I’m no economist.
I’m no political scientist.
I’m no international relations boffin.
And I’m horribly aware of the complexity of the issues – which, incidentally, means there is surely no place the shrill tone of those who accuse their opponents of being moronic, venal or naive. I’ve been on the receiving end of some of the more (how shall we put it) robust end of Brexit advocacy – and it wasn’t exactly pleasant. But that’s life I guess.
And having read this through, I’m all too aware of how muddled and uneven these thoughts are. But if it sparks further thought or enquiry, then that’s a result.
Sifting through the Spin
To be blunt, there is far too much falsehood on this issue, not to mention the abuse, and even fabrication of statistics. I fear neither side of the argument can hold their heads high. SO to counter that a little:
- Ian Paul makes some important points about the stats.
- BBC News offers this occasionally updated Fact-Checker for the Bremain/Brexit campaign claims. Of course, people will always claim bias and prejudice from the BBC – though from what I can see they draw on recognised, neutral (in as much as that’s possible) sources.
- But if that is too partial, then you can go to FULL FACT, a site that exists to cover a whole range of issues, but has a substantial focus on the referendum.
- I’ve not yet read this book (as will probably become abundantly clear), but had it recommended so have ordered it. David Charter’s Europe: In or Out – he systematically goes through each and every issue as neutrally as possible.
It’s all very bewildering. But it is irresponsible not to try and wade through it with these kinds of resources.
Even so, I am a citizen with a vote, and a Christian with a theological perspective. But perhaps more pertinent than all of this, I have lived overseas for several years of my life, and my current work takes me all over Europe on a regular basis. So let me step where the wise fear to tread over what is Britain’s most momentous decision for a generation.
For yes … I am a Bremainer.
Issues Everyone Is Talking About
Economics & Trade
In my ignorance, it seems that the economic arguments are reasonably evenly balanced, with perhaps a lean in favour of Bremaining. (The IMF is the latest to wade in on that, pretty devastatingly IMHO.) But I do know this: whenever economic and political analysts crystal-ball-gaze, they get things hopelessly wrong. There are simply too many unforeseeable elements to factor in (as if anything was technically foreseeable anyway). But one point seems clear – a fact that Brexiteers seem reluctant to concede – leaving the EU would lead to years of uncertainty. Why a UK-less EU might be open to negotiating with us on anything other than a hostile basis seems naive at best. And there would be a LOT of negotiating to be done.
The only realistic options seem based on:
I don’t know enough to grasp the nuances, but they exist. But the UK will have to follow one of these, more or less. (Though do correct me if I’m wrong) Each requires compliance with all kinds of trade agreements and EU standards. Each requires negotiation from a position of weakness, if not desperation. Each requires us to have forfeited all say on EU governance, legislation, standards and trading patterns. And remember, those 3 countries never had to negotiate on the basis of having just got divorced.
So let’s be clear:
- we’re not being asked to join the EURO (which is probably doomed anyway, longer term);
- we’re not being asked to relinquish border controls (and Schengen is also probably doomed ultimately as well);
- we’re not being asked to receive nothing in return from our involvement/investment/membership. More on that in a mo.
Sovereignty & Security
Then there is the issue of national sovereignty. Some have bombarded us with terrifying statistics about how much Brussels legislation is voted through but which Westminster is powerless to stop (64%??!!). But from what I can glean, things aren’t as bad as they are made out to be – or at least it is much harder to calculate with any accuracy (for a number of reasons that FULL FACT clarifies. Moreover, many of the things that have been passed down from Brussels are in spheres which would needed legislation anyway, and in which UK MEPs did debate and vote (unless of course they simply didn’t turn up – but that’s another issue entirely). There’s no doubt that our membership does affect our legislation – for good and ill. The difficulty is knowing how much of this really is significant or harmful. But if we left, there’s no escaping the necessity of enacting some of the laws anyway in order to preserve our EU trade.
But here’s the biggest question:what does sovereignty mean in a globalised world anyway? How much impact does, for example, a British Chancellor have on our economy? After all, the Bank of England is now independent (since 1997). Global corporations that blithely shift their manufacturing and assets around the globe are far more likely to impact us than politicians (who perhaps set taxes for 18-24 months ahead, with a few tweaks for immediate effect). Isn’t TATA steel a case in point? Of course we want as much sovereignty as possible – and there are serious problems with the legitimacy of the democratic processes in which we’re engaged – MEPs are far too remote and anonymous. But withdrawal will change none of that.
It seems naive to think that UK alone will have really significant clout globally – it’s just imperialist nostalgia. Being part of the EU, we’d at least have some – especially as our economy and population continue to grow, with the projected effect that on both fronts we are set to overtake Germany. If we remain, we would become the biggest economy and population in the EU – which would surely enhance our clout for influencing the union?
Brexiteers suggest this fact alone is the primary grounds for our ability to go it alone – but with so much uncertainty in leaving, there is no guarantee that we will be able to sustain the growth as we have. And surely the pound would lose much of its attraction (as a strong currency within the EU). Again, I’m probably speaking economic gobbledegook – what do I know. I’m just a vicar.
Then when it comes to security, surely we need more international cooperation and networking, not less? EU membership doesn’t change our right to control and patrol our borders because we’re not in the Schengen zone – and the terrorist offences on mainland Europe in recent years have been committed by citizens of those countries (including 7/7), not by refugees or migrants. Hasn’t one of the most disheartening elements of refugee crisis rhetoric been the dragooning of terrorism fears to support a clampdown? And the determined terrorist will have the resources to get false identities and escape detection, whether we’re part of the EU or not. I am aware of some of the genuine concerns about the difficulty in deporting known or suspected terrorists etc – which I don’t really understand at all. That clearly needs looking at.
But Brexit seems a rather absurdly OTT pile-driver to crack that particular pistachio.
The Commission & Corruption
There is no doubt that the EU structures are corrupt and creaking. Reports like this one, about the repeated failures of the Auditors to sign off the Commission accounts, are genuinely alarming. Are the cracked timbers letting on too much water? Should we abandon ship? Or should we redouble efforts to repair and restore? The former is definitely easier. In the short-term. But the truth is, compared to some other countries within the EU, the EU is a paragon – and able to make demands on these countries (why are they often around the Mediterranean – perhaps it’s to do with the sunlit beaches?!) As I travel around Eastern Europe, friends have said to me that they dread the thought of Brexit because it would weaken the EU drastically, and thus remove any hope at all of the reform of the sclerotic and/or corrupt post-Communist cultures. Seriously – friends have explicitly said our membership is a vital ingredient in the EU’s health.
But what’s the alternative? And are we really so uncorrupted? Is our national interest really that altruistic that we can claim an ethical foreign policy? Hardly. And where we do have a positive impact, surely we can have it within, not without, this geopolitical neighbourhood watch scheme?
So far so good.
Issues Christians should be Talking About
But what has really disappointed me in all this is the real lack of theological engagement with the questions. But actually, these seem to me much more significant than the political or economic. Which is ironic, given that the EU in many people’s eyes is the great secularising Beast of John’s Apocalypse.
I am a Christian before I am British, I am British before I am European. But these are not mutually exclusive.
The Kingdom not the Union
Our concern should be for the kingdom that is not of this world. But don’t take that statement as a kind of ‘let the world go to hell’ kind of approach. We are to be interested, invested, and involved in this world, even if it is not our ultimate reality. In fact, precisely because it is not our ultimate reality, we can participate without losing perspective. We are to seek the welfare (‘shalom’) of the city despite our temporary sojourn. That is an adaptation of Jeremiah 29:7 which is from a staggering passage. The prophet tells his hearers to pray for and do shalom for their oppressors: Babylon. They won’t be there forever, but while they are, they are to do everything they can for it’s welfare. If you think loving Brussels is hard, try loving Babylon!!
Now of course, pro-Brexit Christian friends would not deny that. They might even suggest that the best way to seek the welfare of the EU is by leaving it! But I’m not sure that many are even concerned for the EU; they’re focused too closely on the UK’s interests. While I actually think that the UK’s interests do lie with staying in, I think that as a Christian we need to think beyond them.
On a separate, though related point, we have the issue of identity.
Living in Africa for 4 years changed me in more ways than I can recount. I did become more patriotic. I realised how much I valued so much about my country and its culture and history. It didn’t mean blanket approval – more an appreciation and gratitude. But simultaneously (and paradoxically) I became less nationalistic. I loved Uganda and many aspects of Ugandan culture. I realised that some aspects were better, some things weren’t, and others were just different. And that’s great. But Nationalism is one of the features of the modern world that I fear more than anything else. It is an absurdity at one level, even though its roots often come from the attempt to flatten and homogenise (which is the opposite problem). As George Bernard Shaw said,
Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it….
The wonderful thing about the kingdom of Christ is that it unites, AND glories in, difference. It transcends nationality; it relishes nationality; it relativises nationality. All at the same time. It means that at its best we have nothing to fear from those who are different. And yet it gives grounds for coming together with those who are different.
That’s all well and good and undoubtedly too much of a hippy acid trip for many. Where the EU realpolitik? Well, there are many similarities (deliberate as it happens), between the EU and the Roman Empire. In fact, (ironically enough) it was reading Boris Johnson’s Dream of Rome that turned me more Europhile. Peace could be found (even on a continent as warmongering as Europe) by bringing people together – just as Rome once did (albeit by the sword-patrolled Pax Romana). One of its key foundations was freedom of movement. People could visit different places and befriend different people. And the Pax Europeana, like its Roman precedent, clearly encourages this (as evidenced by the endlessly mockable but earnestly well-meaning town-twinning programme). How else was the apostle Paul able to travel so freely around the Mediterranean? Today, I know a number of specific examples where it’s been possible to plant churches and ministries in very tough contexts simply because Britain is included in this Pax Europeana. I would feel devastated for them and for the gospel if that had to end. Of course, other options will emerge. But what a waste.
Then in my own work, I travel to a different European country once a month (more or less). For all kinds of reasons (convenience, commonality etc), being in the EU makes a huge difference.
Getting without Giving
As I came on the tube this morning, I noticed this shock horror headline in the Daily Mail: NEW FOREIGN AID OUTRAGE: £1 of £7 of aid in the world comes from the UK. We’re only trumped by the USA. Well hello. I don’t see any outrage in that whatsoever. I’m quite proud actually. But then we are in the G7, and possibly set to become the 4th largest economy in the world. Yes little old UK – this tiny sceptred isle with only the 22nd largest population.
Now call me naive, but I kind of like to take this ancient proverb quite seriously.
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
It was in fact Jesus who said it (Luke 12:48). And I do think it’s relevance stretches far beyond the individualistic concerns of perhaps a person looking for guidance.
Now I am all too aware of the problems of international aid. 4 years in East Africa brought that fact home. Around the globe, billions are squandered, misused, stolen. But the potential for abuse is NEVER an excuse for a lack of generosity. Not in my bible as far as I can tell.
Now I do grant that it is slightly different when it comes to the EU. It is not a charity but an international network for trade and cooperation. It has certainly overreached (the Eurozone being a case in point). Political union really should be resisted. But when i witness the terrible disparities between southern and northern Europe, I can’t help but think that being a net donor rather than recipient is not necessarily a problem. Should it be better marshalled, patrolled, implemented? No question. But surely we should revel in generosity? Or have I missed something? And why reduce this just to finances? Membership of anything, just like friendship with anyone, should never be reduced to profit margins and gains. After all, the motivating factor behind the EU was to prevent World War 3 occurring on our continent. Finance is a crucial factor in that. But not the only factor.
So I just don’t buy the principle that we shouldn’t pay into the EU simply unless we’re going to make a profit on it.
Welcoming The Stranger
Perhaps my biggest concern comes down to this. We’re part of the EU now, and have been for a few decades. Voting to leave after all this time simply isn’t the exact equivalent to voting to join. It does seem to resemble the pain of divorce – rejection after years of relationship. It gives off all kinds of signals that I’m seriously reluctant to give. It suggests that I don’t like those who are different, that I prefer my independence, that I have the wherewithal to go it alone.
What’s more, I simply haven’t heard a positive, captivating and healthy vision for what a post-Brexit UK would look like. The pro-Brexit advocates seem only to hail our future economic prosperity (hardly guaranteed) rather than an open and welcoming society. If there is one, I would love to hear it.
Surely the health and maturity of any society is measured in large part by how it copes with, and relates, to the weak, the different, or the alien. If that list seems vaguely familiar, then it is probably because the Torah, the Old Covenant, has rather a lot to say about them. Even recently, this is no theological fantasy – but a geopolitical reality. Isn’t that why we hail Emma Lazarus’s great words inscribed at the base of New York’s Statue of Liberty? And what were Emma Lazarus’s ‘ancient lands with their storied pomp’ but the old world of Europe from which so many (including her own Jewish forebears) fled?
Realism not Rosy-Tints
My Europhilia is not naive (as far as I can see). And I expect that there are many problems I’ve not even touched on, let alone been aware of. There are many things that should change.
- I do think that the EU has been woefully inadequate and even irresponsible in how it is handling the refugee crisis – and from what I can tell, the deal with Turkey is sordid and shameful (especially as Turkey, a country I love and appreciate deeply, does not exactly have a great record for dealing with those who are different or critical or alien).
- Furthermore, I do fear the secularising and totalising narratives that consume much of EU thinking. But exiting the EU is hardly going to stop them in their tracks. We’ve got plenty of that within the UK, thank you very much.
- I can’t understand why there isn’t more of a stink about the Commissions accounts being so consistently out of kilter.
- It is ludicrous that the parliament has to oscillate between Brussels and Strasbourg. It’s just French insecurity that insists on it – no need for it, especially if the EU membership expand. Just bonkers.
- There are concerns about the impact of globalised trade agreements and migration on jobs within the EU and beyond. I am not qualified to comment on the ins and outs of this but the TTIP does seem to be a concern.
- I don’t even think David Cameron’s attempts to negotiate changes in our membership in order to defend Bremaining are sufficient grounds for joy. There are still many problems – and not just for Britain.
Now these are HUGE issues. I’ve not the time nor space nor energy to plough through each one. Nor do you, probably. I do worry about them. And I wish more could be done. I just haven’t been convinced that the advantages of Brexit (a move given traction from such aberrations) outweigh the benefits of staying. Yet…
Just whatever happens, if you have a vote in June, please don’t be swayed by the personalities on either side, your annoyance with getting a government-funded pro-Bremain leaflet in the post, your horror at any terrorist atrocity that (God forbid) happens in the days before the vote. Above all, please avoid and where possible silence the ugly name-calling and insults that are floating around. I have friends on both sides of the Brence (ugh! I can’t wait for the Br- fad to end?) with integrity and wisdom.
This vote is just too serious for a spontaneous impulse on the day.