What does the EU vote mean?

2016-03-04T143850Z_1_LYNXNPEC230YS_RTROPTP_2_BRITAIN-EU-FRANCE.JPG.cfThe first dust has settled from the EU Leave vote, but it feels as if the earthquake has only just begun, and there is no telling what foundations it has yet to disturb. David Cameron has resigned; George Osbourne is likely to follow soon. Jeremy Corbyn faces a vote of no confidence, and already Nicola Sturgeon has put a Scottish independence referendum ‘on the table’. If reaction from world leaders is anything to go by, there could well be a wider impact across the EU.

And the back peddling has also begun. Nigel Farage, within an hour of the result, admitted that it was a ‘mistake’ to claim that £350 million a week would be spent on the NHS if the UK backed a Brexit vote, and Daniel Hannan, a leading Brexit commentator, said last night on Newsnight that there was ‘little prospect’ of really reducing net immigration. But one thing you can be sure of: whatever of the forecasts of ‘campaign fear’ come true, there is no chance of anyone being held to account one way or the other.

I voted Remain, but I was always clear that the arguments were quite finely balanced—much more so than the simplistic, misleading and inflammatory rhetoric from both sides would have had you believe. My view was quite close to that of my friend Chris Green:

The economic arguments are decisively ‘in’; the constitutional ones decidedly ‘out.’ If the free movement of peoples means the free movement of missionaries, then that means ‘in’. ‘Out’ has correctly diagnosed some critical problems, but nostalgia and optimistic bluster are not policies. ‘In’ is reversible, ‘out’ is irreversible. And, though this is the hardest to quantify, the cost of being wrong on the consequences of ‘out’ is far higher than the cost of being wrong on the consequences of ‘in’. On balance, fine balance, I’m ‘in’.

This might seem an odd time to promote a Grove booklet on the issues involved in voting, but if you voted Remain and you are scratching your head to make sense of the result, it is worth revisiting the comments Andrew Goddard makes for Leave, alongside the case for Remain:

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.

One of the most disturbing features of the whole campaign was the aggressive and divisive rhetoric. A low point was the exchange between Bob Geldof and Nigel Farage which was widely distributed. Geldof pointed out that Farage had only attended one out of 42 meetings of the fisheries committee, and then complained about European policy on fishing and lack of democracy. In reply, Farage denounced Geldof as a rich person ignoring the needs of working people, and called it ‘disgusting’. The real venom in the way he spat out the word, whilst failing to actually address the issue, took public discourse to a new low. A similar but less unpleasant example of this occurred in a television interview with Boris Johnson. The interviewer challenged him about the £350 m a day claim, and in reply Johnson simply mocked the interviewer, poking his finger at him and making silly noises. As one commentator put it, factual analysis bounced off these claims like peas being shot at armour plate.

This lack of serious debate was exacerbated by the division of the popular print press into Leave and Remain camps, so that people reading one particular paper were shielded from the difficult questions each side could have put to the other. I am struggling to see why the print media are exempt from the demand for a fair and balanced account of issues that applies to broadcast media; this is one shake-up that we really need.

Much of the comment so far has understandingly focussed on what the vote means in terms of economic or political consequences. But we now need to think about what it means as an act of communication on the part of the 52% of the UK who voted Leave. As this analysis helpfully shows, the divisions between Leave and Remain were fairly stark, and revolved around three axes: old versus young; more versus less educated; and in England and Wales, between London and the regions.   The most likely Leave voter was a white, working class male, over 60, living in East Anglia. The most likely remain voter was a young, graduate female living in London or Scotland.

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 09.26.28This polarisation highlights key issues, which for the most part were not addressed explicitly in the campaigns, but only indirectly by means of other issues.

The first is the question of social stability and identity. The area which voted most strongly Leave was Lincoln and the area around the Wash. It is a region with a high proportion of older people—but one which (like East Anglia) experiences a high level of migrant labour. In a moment of crisis in the Big Bang Theory, one of the main characters Sheldon Cooper cries out: ‘Everything is changing—and I don’t like it!’ This is the kind of cry we have heard in the Leave vote. My street, my town, my culture is changing; no-one consulted me about this, I don’t like it, and without a referendum I am powerless to do anything about it. I am told it is the ‘inevitable’ result of globalisation.

It is easy to write off such a view as either stick-in-the-mud, or hopelessly nostalgic, or even xenophobic. But we need to recognise that lack of social stability is not a neutral thing. One of the great ironies here is that businesses long for economic stability and predictability, and if social structures and values need to be thrown to the wind (perhaps through economic migration) then that is a price worth paying. The problem is that the price is paid by one group, whilst the benefit is accrued to quite a different group. Economics trumps everything. And those on right and left politically don’t help. The right tell me we need economic stability; the left tell me I need to welcome the foreigner. But the Leave vote asks some pertinent questions: Do I have the right to live in the local culture I grew up in? Do I have any say on whether that changes?

Change is great when you are young, and your focus is on whether life is exciting, varied and unpredictable. But as you get older, different concerns come to the fore, and constant change starts to bring unwelcome demands.

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 09.27.47The second issue is the policy of ‘free movement of people’ as part of the EU commitment to free movement of goods and services. This is quite distinct from the question of immigration, which might happen for all sorts of complex reasons. But free movement of people, as I have hinted previously, is just insane. It might work well within an area of similar cultures where there are not great differences in economic situations, just as a single currency needs economic convergence to work well. But just as water finds a level, so free movement will create a steady stream of movement from less-well-off regions to the better off regions. The moment that the EU started to expand into the East, the commitment to free movement became a disaster. If we were to continue with it, then there would be steady net migration from the poorer countries into the wealthier ones until the wealth disparity was eliminated. It is not difficult to see how challenging and culturally unsustainable such a policy is.

The additional question for the UK is: with whom should we allow free movement? This movement testimony came from another friend:

I have just returned from working voluntarily for a few days in Bulgaria. This is an EU country where so many have so little. I visited a community with 50,000 people living in squalid conditions. This community has the same life expectancy as people living in the Sub-Saharan Desert. Now, I am left wondering how easy it will be in the future to be able to help these people and others like them? I seriously hope that Brexit will not change the opportunities to be able to offer charitable support to other human beings?

The EU has allowed us to share culture, work and prosperity with some—but has restricted that happening with others, particularly in Africa and in the Commonwealth of (mostly) former colonies. This raises a question of with whom we have the strongest natural, and historic, connections. In theological education, the free movement of EU citizens severely restricted our ability to recruit foreign students from the Anglophone world, and cut off a vital link with parts of the world and parts of the church with whom we had had fruitful partnerships.

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 09.27.23The third issue picks up on the education divide amongst voters: the lack of transparency and clarity of decision-making and regulation in the EU. An oft-visited example is the question of how much of UK law is determined by the EU. The BBC’s Reality Check analysis comes to the conclusion that it is such a complex question that no single answer is adequate.

So what is the true figure? More than 13% but less than 62% – it depends what you count in and what you leave out. It is safe to say that EU law does have a very significant presence and effect in UK law.

But that is not enough for campaigners, who on both sides have made simplistic and unsupportable claims.

“This is one of many areas in the EU debate where both sides describe meaningless nonsense as facts,” says Sir Paul Jenkins, a former Treasury solicitor.

In response to this, both David Mitchell and Richard Dawkins argued that we shouldn’t be having a referendum at all—Mitchell on the grounds that this decision was the job of politicians, and Dawkins on the grounds that ordinary people are just too stupid. But I agree with Thomas Clark’s ‘angry voice’ in disagreeing with both views, for a whole range of reasons.

He’s wrong because the Westminster establishment are just as deeply misinformed about fundamentally important economic issues as the man on the street (if not more so because they live in an insulated bubble of wealth, power, privilege and influence).

No wonder that those who are older, working class and less educated, who have felt marginalised by the educated elite of the political classes, seized the opportunity to reject their direction with alacrity. And what has happened to our political and economic life where the most important decision we need to make as a nation appears to be too difficult for most of us to understand?

It seems to me that the voices that voted Leave are voices are calling for protection against unwanted change, transparency of political processes, and some sense of stake in the project. Michael Lakey puts it like this:

Partly, I think that the result indicates the dependence of political and economic arrangements upon social and anthropological realities. This is basically to say that a political project commands assent based upon its capacity to inspire loyalty at 1. the level of ideas (the US and socialist aspiration), at 2. the level of extended kinship (the more ‘tribal’ model at play in local European identities) or at 3. the nation state level which attempts to mediate both. 

In none of these models is the pure pragmatism of ‘better off’ in/out decisive. If European belonging had been held as the great positive idea of the time by the majority of people in the country, then one suspects that people would have voted for it even if their immediate economic interests were less well served by membership.

This is to say that the present vote does not cause the failure of the the European idea in the UK, it reveals the failure of the project at the level of the cultivation of a shared transnational identity. Effectively, the project was sold to the people as a pragmatic monetary calculation of interests, and it is no surprise that it failed to inspire loyalty. A political project requires a ‘demos‘—a people—and at the level of identity the case for the peoples of the EU being a single demos had yet to be cogently made. It is little surprise that such an etiolated project failed to command assent.

Democracy allows people to do very stupid and unwise things. But at least it allows them to do it—and, after all, isn’t that part of treating people as mature adults?

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25 thoughts on “What does the EU vote mean?”

  1. Great article Ian, as you’ve said, there are legitimate positive reasons for leaving the EU there are also ugly shadow sides – some of the dark side is sin – as evangelicals & catholics have called named it.. The referendum has lifted up a mirror to English Society and we don’t like all that they see. I’m sitting here thinking what will I be saying on Sunday? I had always planned to talk about it, and knew that the Saturday before Sunday would be the day to do it!

    What will I say? what could be said? There are a myriad of answers at many levels. As a church, we had a roundtable conversation last week which had good reasons for both sides – to stay or leave. For many of us it was the most contstructive conversation on the referendum we experienced. Now we have to accept what has been decided.

    Some of my congregation will have rejoiced. Others will be aghast. Some eager for change some resistant. In passing, we have to reflect, that we always have to examine whether a decision is so antithetical to the Gospel that we have to resist. I do not believe that is the case. As you note there are great arguments on both sides. Our political structures will always be flawed. This is the human condition. This being so we seek to view the world realistically. We consider the world as it is, rather than as we would like it to be.

    As you point out, we need to be realistic about the atmosphere in the countries in our union. We also need to be realistic about the UK parliament and about the EU; and we need to be realistic about the human condition and the state of our own hearts. Of course there were massive exaggerations and falsehoods peddled on both sides. That is the human condition and the referendum has lifted a mirror up to the political elite and we do not necessarily like what we see. The referendum has also lifted mirror up to our society and we neither like nor completely understand what we see.

    The factors are interesting – reflecting how much we’ve gained from the last 40 years & whether we’ve known a world without the EU & also our transference – transferring those experiences onto the EU referendum. In Luton we are young, poor, low educated, 20 minutes from London, where 135 languages are spoken & majority nonwhite. A mix of factors… a mixed opinion.We voted out.

    Now this has happened, not all my parishioners feel welcome. As one friend (lets call her Fiona) said today “I feel ever so slightly unwanted today in a country where I have lived, worked and served for all my adult live. Not by those (you) people who love me of course, but by a slight majority of the country. I am praying good will come out of this after all. Mourning will turn into praise. Remaining hopeful is not always easy… In GOD I trust.”

    We need to be realistic about the licence being given for a while to the darker side. As a missionary I’m alert to language and culture. Yet, it took comedian Henning Wehn to point out that, Brits abroad are “ex pats”, yet those from abroad in Britain are “immigrants”. Our culture trains us to respond differently to these two words which populate a similar semantic domain. If we go abroad we are “ex pats” (part of the in-group), but if someone comes to England they are an “immigrant” (out group). I wonder what’s our emotional response to those words? Why do we have that response? How do the media employ those words? What my friends comment illustrates is that she feels she is being moved from “in-group” to “out group” from being welcome to unwelcome. Another comment from today says something similar. Lets call him Neil. Neil, a German acquaintance we’ve known for years, has lived here for decades was shouted at for the first time ever… shouted at to “go home”. Neil like Fiona used to see himself as an ex pat. Lived here, served her, educated here, and contributed here. Today he feels like an immigrant. An outsider. Something is changing. Is it momentary? I doubt it, because this debate is going to trundle on. Usually the overall system of our society is adequate to keep intemperate voices at the edges, but now we will need to be ready to speak out if the shadows start to populate the centre.

    Usually the UK’s system has enough resources to forestall the dark sides of our society. In Pentecost, the lingual division of Babel was overturned by the pneumatological intervention of the Holy Spirit. The church is supposed to be culturally, linguistically, perceptionally diverse. That is part of her gift to society and we need to be true to our calling. To do that we will need to be ready to think, speak out and be a peaceable hospitable reconciling people.

    • Thanks Mike. I think that, in terms of preaching and teaching and thinking Christianly, we need to consider what we think is important within our country and in international relations, celebrate what we can now do better and consider what we are now inhibited from doing. Quite a good place to start might be Andrew Goddard’s summary of the case for, and reflecting on what we are now missing out on. This is what he said:

      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.

      • Hi Ian
        Yes I see that in terms of assessment before the referendum, it made sense to consider what is important, what we could do better and what we would be inhibited from doing. And that reflection is an important ongoing journey.

        Yet, as a local community, we did that in guided conversation. People sharing differing viewpoints. However, in a local community with mixed backgrounds whose experience of the referendum is both as voter but often voted about, its also about journeying together and helping people work with the pain of rejection. Following Psalm 85:10, truth is important but now it needs to meet mercy. Justice and peace need to kiss… So its reflecting on Jean Paul Lederach for me …

  2. Ian, can you elaborate on what you mean by “the European idea”? To me “European idea” suggests that Europe is more than a geographical place, that there is indeed a shared European culture and identity. For Germans it may be more obvious than for the English that such an identity can form a layer which need not compromise national identity – and that this can be expressed in political structures as well. I grew up with a Swabian identity living in a state (Baden-Württemberg) which combined historically distinct political entities and which in turn was part of a republic (West Germany) which shaped but did not define national identity. National identity was something bigger, encompassing East and West Germany, as well as something that was in the process of becoming more humble. The European idea in this sense was the development of a Commonwealth — ties between the European nations that facilitated free movement and would make it ever less conceivable that these nations would go to war against each other. Anyway, I don’t think this is what the “European idea” means to you and others and I am curious to understand what it does mean.

    • Thanks Thomas. Two observations.

      First, if there is a sense of ‘shared European culture and identity’ then I am not convinced that Britain shares that nearly as much as many of the continental European states—even less, for example, than the new joiner Hungary. That is because of history, geography (the Channel doesn’t help) and language. In my experience, people from India, East Africa and the West Indies often have a far greater sense of identification with the UK than any German.

      Secondly, it is becoming clearer and clearer that at the heart of the project of the EU is indeed a ‘United States of Europe’. One of the comments in response to Brexit (I cannot remember by whom) was ‘The project of European unification will continue.’ Britain never wanted that, never signed up to it, the UK population has never been consulted on it, we don’t want it, and it won’t work. If that is where the remaining countries of the EU want to go (and in fact I seriously doubt that it what Greece or Spain do actually want) then we can be no part of it.

      • Hi Ian,

        In the wake of Brexit, it has been interesting to see how many ‘Leave’ supporters have begun to extol the virtues of the British Commonwealth as the favoured model of international cooperation by comparison with the EU.

        In terms of geography, there’s certainly more than the channel to overcome.

        However, there is the benefit of shared history (predominated by slavery and colonialism. And a shared language, which, of course, is English, (and not the native languages of India, or East Africa).

        And I don’t suppose that a foreign head of state will be head of the commonwealth. So, yes, I understand its appeal compared to the EU. Or, at least, its appeal to England

      • Ian, I’m coming late to this discussion but would like to join in. So that you know where I’m coming from, a few months ago I was swithering: I was inclined to stay in the EU but could put up a strong argument either way (and the essence of these arguments has been covered on your blog, including this discussion); by the week of the vote I was solidly “Remain”.
        The final seal on my “Remain” conviction came from a “Leave” speaker in a debate I attended the week before the poll – an intelligent and articulate speaker, not in any way given to the empty assertions we heard so much on the media. Along with describing other tensions in Europe, she explained her view that within 10 years the Euro would have collapsed.
        If she is right, my response is that this would be a force acting against “ever closer union” which I agree we don’t want and which won’t work. The result could well be a looser Europe which we, and other countries, would be more willing to be part of. I would far rather maintain the peace and international co-operation which the EU supports than stand outside and watch it collapse from the sidelines. While I would not vote for greater uniformity, I would be even more opposed to disintegration, and the rise of nationalism which I now see.

    • Thomas,

      Your analysis has parallels with Switzerland. To express the Swiss approach simply (and it is a simplification) the Gemeinde, which is akin to the community or town council, has more authority than the canton or country government, which in turn has more authority than the federal parliament in Berne which is akin to a federal parliament influencing foreign affairs but having virtually no say in the rules and laws of the Cantonal states and Gemiende.

      There is no parallel at all with the British system and British people just cannot see it.

      The worrying thing is talk of EU justice when increasingly EU parliament and commission have been successfully taken over by left-liberal politicians. The say of ordinary people has been excluded and part of the vote reflects the reality that the EU does not represent ordinary people any more…. but neither does Richard Dawkins’ view and the elitist class in the UK and hence the elitist class’ complaint about the vote.

      In the Swiss system the vote of the people is respected and the views of the people are treated with respect and this does not seem to exist in the UK. Hence the first country in Europe to given women the vote was Switzerland and the last country in Europe to give women the vote was Switzerland (because they are in different cantons) and nobody batted an eyelid.

  3. Maybe. Maybe Germans feel greater affinity to Great Britain than the other way round. Maybe the Channel is more of a divide now than it was, e.g., in the sixteenth century. (I suspect that the rise of the USA to super-power has deepened the rift, as it impacted differently on different European nations.) Maybe “the project of European unification” means something different in different languages and political cultures.

    But my question was what do *you* mean when you write the phrase “the European idea”.

    Thanks, Mike Jones, for your comment, by the way.

  4. Picking up on your last point Ian, ‘ever closer union’ has been the refrain of the EU for a long time. It is not a new revelation to anyone except those who have never actually worked out what the EU does. Political union backs up the military alliances of NATO and the integration of trade and free movement of labour, and contributes to lasting peace.

    I agree with you that the UK never signed up to it, but also successive British politicians never attempted to explain what that might mean, nor how the existing main three institutions (the Council, Parliament and Commission) provided the current political structure of that union. It may not be popular, and it may not work, but Brits were never invited to consider what it could be if it were to work.

    This was illustrated by the media in general (particularly, by the BBC, from my perspective when I lived on the continent) which always used the EU as the whipping boy for all that was wrong in the UK. The EU was always portrayed as those people a long way away in Brussels who don’t understand us, just as the regions often portray the Establishment in London in the same way: out of touch with people on the ground. The referendum demonstrated, in my view, a rejection of all centralisation – both the established major political parties and of the centralisation of Brussels.

    (After the referendum was announced, the BBC and other media all of sudden, start explaining some of the good that the EU brings. ‘What have the Romans ever given us?’ comes to mind).

    Regionalisation is an issue both at the continental level (the difference between the Mediterranean states and the northern states) but also within each nation. The result is a rejection of all centralised government, and heading in the direction of tribalism, and rejecting anyone who isn’t ‘one of us’. The answer is not to get rid of all centralised government, either at the continental level nor the national level.

    The higher ideal of peace and tolerance of the other has been rejected by the vote to leave. Putin wants nothing more than the break up of the EU, and there is evidence that he will use force to expand his territory and influence. So my plea is that we do actually seriously consider ever closer union, because the alternative is faction, the break up of the UK, the weakening of the EU, and strength for far right parties that history tells us, have less aversion to the use of violence to achieve their aims.

    Remainers were never arguing for keeping the EU as it is, but for continual reform (a reformation principle comes to mind). The UK could have contributed significantly to that debate, but it appears to be heading in the opposite direction, towards dismantling the UK, leaving us living as little Englanders in an offshore island, with an even smaller market with which we have to build new trade relationships. The cost, measured in percentage points on the stock market (as we saw yesterday), or the exchange rate, or inflation will far outweigh the discredited £350m/week used in the campaign.

    • Dear Mark

      The sentence “The higher ideal of peace and tolerance of the other has been rejected by the vote to leave.” is simply wrong even if the rest of the paragraph is correct. Those who voted to leave never ever rejected peace and tolerance of others. Your idea of transforming from the inside just doesn’t work with the EU change to majority voting and the UK being constantly voted down. Peace and tolerance of the other means allowing the other to live not constantly voting them down.

    • Mark, I agree that political union has clearly been the goal for some time, and as you say, that has not been explained clearly.

      But as the stages have progressed, Britain has never undertaken a consultation exercise until now, unlike other countries. The elastic band of assumed consent has been stretched ever further until it has reached breaking point.

      But it is also clear that this is true, even if to a lesser extent, in other countries. To offer no alternative to political union—which in an area as diverse as the EU as it is now is completely unworkable—is very dangerous indeed, and will not last.

  5. Thanks Ian for another thought provoking article – however, one needs to careful that one doesn’t slip into clichés or stereotypes when trying to put one’s point across. Although, you use the phrase ‘most likely’ your section which describes most ‘likely voters’ i.e “The most likely Leave voter was a white, working class male, over 60, living in East Anglia and the most likely Remain voter was a young, graduate female living in London or Scotland” may be read as implying that you think that older working class men from Norfolk are less likely to be intellectually bright and more resistant to change, whereas the bright young female, ‘go-getting’ graduate from Scotland was robbed of her brilliant future in the EU by those who hadn’t really thought about it.

    This wasn’t my experience as a rural clergyman in Norfolk. The men in my congregation were thoughtfully and prayerfully engaged, often discussing things between themselves on-line. It wasn’t immigration, pressure on public services or a simple ‘resistance to change’ that led them to vote Leave, but a real concern as they saw it about a lack of democracy at the heart of the institution. i.e. unelected representatives. Sovereignty was another concern with powers being allocated abroad that trump rules and regulations made at home, and finally it was a concern about a more federalised Europe, a possible ‘United States of Europe’, complete with it’s own currency, army and parliament.These are genuine concerns that shouldn’t be ridiculed or easily dismissed as ‘un-thinking’. It was a proper Christian concern for their family, friends and future that made them vote the way that they did.

    In the light of this, that young lady from Scotland and indeed all of us ought to be grateful that they took the time to think things through – and vote!

    • Stephen, thanks for the observations, which are interesting.

      The phrase you quote wasn’t my stereotyping; it was the Telegraph summary from their graphic/video of what the stats said in summary.

      I have no doubt that you parishioners were thoughtful. But I think most Christian congregations will have been more thoughtful than the wider population for all sorts of reasons.

  6. Well, Clive, I didn’t see a lot of tolerance of the ‘other’ in the leave campaign, and I did hear one report of Farage advocating violence if the referendum fails to deliver what he wanted.

    We trust majority voting in other sphere’s of life, so why not in a community of 28 nations in Europe? Retaining the opt out is morally unsustainable. Just why should Britain be treated differently? I just don’t buy the special pleading.

    • Actually Mark, it is Bremain people showing intolerance towards anyone who voted leave on Facebook and other social media that is astounding. Perhaps any preaching and persuading of congregations has to be towards showing tolerance.

  7. Whether we like it or not, we have what we have. Despite the fact that the referendum exposed that many voters feel alienated from the places of power, the decision about who will be the next prime minister rests with a relatively small number of people, Conservative Party members. So they now bear a huge responsibility. Will they choose on the basis of who can win the next election for them? Will MPs choose on the basis of their own possible preferment? Or will they look for who best can bring healing to this terribly divided society? I believe that should be our initial priority in prayer. Blessed are the peacemakers.

  8. Thanks, Ian, for probably the most helpful reflection on both the situation, the rationales and the potential consequences. And thanks, too, to Mike Jones for his equally helpful reflections. Mark Collinson’s response, especially the last two paragraphs, identifies the consequences and real dangers that we do most need to be aware of and, as Emlyn says, we need to make peace and the raising up of peace-makers, the focus for our urgent prayers.

    I am reminded, though, that throughout history, the Church has made some of its greatest gains in the context of some of the most challenging political situations. I look forward to the Church rising up to the challenges of this new context. A learned professor, speaking on Radio 4 on, I think it was Saturday morning, said that what this country now needs is someone who can bring a new hope to the nation. So let us rise to the challenge and become once again those who ,shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the word of life’ … and hope. We have this hope as an anchor for our souls, let’s share it with others, whatever their response to the outcomes of Thursday’s decision.

  9. Ian, as a regularly reader of your blog, I appreciate much of the material you post, and have frequently ordered written material from ‘Grove’. As a deeply committed, thoughtful Christian (with 35 years experience in education), I prayed much about this Referendum, and voted to ‘Leave’. Nevertheless, I think most of the above blog piece is fair; unsurprisingly, I would wish to question aspects of it. At this juncture, I haven’t really the inclination to delve into all the issues again (I’m a little referendum-weary). But your stated intention is to “highlight key issues, which for the most part were not addressed explicitly in the campaigns, but only indirectly by means of other issues.” So I’d like to add two which you seem not to mention.

    1. As a Christian believer, I was hoping to hear or read some important contributions of a spiritual nature, as befits the role of ‘church’ leaders, in spiritual leadership roles. Most Anglican prelates seemed to speak out in support of the ‘Remain’ side. Maybe I missed something, but, as I listened to or read as many of their contributions as I could find, what struck me was how little they stood out from the secular political voices, with genuinely spiritual perspectives hardly conspicuous. If any Christians were hoping for uniquely spiritual/biblical perspectives or guidance, I suspect they would have been disappointed. Moreover, knowing the amount of earnest prayer that has gone into this major event, and believing in a prayer-attentive Sovereign God, I would also be interested to hear spiritual leaders comment (spiritually! biblically!) on the outcome. Can we or can we not discern the hand of that same God in it?

    2. You highlight two relatively unaddressed issues – “social stability and identity” and the “free movement of people’’ … but you immediately add that “this is quite distinct from the question of immigration”. Perhaps you draw that distinction because you feel the debate often focused on ‘uncontrolled mass immigration’. It did, and large numbers thought it needed to. Where we reside in the North of England (which voted heavily to ‘leave’), it certainly impinges upon people’s thinking … although I hasten to add that we have encountered very little racism or resentment of any of the immigrants living, studying and working in our region. In fact the opposite is the case – people are generally very open, welcoming and sympathetic to the plight of refugees. BUT there is one aspect of the immigration issue that was largely ignored and ostensibly regarded as almost unmentionable, not least because it usually elicits such irrational animosity from some. Yet it is an experiential reality that is increasingly in the consciousness of many ordinary folk who cast their vote last Thursday … while never truly addressed by mainstream politicians and, it seems, ‘church’ leaders for whom it seems too much of a ‘hot potato’. I refer to the ‘Islamification’ of Europe. I know it is a major, deeply-felt yet unaddressed concern for many … and I’m convinced it had relevance to the referendum outcome. In mentioning this, I anticipate the almost inevitable name-calling (‘racist’, ’xenophobic’, ‘Islamophobic’ etc. etc.) …. but, if this referendum proves anything, it is that such pejorative labelling is like water off a duck’s back to those with concerns about the potential impact on our nation.

    • Phil, thanks for the two observations.

      On the ‘spiritual’ dimension, the most common comments I read online went along the lines of ‘The Bible believes in nation states; therefore the EU is inherently anti-Christian.’ I am not sure that kind of naive assertion merited much debate. In fact, there was a good deal of spiritual reflection on a range of issues in Andrew Goddard’s booklet, parts of which I quoted or cited in the two articles about it.

      On the issue of migration and Islamification, my aim was to separate general issues of migration and cultural change, including the question of refugees, from the European question of ‘free movement of people’. I think this commitment is completely untenable in the current context, and is really bonkers.

  10. Great article. Though reading it, I’m quite surprised you weren’t a Leave voter.

    It is looking unlikely, though, that Brexit is going to make much impact on freedom of movement owing to the pressures to remain part of the single market, and that is going to have severe consequences for democratic politics in this country.

    • Thanks Will. My view is that there are some really series flaws both with how the EU currently runs, and where it is heading. So in some ways it would be disastrous to continue in membership; the only greater disaster would be to leave.

      In fact, I am coming to the view that we will never in fact exit in the way the referendum has requested. It is not legally binding; exit will not deliver what was promised; and all the main reasons given for a Leave vote are not proving to be false claims.


      • I just followed Ian’s link to the BBC ‘reality check’. The thoughtful pro-leave comments above don’t detract from the notion that the popular ‘leave’ vote was about immigration and spending on the NHS. The more complicated argument about the EU’s democratic deficit was sometimes reduced to taking back control of … immigration. Johnson’s and Farage’s retractions post-referendum confirm to my mind that without this fundamental dishonesty the result would have been very different.
        But was the ‘remain’ campaign dishonest in a comparable way? I ask because my bias obscured my view! We’re probably too tolerant of dishonest manifesto promises at general elections (discuss?) but this feels to have been of a different order.
        The answer to our prayers (as above) may lie in a UK government succeeding in forging a new kind of tie with Europe as neighbour that is better than the ‘ever closer union’ that doesn’t suit us but the campaign and reactions to the result suggest that will be hard to bring out of the popular mood.

        • PS: nice comment from a 6 year old heard in a Surrey school on Friday (quoted at a diocesan synod), “David Cameron isn’t going to rule the world anymore and the man who is is bonkers”.

  11. On a different level entirely, as a plant-biologist turned missionary theologian, I would like to compliment you on your excellent use of the word ‘etiolated’. It quite made my day.


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