of people will. And if we end up remaining, similarly a lot of people will need space for their understandable fury, pain and need for reconciliation. Are any churches preparing to provide this?

    • ‘providing space for mourning, despair and terror.’

      – I think you are over-egging people’s genuine emotional response to this decision. Everyone I have spoken to on the subject, whether leavers or remainers, have a more laid-back attitude of, what will be will be. We need fewer doom-mongers on both sides.

  12. Whilst we have our attention focused on leaving the EU, issues of vital importance are being decided in Parliament and elsewhere that will have a far greater impact on our country. Whether we are in or out of the EU is not a matter of biblical imperative. I can remember when we were refused entry to the EU (the Common Market as it was then). We did not live under a cloud or in poverty, we got on with our lives.
    Democracy (however interpreted) is not mandated in scripture, but an imperfect form of human government. Christians live under dictatorships, in democracies, and even within anarchy. The earliest believers were subject to the cruel tyranny of Rome. But political imperatives, nation states, and so on, do not figure largely in the teachings of Christ.

    However the issues that are of vital importance to us – and what we should pray for in terms of government – are laid out. Whatever the government we are subject to, whatever ‘nation’ or empire we belong to, we are to pray that the government keeps order, administers justice and enables us to live peaceable lives.

    But the most important issues are those concerning the human condition, bound in sin. Those things that god abhors, and which need to be exposed, and repented of, are spelled out in scripture – and it is those things that are being promoted and enshrined in law. This week a Statutory Instrument has been passed by Parliament, with only a handful of opponents, which effectively robs parents of control of their children. It enforces indoctrination of primary age children with wicked perversions. This will do more to destroy our nation than any economic or political arrangements. Sadly even Christian MPs agreed to these measures. At the same time there are pressures from influential groups to introduce euthanasia, and abortion at any stage – even legalising infanticide.

    Brexit has been a smokescreen, to enable matters of life and death to be decided whilst we are looking elsewhere. In or out of the EU, we still preach the gospel of forgiveness and redemption by the blood of Christ. We still confront the wickedness of sin in all its forms: the prevailing godless hedonism has infected all of Western civilization, whatever union it is part of.

    How does this all relate to the current crisis? Well, it was David Cameron who introduced ‘same-sex marriage’ (a true oxymoron), without a mandate and without popular support, it was Theresa May who wanted to force abortion as a ‘right’ on to African nations, and who is supportive of the transgender lunacy. Could it not be that Almighty God is judging our nation for our wickedness? Is he not humbling us, and teaching us that it is he who rules in the affairs of men?

    • The Statutory Instrument to which you refer, and which is supported by many Christians, does not seek to indoctrinate children with wicked perversions. It simply seeks to teach children that they may have same-sex parents, gay aunts and uncles, siblings, teachers, god parents, as many do. They are being taught to respect difference and equality.
      And being gay is not a sexual perversion.

    • Well said. The Givernment has been using the SI procedure to push through this legislation to indoctrinate primary school children into Queer theory. Parents are becoming increasingly concerned – one parent told me that her daughter had come home and said she must be bi-sexual because she likes boys and girls. You just need to look at the UN and WHO plans for sexual education in Europe to realise it is Kinsey material – sexualisation from birth. See Will Jones article on Faith and Politics blog.
      And the Bishops voted it through!

      • Tricia
        No one is teaching 5 and 6 year old queer theory.
        Queer theory is a hermeneutical tool.
        Children are being taught that there are different kind of families, different kinds of people and different kinds of relationships. This is aimed at stopping ‘othering’ and bullying. Which is why, I assume, the HoB supported it.

        • There are many ways to prevent bullying. One is to assert that everything that people do is ‘normal’, and in doing so you are in danger of dispensing with much-needed norms.

          The other way is to say that, even if we disagree with people and they are different from us, we still do not resort to bullying. I think the second way is preferable.

          • That’s the same question to ask in any context: who gets to decide what is true? Asking the question, or even noting the question can be asked, takes nothing away from the claim that some things are true and some things are not.

            And we are living in an age where social trends tell us rather clearly that the claim that all things are fluid and relative is creating a stressed and increasingly dysfunctional culture, if we didn’t already suspect that from what we knew from psychology, philosophy and theology already.

          • Ian
            Yes, western culture is in many ways stressed and dysfunctional. I do not think this has anything to with questioning of norms.
            However, I am suspicious of a narrative which implies that the recent past was better. It wasn’t. Reliable contraception, the illegality of marital rape, decriminalisation of male homosexuality, equal pay etc. etc. have all made life much better and safer for lots of people.
            To discover what is making us stressed and anxious I think we need to look at late capitalism, the rise of nationalism and the religious right in east and west……

  13. Two comments, if I may, Ian.

    1. Integrity. I do not think it is any sign of a loss of integrity to change one’s view. What I think the very polarised debate has done is make it almost impossible to MPs to change their view as we came to understand more of what the complexities of Brexit would involve, and as different factors loomed larger or receded, without being immediately labelled as traitors or idiots.

    What lacks integrity is changingg views for simple personal advantage – to give one rather obvious example, Boris’s discovery of the worthwhileness of Mrs May’s deal, and his willingness to vote for it is clearly linked to her offer to stand down if it could be passed. That is a lack of integrity.

    What I want to know from someone who changes their view, or modifies it, are the reasons for that shift. I think that is reasonable. I may not like the conclusion that they have come to, but I can accept that there is no loss of integrity if they can give a coherent account of why , given what they now understand the case to be, they now come to whatever is their conclusion. I do not share the cynicism of others about the quality of our politicians – I have been struck, watching the “Brexit show” nightly on BBC News, how seriously most of them are wrestling with the pushes and pulls that they have to manage. They certainly deserve our prayers.

    2. I think there is much more of a case to be made in the Christian case for remain for the free movement of peoples. You have not included this. But Scripture is full of people moving about all over the place, and finding God as they go. Where would we have got if Abram had just stayed in Ur of the Chaldees? The capacity for Christians to respond to calls to move is a very important part of God’s freedom to shape the world. But how can that happen if there is no free movement of peoples?

    • Far from its being a loss of integrity to change one’s view, changing one’s view demonstrates that one has not ceased thinking.

      Changing one’s view with the cultural wind is the exception to that: it can be a sign of signal lack of thought. Following the cultural wind is, however, also the *commonest* reason that people claim to have changed their view.

      So we need to be clearer about what we mean by ‘changing one’s view’. It sometimes means that one has been intellectually convinced of a new paradigm. At other times it means nothing more profound than that one has changed one’s allegiance – perhaps to fit in with one’s peer group or with perceived (media-engendered) ‘normality’. For too many of us, allegiance generally means siding with the majority of people in our peer group!

      Which is why I again say that the word ‘view’ should never be used unthinkingly. Any word that mixes up, without the slightest contradistinction, research conclusions with selfish desires (and everything in between) is seriously obfuscatory.

    • The sustained and severe attack on free movement of labor within the E.E.A. is an exclusively English obsession, one (according to several polls) that’s not even shared by the majority of her population.

      That this has become the one non-negotiable aspect of Brexit illustrates just how far it’s traveled from its Euroskeptic routes of separating the economic and political aspects of the Common Market. Long before “Brexit” had been invented, secessionists embraced the Four Freedoms (all major Leavers have previously taken this position): their recent affected horror speaks volumes about how populism has twisted a once honorable and pragmatic movement.

  14. People have usually lived under imperial rule. But that was experienced by many (most?) as subjugation. Freedom meant freedom of a people to live under its own laws cf the OT. Often this meant a national kingdom. Sometimes it meant sub national city states as in Greece. But that was typically the aspiration – government based on nationhood. The bible presents nations as part of a divine schema for human society post Babel eg Acts 17. They’re still mentioned in Revelation 22. They’re now the best context for democratic self government and are very precious. That’s why we often help stateless nations achieve statehood.

  15. You have put a picture at the top of the EU flag and the Union flag. I was praying abundantly meditating the other day about the chaos in politics. I suddenly realised that the Union flag is a combination if the cross of St George and the cross of St Andrew whereas the EU flag is a pagan symbol of “maybe, Queen of Heaven” – not a Christian symbol anywhere and this, despite Europe being Christendom for centuries. The EU is anti Christian. The opening of a tunnel a few years ago, which was attended by the EU leaders was a pagan ceremony.

      • Thank you. Could not recollect what the Red Cross was. But it rams home the Christian flag we are under. I want nothing to do with the EU pagan flag.

        • Susannah, you seem to have misunterpreted the Scottish referendum decision. I happened to be visiting Scotland just after the result was known and had some interesting discussions.
          The Scots had no Leave voice – the SNP, Labour and Conservatives were Remain. There was no debate.
          The stance of the SNP is ludicrous – they do not accept the referendum result when they rely on referendum for Independence. Why do the SNP think they will be independent when the EU does not believe in the nation state – only Europeans not Scots!
          Read Dr David Robertson in Dundee who was going to vote Remain, researched the evidence and voted Leave as an SNP voter.

    • Tricia,
      I am afraid your comment about the Flag of Europe being pagan illustrates the ignorance of many people about the institutions of Europe. The flag of 12 yellow stars (note that five pointed stars are the common language of flags, compare the flag if the USA) on a blue ground is more correctly called the Flag of Europe. It was designed for the Council of Europe in 1950 (the same year as the formation of the Coal and Steel Community), and adopted in 1955. At the time its meaning was given as:

      “Against the blue sky of the Western world, the stars represent the peoples of Europe in a circle, a symbol of unity. Their number shall be invariably set at twelve, the symbol of completeness and perfection.”

      Note that the Common Market was formed by the Treaty of Rome in 1957 – two years later. It seems that the use of the symbol of the flag is not established by any formal way by the EU or its predecessors, but it is the de facto ’emblem’ used by the EU. It was to be formally adopted by the European Union Constitution, but that was never ratified.

      Am I right to presume that you know that the Council for Europe is not the same as the European Union? Many don’t. The Council for Europe was formed in the aftermath of WW2 with the noble aim of preventing anything like that happen again. Winston Churchill was the proposer of this in 1943. It was founded in 1949 by the Treaty of London. Currently, it has 47 member states. There is no proposal to withdraw from the Council of Europe.

      One of the main acheivments of the Council or Europe is the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). One of the principal architects of this was Sir David Maxwell Fife, i.e. a Briton, who was one of those prosecuting the Nazi war criminals. (Wikipedia states that he was conservative, small ‘c’, on the death penalty and homosexual rights; this may or may not endear him to you!)

      I don’t know how you define ‘pagan’, but a standard definition of ‘a pagan’ is something like “someone holding to religious beliefs other than one of the main world religions.” I really don’t know how the Flag of Europe could be called ‘pagan’ in this way. If it is, then the same must apply to the flag of the USA. Remember that the first version of this included a circle of five pointed stars on a blue ground. Note that there were thirteen of these. If you are into symbolic numerology, that seems a much dodgier number!

      The philosophical roots of the EU are extremely complex. As Ian comments, it has roots in Catholic social teaching. This is where the principle of subsidiarity comes from, and forms the difference between EU regulations and EU directives (do you know the difference?) However, particularly from France, there is a strong element flowing from the Enlightenment. France has a strong principle of laïcité, the separation of civil society and religious society, which partly results from the strong association of the Church with the oppressive royal government.

      • Thank you David for your informative piece. However, the EU does not believe in the nation State and “ever closer union” is the dream. This ultimately means that the symbol of the cross will be replaced by a non Christian symbol, which of itself is spiritually oppressive. The EU stifles states and in particular the southern nations where the youth unemployment rate is running at 40% – young lives blighted by the “greater good” of whom – those with the power (distinctly unchristian).

        • Why do you presume those countries would have less youth unemployment if they were not part of the EU? At least in the EU they can move easily to another country for work.

          • Because the Euro only works for Germany, it has crippled the southern countries. If Greece could extricate and regain the Drachma they would be hugely competitive for holidays and the VAT rate in Europe is 20percent – sovereign nations can set their own rate. Italy has had no growth in their economy for 20 years, which is why they have had enough of European control.
            The Remain position is also flawed because the EU is not static – all countries are going to have to accept the Euro to align currency by 2025.

  16. It is not easy to discern Christian teachings on this subject, but I feel that in addition to Jesus’ comment about giving to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s, he was also strongly against dishonesty and hypocrisy among those in positions of authority. This is reported as more often being directed at Jewish authorities (scribes, priests, pharisees, etc.) than at Romans. In our country’s relationship with the EEC/EC/EU, we stand as the only country with a tradition of making pragmatic laws only as and when needed, in a purely sovereign parliament. All the other countries have either spent most of the last several hundred years under some sort of empire, or they have had the kind of elitest prescriptive government typified by French politicians who seem to believe they should make and pass down law from their ivory tower. The British tradition is rooted in liberty and a protestant approach, where the EU approach has more in common with dependence on an elite and the acceptance of unaccountable powers of which the Catholic Church might be one example. Of course, it is not that our system never errs, but it has a more natural accountability. I have therefore felt some affinity between the ‘leave’ position, and the righteous aspects of the reformation, and Jesus criticism of the Jewish authorities. It’s not clear cut or definitive, but as much as some feel we should remain in the group motivated by love for our neighbour, others might see the need to make a stand for a less remote and hypocritical form of government.

    Don’t be angry with me, I’m just hearing the gospel a certain way.

    • Hi Jonathan, you said:
      The British tradition is rooted in liberty and a protestant approach, where the EU approach has more in common with dependence on an elite and the acceptance of unaccountable powers of which the Catholic Church might be one example.

      I wonder if you have read anything about Protestant Geneva under Calvin? You might change your idea about the wonderful nature of Protestant based government if you do. Protestant Britain itself has not been very tolerant of dissent until quite recently in real historical terms. When was the prohibition on Roman Catholics living within 10 miles of Charing Cross lifted?

      Universal suffrage is really quite recent. It was not until 1918 that all men were able to vote. Prior to that there was a property qualification. That would have introduced bias.

      Then there is the simple fact that those in Parliament have been drawn largely from certain groups. In particular, note that over a third of British Prime Ministers were educated at Eton College and about half at Oxford University. Of the 13 since 1950, 4 were at Eton and 10 at Oxford. The political class, i.e. those which form the laws, have been drawn from a particular privileged social group. It seems unlikely that this does not colour their decisions.

      I note that many the political leaders of both sides of the Brexit argument are from this same small group.

      I’m not sure why you think that the British system is more accountable than either governments in countries like France, or in the EU itself. As I understand it, all the legal instruments of the EU (regulations, directives, etc.) have to be approved by the European Parliament, which is a directly elected assembly, like the British Parliament. If the argument is “all these foreigners can force something on us”, then how does that differ from the voice of those seeking independence for Scotland (which is a separate country, after all), or, perhaps, Yorkshire?

      The question of the appropriate region for decision making is a very interesting political issue. However, in the UK there has been a significant tendency to centralise, despite devolution in Scotland and Wales. Local authorities have lost very significant autonomy, for instance. The same could be said for the EU. However, in its principles there remains subsidiarity, even if it is less attended to these days. There is no such principle in British government. Even Parlimentary scrutiny is being lost with increasing use of executive orders.

      I can see that the EU is increasingly bowing down to the great God of Mammon. However, I do not think that the British political class are doing anything different.

      • Yes Calvin’s Geneva was not a liberal society, but for all your comments about suffrage and the composition of Parliament, etc., our system enabled the inventiveness and entrepreneurship of the industrial revolution to thrive. We are an inventive people, but not that much more capable than other European nations. France suffered from a very prescriptive government under Louis XIV, wherein Royal approval, or the lack of it, hampered progress, and then the multiple chaotic systems of the Revolution made progress difficult. Meanwhile the relative stability and liberality of our constitutional Monarchy allowed rapid progress.

        Of course our politics had many faults, but compared to the stultifying effects of the much more autocratic monarchical governments of France, Austria, Russia, etc. our people acted with more pragmatic cooperation and encouragement. This isn’t opinion, our success in building the empire, overcoming our European competitors all over the place, is proof. Moreover, for all its faults, our empire is rightly judged to have been a fairer governing body than the alternatives. With hindsight we can regret empire-building, but it was just what was done in those days.

        My real point, however, is that for most countries, for most of history, there has been a type of law making regime, typified by the French, in various guises, which makes laws from a detached theoretical point of view, and then imposes this law on the people. This naturally tends to arrogance and hypocrisy in these governments. By contrast, largely since 1688, British government has tended to make law by reacting to real events in the world, and pragmatically imposing law to do no more than straighten out what needs straightening. Of course it is not perfect, but this has tended to be a less arrogant and hypocritical system. It’s not a black and white case of good and evil, but I would say our way has been more in line with gospel teaching. Now I would say that the EU tends to perpetuate this less-justified law-making, imposing rules on the constituent countries which are not in their best interests. Ideally, the EU would reform, but in the absence of that, leaving might be the only way.

        Reverend Psephizo was asking for some intimations for Christian teaching about Brexit, beyond simply encouraging sympathy and understanding, and working for cooperation rather than division, etc., so that’s what I have attempted.

      • ‘It was not until 1918 that all men were able to vote. Prior to that there was a property qualification.’

        – that reminds me of that hilarious Blackadder episode, with ‘Colin’ the dog.

  17. Brexit as currently exists is unquestionably a project of the hard right, with a handful of useful idiots and trolls giving it cover from the left. It was inched over the line with dark funding, shameless lies, and the most appalling nativism. What could be more unchristian?

    There’s a perfectly good case to be made for leaving the E.U. — a case built on the fundamental incompatibility of Britain with rigid political structures designed to stop Germany and France from going to war — but the populist horrorshow currently in the driving seat isn’t it.

    Ironically, Brexit does the most severe harm to the cause of leaving the E.U.

    • Populism: when lots of poor people vote for things I disagree with.

      Nativism: when poor people have a visceral attachment to their country that causes them to vote in ways I disagree with.

      • Come now Will, since you’ve a doctorate in political philosophy, you know that “populism” isn’t a synonym for “popular,” but a specific term for a political movement that boils politics down to a war between “the people” and a mythical “elite.”

        Likewise, nativism prioritizes the interests of “natives” over those of immigrants. It’s visceral, yes, which is why its fruits are so sour.

        By attacking immigrants in the crudest and most dishonest terms (Turkey’s not only about to join the E.U., but her entire population’s about to flood to England), and pretending that Britain could enjoy all the benefits of E.U. membership without any of the costs, Leave fits squarely into both categories.

        I’m amazed that any political scientist could endorse these methods!

        • The elite is not a myth. It is a common subject of political academic study. Problems tend to arise when elites pursue agendas at odds with popular sentiments, particularly in democratic countries.

          Countries are based on the distinction between inhabitants and non inhabitants and on the principle of prioritising the interests of the former. You seem to hold particular ties like nationality in contempt. But nations are part of the order God has given to human society for the facilitation of cooperation in human things.

          • “The elite,” singular, doesn’t exist. There’s many “elites,” on both sides. The leaders of Leave were, by any measure, rich and powerful, alongside millions of their voters. Leave benefited from bushels of cash that’s yet to be properly accounted for. Framing this as poor leavers vs. elitist remainers is junk psephology.

            As for nativism, sensible distinctions between citizens and noncitizens is one thing: Leave’s rampant xenophobia (Turks, dear voters, Turks!) is another entirely, no to mention being deeply ironic, given Al “Boris” Johnson’s long-standing advocacy of Turkish accession to the E.U.

          • It’s well known that the socioeconomic profile of leave voters was well below that of remain voters. And Remain substantially outspent Leave without even counting all its government patronage.

            You’ll have to let all the Leave voters whose motives you despise know that they are allowed to make distinctions between citizens and non citizens as long as it isn’t based on any of their base emotional attachments to their country and fellow countrymen. Maybe you’ll be able to reeducate them suitably.

            More than a little snobbery going on here methinks.

          • As this Atlantic piece notes, the biggest divide’s in formal education. Plenty poor immigrant communities voted In, and plenty rich Tory seats voted Out. The rich/poor framing is misleading.

            Following the example of the author and finisher of our faith, I seek not to despise anyone. I proudly despise xenophobia and lying, especially from rich, educated men who should know better. Hate the sin, love the sinner. Are you defending the conduct of the Leave campaign? (Wholely separate from wanting to leave a supranational bloc.) If so, how can their tactics possibly be described as Christian? If not, we don’t even disagree.

          • Nevertheless, Will, even the poorest constituencies in Dundee and Glasgow voted to remain.

            I agree with James if he’s saying that media and populist voices played on fears.

            If you are an advocate of nation states, well Scotland has been a nation far longer than it has been joined to the UK, so on that basis do you think Scotland should seek independence? Especially as, both rich and poor, the Scots voted for Remain.

            I believe in communities exercising self-determination, right down to the local level. But set against that, I don’t think there’s a biblical case for nationalism in this day and age.

            The needs of the world cry out for solidarity, for collective measures, for mutual venture.

            Community is not just about ‘us’.

            I think the media and arch brexiteers were trying to harness understandable feelings of social marginalisation, and trying to make it about an ‘us’ of little Englanders (because it certainly wasn’t the Scots) who are being ‘overwhelmed’ by a ‘flood’ of immigration.

            We all know the tropes – nostalgic harking back to the days of Empire, and cosy English pubs, and cricket on village greens, and an age when England was white, and happy, etc.

            I am not an arch remainer myself. I hardly have a pony in this race. But I think the populace was subjected to manipulation at a visceral level and, yes, pride in one’s country can feel visceral (especially if one lost family members in war)… but actually, the things that impact most seriously on the English, I think, are economic provision for the needs of the poorest, decent healthcare, and getting over that ‘myth of England’ and the perfect, rosy past… when actually, the past was not all rosy at all for many people.

            Any rationalisation for why the Scots (including the poor) preferred to vote for Remain, and the English did not?

            It’s a real and unwelcome problem for Scotland, and it seems like it’s England that has the problem. Scotland lacked the degree of Leave passion, and yet has had to put up with three years of total ‘**ckery’ here in England, with a Conservative government we never voted for, tearing itself apart, and Scotland’s own democratic wishes being over-ruled by the votes of the English.

            As Christians, community is almost everything. A key biblical and Christian challenge is ‘How do we do Community?’ Honesty and information are really important in the democratic system. If polemicists and media peddle myths and emotions, there is a real threat to democracy in that. Democracy relies on informed consent, and that pre-supposes clear and true information.

            When we voted in the EU referendum, I don’t think most of us had a clue. Who mentioned the N. Ireland border back then? Did we have serious discussion about the different kinds of ‘exit’ we might have to choose between?

            I think most leave and remain voters were equally ill-informed. I think most people are a bit more informed now, and in the end we have to decide what to do, how to live ‘in community’ with Europe and with ourselves.

            The Holy Trinity is the eternal community. As Christians, we are invited into that household, that community – and in that calling, I think we are challenged to work out how we can extend community to all the people who live around us, with their needs, their fears, their dreams for their children.

            At the moment I think England is in various ways a broken community, and the answers always begin with who we meet today, who we live alongside… the homeless person on the street, the alienated youth… and whether we are really going to extend community to them.

            I don’t really see spiritual renewal happening any other way.

            We don’t need massaging of emotions. We need quietness and trust. Those are qualities of ‘the good community’. There has been a breakdown of trust. It goes deeper than this referendum. It pulses in the economic abandonment some people feel, and hopelessness, and poor housing, and cutbacks, and a system that *still* seems to prioritise the “haves” before the “have nots”, leaving people behind.

            The breakdown of trust bears the question and doubt: “Will anything really change?”

            Whether ‘in’ the EU or ‘out’ of it, that is the far deeper question, because it impacts on people’s real lives, and not just the fantasies of an England that is past, that was never as idyllic in reality for the poor, and which is part of the ‘Myth of Britain’.

            The imperative priorities – healthcare, care of the elderly – are far less romantic but far more compelling for a Christian.

          • “I agree with James if he’s saying that media and populist voices played on fears.”

            I certainly am, 100 percent. I’m horrified by the waves of nativism sweeping across the West, waves that cascade through the Rust Belt and sweep over the Atlantic, a tsunami of rage that crashes against the shores of England and Europe, threatening to swamp them utterly.

            It’s no longer an issue of NAFTA, or the E.U., or the relative merits of national sovereignty and supranational institutions. It’s a battle for our souls. Are we to be drowned beneath a deluge of hate and fear? Will we scapegoat incomers for the brutality of the markets, brutality that we’ve repeatedly chosen to unleash to make a quick buck? Or will we wise up in time?

            Drowned or saved, we gotta make a choice. If, as looks likely, Scotland votes to save herself from the oncoming storm, then all power to her.

  18. Our church community straddles strongly remain and strongly leave voting communities. On the Sunday after the referendum I had to remind some about to lead a service that whilst they may have been wanting a funeral feel to mourn others would ne in celebratory mood. Today I preached on Deut 5 and so we talked about idolatry. I said that our country had been in the grip of two idols both equally deadly. If this weekend we are devastated not to have leave we risk the idol of nationalism but equally if we are relieved at the extension and still fear Brexit means the end of civilisation we are trusting another idol. Many of our patriotic hymns touch on the idolotrous worship of Britannia but equally the EU has been vested with divine powers to guarantee peace and prosperity. The tribalism that results in leavers bullying remainers and calling them traitors has no place in the church nbut nor does the sneering #FBPE message that my offer of friendship is limited to those who share my political views. Tear down those hashtags

  19. Reply to James Byron, you cant say that there is a good case for leaving the EU and then say Nrexit is just a hard right project with cover from the left. That would be like saying there is a case for remain but the remainers were just a hardline federalist anti democratic movement given cover by some centre right and centre left useful idiots. It is this kind of belittling abusive language that has replaced debate and has no place in the church. Stick to debating the merits of proposals and don’t attack people, least of all by guilt by association.

    The democratic discourse in our country has been badly poisoned. Lets not contribute to thar further. Let’s focus on the actual arguments and debate respectfully and charitably.

    • To clarify, my criticism is directed specifically at the Leave campaign and their sack of impossible promises, not voters who support leaving the E.U., and not the Euroskeptic position in general.

      The poison infecting the body politic is best drawn by marginalizing the demagogues, spivs and disaster capitalists, and facing up to the real choices. Healing can only begin when the charlatans aren’t setting the agenda.

      • That’s a helpful clarification. Though again, helpful to remember that 1. There were thoughtful contributions on all sides of the debate. 1. There were weirdly two leave campaigns. 3. There was some awful stuff stoking fear from both sides and neither covered themselves in glory but that is the sad state of political discourse. Unfortunately this seems to continue with Christians on twitter 🙁
        I think a big problem was that the campaigns often forgot that it was a referendum not a General Election as have critics since. What that means is the camapign should have focused on the arguments. Leavers for example may have had opinions on where to redirect spending or how to conduct the leave process but they were not running for office and so could not make promises. Nor from the other side is it correct to say they broke promises.

        • Excellent point about neither campaign being a government in waiting, and so being free to make fantastical promises. Longtime secessionist Peter Hitchens boycotted the referendum because he considers referenda incompatible with the Westminster system, and foresaw a constitutional crisis if there were two competing mandates.

          Even if she does leave the E.U., England has a hard choices to face: either stay aligned to the E.E.A., which bags prosperity at the cost of sovereignty; or regain control at the cost of massive economic upheaval and the likely reunification of Ireland and dissolution of the union with Scotland. Leave denied the trade off’s existence, but it must now be confronted.

          • The Scottish dimension is often glossed over, so thank you for that James. Far from Remainers being sort of the ‘elite’, Scotland voted by 62% to 38% to remain in the EU. If a second referendum is held on the EU, that will provide the Scottish Government with precedent and justification for holding a second referendum on independence. A lot of the Brexit narrative has been, frankly, very England-centred. In the long run, this might (I only say might) alienate more Scottish voters and increase their inclination to vote for independence, and the right to determine their future, and the future of their children, for themselves.

            The Scottish people, by a significant majority, want to remain in the EU. This has been overlooked a lot in the past three years. Yes, most Scots chose to stay in the UK at the last independence referendum, but people change their minds. That is what democracy is all about. That’s why we hold general elections.

            In the Scottish context, if Parliament votes to leave the UK, that will indeed be the Westminster ‘elite’ dominating the democratic choice of the Scottish people.

            In the English context, if Parliament initiates a process that stops the Leave process, then that will be portrayed as the Westminster ‘elite’ dominating the choice of the English people.

            It’s not simply ‘Remain’ = educated and elite, ‘Leave’ = uneducated and subclass.

            Unless one thinks the Scots are more elite, educated and advanced than the English, who are some kind of stupid sub-class nation.

            I think there were simply various reasons why people voted the ways they did. Many people were rational on both sides. No-one can really deny that parts of the media (as Ian suggested above) had a powerful influence on ‘toxifying’ the debate.

            There are visceral issues of identity (associated by many with nationhood) which were exploited cleverly to play on the fears around excessive immigration, and the sense of abandonment felt by some communities. Weirdly, while these fears were being played upon to swing the votes of people who felt left out, wealthy brexiteers in the conservative party and beyond were supporting these myths for different reasons, mostly to do with the so-called ‘neoliberal’ agenda and giving the rich more freedom to make profit for themselves. So you add this odd coupling of some of the most privileged people and some of the less privileged people, with the media as an instrument, basically massaging facts at the behest of powerful and influential people.

            I was neither a strong ‘Leaver’ nor a strong ‘Remainer’. I could see arguments both ways. However, at this point, I believe that a second referendum may be the only way to clarify where we now stand, in which case I think not only should there be a choice between leaving or remaining, but also (if the majority vote for leave) a choice on what kind of leave people want.

            Scotland has already made plain what it wants, so if there is a second referendum on Brexit, the Scottish Government would at least have a case for holding a second referendum on independence, because this whole affair resonates so strongly with ‘being messed up’ by conservative MPs and government who were NOT the chosen government (by far) of the Scottish people.

            This whole Brexit debacle is a powerful case for Scottish independence.

          • typo… should have read:

            “In the Scottish context, if Parliament votes to leave the EU, that will indeed be the Westminster ‘elite’ dominating the democratic choice of the Scottish people.”

            Sorry about that! If Parliament chose to ‘leave the UK’, then we really would need to be worried!

          • Personally, as a fan of Westphalian sovereignty, I dislike all supranational organizations. (Intergovernmental bodies like EFTA are entirely different.) Economically, I accept that there’s a direct line between liberalizing trade between unequal economies (looking at you, NAFTA) and Trumpism.

            But we are where we are. If the U.K. wishes to leave the E.U., it must confront difficult choices, and no responsible government can rush them. If immigration control’s truly England’s reddest of red lines, then in order to leave the E.E.A., her entire economy must be restructured away from services to manufacturing, a process of at least a decade, likely longer. She must also accept that Scotland will dissolve the union.

            Instead of facing this, leaders who should know better have systematically lied to the British voters, whether Labour’s “jobs first Brexit,” or the Tories’ “managed no-deal.” Trusting the electors to behave as adults and choose between two concrete chocies in a confirmatory referendum gives them infinitely more credit than politicians treating them like ignorant children who must be duped and managed by their betters.

            Britain’s close to the point where her legislature will ram through a customs union in a panic in order to avoid severing all her trading relationships overnight, a move that will wreck the economy and alienate leavers and remainers in equal measure. Scotland will, in this scenario, rapidly take advantage of her sovereign right to end the union.

            Root cause of all this mayhem? A most unchristian refusal to offer truth and accountability.

          • Yes there has been a long running view to that effect. I think there is a case even if an innovation for referendums to settle constitutional matters. However probably better to first of all legislate and then use referendum to confirm

          • James,

            ‘Root cause of all this mayhem? A most unchristian refusal to offer truth and accountability.’

            I’m all for Brexit and I have a lot of sympathy with your comments (though not all!). I think the terms on which the referendum were argued were dire on both sides. I expected Leave to be slaughtered, which a) shows how little I know, and b) does rather underline a comment I made somewhere above that a lot of people voted on deep seated instinct for national autonomy, more effective local democracy and a dislike for supranational authority; project fear couldn’t override those instincts (which is quite a comforting thought).

            I completely agree that a successful Brexit demands a radical reshaping of our economy (towards far greater concentration on manufacturing). I don’t think our politicians, as a whole, have the first clue about how much needs to be done – perhaps they think the deception of borrowing can go on forever?

            Thus, it’s not Brexit that worries me; it’s the almost certain mess our ill-informed, dishonest, mentally lazy, backward looking, administratively incompetent leaders are likely to make of it if it happens. And, yes, they are all very unchristian qualities.

  20. A fascinating development of ideas from a very worthwhile initial article.

    Ian has started to debate Brexit from a Christian point of view, giving I think a balanced view of both sides of the argument and seeking to show how Christian sensibilities and beliefs can result in support for “leave” or “remain”.

    It didn’t take long for comments to appear that moved away from this even handed approach to attempts to justify the opinions of those commentating. The country split down the middle in the referendum and I haven’t seen any justification for saying that Christians split differently to the national norm.

    There are of course certain elements of the debate that will attract particular attention. Freedom of movement is often entwined in the same debate as racism. The hegemony of the EU (or even certain powerful nations within it) is similarly linked to views on differing theological traditions and the freedom of expression sought by identifiable national, religious or cultural groups.

    The Brexit debate does legitimately impinge on our electoral structure, but the issues are somewhat different.

    Politically the problem with first past the post is the calibre of our politicians. Any political leader who takes the view that because they have “won” under the FPTP system they are entitled to do anything/everything in their manifesto lacks humility and reasonableness. A government formed with a minority of the popular vote may legitimately say that their policies should predominate in the following electoral term, but to claim that they can implement anything they want from their manifesto without compromise exceeds their mandate. Trump’s “my way or no way” approach despite polling less than half the popular vote in the US exemplifies the folly of such a stance.

    Brexit is somewhat different. People were offered only two options in an advisory referendum – leave or remain. There was no subtlety about the options – and no middle ground. Voters were repeatedly targeted with views about the outcome of the referendum that lacked any basis in fact or even legitimate expectation – from both sides.

    Sadly, we do not know on what terms the UK electorate would like to leave the EU, as that was not put to them. The default is “no deal” if there is no agreement in place, but can we be sure that at least 98% (otherwise there is no majority) of those who voted leave would support such an outcome? If not, then there is surely a moral obligation to ensure that the terms of any departure are only effected if there is majority support for them.

    A second referendum is sometimes decried as anti-democratic and an attempt to thwart the “people’s will”, but if the people want to leave then surely they will confirm their will to do so in any such vote? The issue will however be able to be put to the electorate as to what terms they want to leave on or are prepared to leave on.

    Surely Christians (and other faith groups) should have the opportunity to put their cases for or against No Deal, a Negotiated Deal or Remain to the electorate with the benefit of the knowledge of what has been able to be negotiated so far. The first referendum, which was clearly stated to be advisory, advised the government that the people would like to leave the EU – it did nothing more. The terms of any departure were not set out, and around 3m young voters who will be affected by any decision taken now who were not eligible to vote in 2016 should surely be allowed their say.

    Hopefully parliamentarians will remember that they are elected to represent the views of their electorate, but also to offer leadership. Someone needs to stop the party based bickering and get parliament to ask the people what they want rather than try to claim, without any discernible justification, that they know the people’s will.

    • I agree.

      My posts attempted to come at it from a Christian POV, in that I said the ends don’t justify the means, and focused on unchristian tactics like lying and whipping up xenophobia.

      As I said upthread, I don’t like supranational organizations, preferring inter-governmental cooperation, so my posts certainly haven’t been cheerleading for Brussels. I dislike the official Leave tactics for exactly the reason I detest Trumpery: alongside its inherent wrongs, it taints the cause, whether that’s reforming NAFTA (now done, badly), or reforming / seceding from the E.U.

      I’m just a guy. Whatever the choices, once secession’s boiled down to a tangible choice, it should be returned to the people, allowing them to vote for hard reality, not castles in the air.

    • Graham –
      I voted Leave in the Referendum and was clear that my vote was to regain sovereignty and be able to vote for elected politicians who could be deselected or rejected at a further election. I voted to join the Common Market in the original referendum as I was told it was a trading alliance. At no time since have I had the opportunity to stop the various Governments of the UK making ever closer political ties with the EU and taking away the rights of voters. If the majority vote for joining was sufficient, then the majority vote for leaving is also sufficient.
      I do not trust the politicians and if there was a second referendum, I think I can predict that “Leave” would not be an option. Also several options gives the opportunity for dilution and has Don Benson has said – opting for a Customs Union means you are staying in and so does the Withdrawal Agreement. I believe in Truth and the EU has been about obfuscation from the beginning.

      • Thanks Tricia. It is worth noting a few things as a corollary to your comments.

        First, you might be clear why you voted ‘leave’ but others voted that way for different reasons. So what is *the* reason for leaving?

        Second, we also elect our MEPs, so where does membership of the EU involve loss of political accountability?

        Third, every time we engage in alliances and deals we compromise sovereignty. The question is the kind and degree of those losses, not their absolute return.

        Fourth, technically being in the Customs Union is not the same as being a member of the EU. You and others might claim it is tantamount to that, but that is a rhetorical and not a technical claim.

        • Thank you Ian for replying.
          I feel that Leave was a simple concept to understand. If I leave the room, then I am no longer in the room. If I choose to Remain then I am still in the room.
          We elect MEP’s but they are in little more than a talking shop. The power is with the unelected bureaucrats at the top. In this way they can I impose laws and not be at risk of being voted out.
          We are members of NATO but this does not compromise sovereignty. We do not have laws imposed on us or indeed rates of tax like VAT.
          We can make trading arrangements, but this does lose sovereignty.
          Being in the. Customs Union restricts whom we can trade with and the growing markets are in Asia not in Europe. And why should we be restricted?

    • Graham –
      I voted Leave in the Referendum and was clear that my vote was to regain sovereignty and be able to vote for elected politicians who could be deselected or rejected at a further election. I voted to join the Common Market in the original referendum as I was told it was a trading alliance. At no time since have I had the opportunity to stop the various Governments of the UK making ever closer political ties with the EU and taking away the rights of voters. If the majority vote for joining was sufficient, then the majority vote for leaving is also sufficient.
      I do not trust the politicians and if there was a second referendum, I think I can predict that “Leave” would not be an option. Also several options gives the opportunity for dilution and has Don Benson has said – opting for a Customs Union means you are staying in and so does the Withdrawal Agreement. I believe in Truth and the EU has been about obfuscation from the beginning.

  21. There have been comments from different sides in the Brexit debate, although without not much real theological input, in my opinion. However, rather than thinking about how a Christian might respond to the debate, perhaps one might consider how the Brexit mess might cast light on the Church and the way it conducts debates. One thing I think many would agree about is that among the political classes there has been a lack of real leadership and application of wisdom. Do we find the same in Church leadership and debates?

    For instance, the Remain campaign has been characterised as “Project Fear”, and this has some truth about it. Rather than countering the negative aspects of the EU and presenting a positive and appealing picture, the emphasis has been on the dire circumstances of leaving. Is something similar found in the presentation of the Christian message? How about “turn or burn”?

    On the other hand, the Leave campaign and the Brexiteers have been recorded as presenting Brexit as the Promised Land, prosperity will be ours when we leave, there will be the easiest trade deals ever, etc. etc. This seems to have been based on naivity at best, deception at the worst. Does this have analogues in Christian preaching? What comparison is there with the prosperity gospel? How about the Charismatic/Penecostal seeking of the great revival that is just around the corner, if only you believe?

    Perhaps we as the Church, before we point out the rather obvious specks in the eyes of politicians, should remove the beams of wood in our own eyes.

  22. Personally I think the EU is of Satan and the EU as an organisation must be disbanded. It is
    against the nation state. It supports importing Islam. It is imperialistic and undemocratic. I pray we Brexit and the EU disbands for the good of humanity.

    • Do you then believe that the nation state is something intended by God? And do you think past British imperialism, and present American imperialism, is also Satanic?

      Has the EU invaded and controlled other countries the way those countries have?

        • Except that Gen 10 makes a very clear point about the *unity* rather than division of humanity; the Samuel narrative points out the *problems* with the idea of a king ruling a nation; and historically the nation state only really emerged in the nineteenth century. Prior to that, most of humanity lived in regional tribal groups without fixed boundaries, and were usually coalesced into empires.

          • The relationship between Gen 10 & 11 is interesting*. Already in Gen 10, the clans in their ‘nations’ (not a geographical area, of course, but a people group) have their own language. Gen 10.18 has the Canaanite clans ‘scattered’ – the same verb as in Gen 11.8. There is no sense in this chapter that this is the result of God’s judgement. Gen 11.1-9 seems to be a curious interruption to the narrative, given that Gen 11.10f picks up Shem’s story.

            (* I think I picked this up from Andy McCullogh in his book ‘Global Humility’)

    • Hi widuran,
      Thanks for engaging (although this thread is somewhat old!)
      I wonder if you have been exposed to some of the things I have come across on the ‘Net about the EU, which purports to show how the EU is satanic. Some of this is from people who otherwise seem to be faithful Christians. I am unsure why this has been produced.

      One example took the number of seats in the European Parliament (at the time) of 679, said this was 666 (needs no explanation) plus 13 (apparently an occult number). Unfortunately, after this new member states joined, raising the number of seats in the parliament to 751 at present (it will go down following Brexit, of course).

      One complaint is that the constitution of the EU does not mention God. The problem with this is that the EU does not have a constitution as such – there was an attempt to have one, buut it was rejected by member states. The foundation of the EU is treaties between the nations, starting with the Treaty of Rome. Treaties between nations are detailed documents, and I don’t think that God is mentioned very often in these. I would add that the Constitution of the USA also does not mention god (only that there should be no religious test nor establishment of religion).

      I might add to the constitution point that certainly early on Roman Catholic social teaching had a significant input. This teaching stands against both capitalism and socialism. One aspect of this which is definitely in the EU is the principle of subsidiarity, that decisions should be taken at the appropriate level of society. This is reflected, for instance, in the difference between EU regulations and EU directives.

      One curious complaint about the EU is that the parliament building resembles the tower of Babel. There is some vague resemblance with Breugel’s painting, if you squint. But the EU building is not at all tall (unlike Breugel’s, which clearly is higher than the clouds). That seems a basic requirement for a tower of Babel. There are many better candidates in London, e.g. the Shard, and the other day I was very disappointed that the view from Richmond Park of St Paul’s cathedral as now been spoilt by the erection of another temple to Mammon in the City of London.

      I would suggest that the EU is no more undemocratic that the UK. In the UK there has been considerable centralisation of control (e.g. taking powers from Local Authorities), and increasing use by the government of executive orders, which are not subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Although it is not as bad as the USA, which has, as it is said “the finest politiciansmoney can buy”, the influence of lobbying by powerful groups is no less in the UK than in the EU.

      The EU is not imperialist in the conventional sense of seeking to take over or influence other countries without their consent. On the contrary, nations in Europe seek to join the EU.

      I’m not sure of your basis for saying that the EU supports importing Islam (leaving aside the question of why that might be a bad thing, after all, the main issue with Europe is its secularism). The vast majority of Muslims in the UK I would think are from former British colonies, and they came here in numbers before we joined the EU. What does that say? Similarly, in France, most Muslims come from former French North African colonies. Perhaps the exception to this is Germany, which welcomed many ‘guest workers’ particularly form Turkey, for the same kind of reason which we welcomed people from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Turkey was, until recently, the most secular of Muslim majority countries.

  23. Fascinating thread with a little on Christian principles and, inevitably, a lot of brexit ding-dong.

    As a Christian living my whole life in Scotland I’ve had many reasons to consider concepts such as ‘the nation state’, democracy, combining unity with diversity, imperialism, pragmatism.

    My views over the years:
    Scottish, but Britain is a flag of convenience for trading and peacekeeping purposes, despite a seemingly inherent element of bullying. (age 5-6)
    Scottish. Independence for Scotland is the least bad match between unity and fairness. (age 9, incidentally it is at that point that I began to pray for God to raise up very specific political leaders in Scotland. I had obviously been hearing about Samuel and the prophets. The powers that be are ordained of God. Applies regardless of autocracy or democracy. And felt uncomfortable that 2 at least I prayed about were not promised to be Christians. I hope they are not raised in judgement like the Assyrians. Christians are called to much more political responsibility than a vote every five years. I calculated at the time that 1 of those politicians was roughly 15! She turned out to be 14. Dad used to say: you get the government you pray for.)
    Scotland as a concept is a result of David I and various James’s being good at autocratic empire building. Reinforced by a slightly more democratic reformation. Logically government of Mercia/Northumbria, from York would be equally valid. Human constructs, natural geographical boundaries. (age 14)
    By that stage the EEC then the EU appeared to be in the ‘flag of convenience’ role. Making the ‘British’ idea seem even more irrelevant.
    I bought into the ‘independence in Europe’ idea for that reason. Cooperation, peace, and the pragmatic reality that nations of 5 million people, sitting on precious resources, quickly attract the attentions of hostile empires and need close allies. (age 16)
    Then I learned more about EFTA, and Scandinavia and wondered if it would be a better fit for Scotland, although clearly not for England. (age 20)
    Then I worked for 10 years in a scientific research group. 100 students/staff over that time. 28 nationalities. Probably more than 50 people were from the EU. We also worked every day to EU safety rules, and had some EU funding. I discovered there is such a thing as ‘a European’, and that the UK is noticeably the most secular country in the EU. Even though most of those I met were personally atheist. I decided that although EFTA had some advantages, with adjustment of our economy, the EU was clearly the best place to be. With huge potential for good, and for human cooperation and harmony. (age 35)

    So. By the time the referendum came along I knew what I thought. (and voted remain) The Scottish government has encouraged clear labelling of EU funded projects here for years, so the positives are visible. I remember Alex Salmond in 2015 pointing out the problem with the Irish border, so we were aware of that. A common objection to independence in 2014 was being taken (temporarily) out of the EU. So that hinted at sentiment back then. Those advocating leaving the EU, whether in or out of the UK, seemed blissfully unconcerned about the ambitions of large countries such as the USA, Russia and the buying power of China.

    Most of that is background.
    Christian view:
    Pray asking for God’s guidance.
    Respect all people involved.
    Be on the side of those poor, silenced, sidelined, manipulated, mislead, insulted, confused, desperate. Whoever they are.
    Work for peace at all levels, interpersonal through to international.
    Pray for politicians in the way you’d like prayed for if you felt called to that profession. If you found yourself in the hot seat. Pressure. Compromise. Reality. Difficult decisions. Misunderstood. Not given time or opportunity always to explain. Having to choose least bad options. Making mistakes. Publicly pilloried with generalisations about ‘lying politicians’. The church so often shoots its own wounded. In your prayers be alongside those politicians, including those not yet saved.
    Pray for ‘the media’ and ‘big business’. So influential, but also composed entirely of human beings, equal before God.

    PS I like the scot parly voting system. Various arguments about it but I personally like the balance of PR and constituency link.

    PPS Of those politicians I began praying for many years ago. 1 emerged 3 years later. 1 after 15 years. 1 after 30. Much as Samuel rejoiced and mourned, I rejoice when they ‘get something right’ and mourn when they ‘get something wrong’. It does make Scottish ‘politics’ intensely personal as my commitment to them is essentially permanent. (Although not automatically a commitment to vote for them. As my voting record shows.)

    I hope this is a helpful contribution.


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