This EU referendum campaign has been both depressing and insulting for many eurosceptic Christians
Adrian Hilton of the Archbishop Cranmer blog aptly sums up weariness of participating in this EU referendum debate as a eurosceptic Christian:
“I believe in Europe..” is the beginning of every question and the end of every answer when issues relating the European Union are discussed – as if an artificial political construct of 28 states were derivative of or synonymous with ancient notions of Christendom or the contemporary family of European nations of around 50 states. Are the 22 independent European states which are not in the EU any less European for not being so? Are they really all xenophobic, insular and self-regarding?
I have participated in a total of 21 EU Referendum church debates. Some have been a delight, and some quite dire. I’ve spent six hours travelling to speak to an audience of 14 (no expenses offered), and 15 minutes travelling to speak to an audience of several hundred (generous expenses freely given). I drove 200 miles to find myself lauded as a prophet (always dangerous), and 50 miles to be told by the minister that they weren’t expecting me and didn’t need me (I shook the dust off my feet). I saw all the email correspondence relating to that booking, but really couldn’t be bothered to address the incompetence and discourtesy. I wouldn’t expect to be offered expenses in such circumstances, but a glass of water would have been nice. I have formed opinions on the most and least hospitable denominations. The Baptists win hands down. It wouldn’t be very Christian to shame the worst.
Over the past few months, Remain Christians have told me that I’m “peddling myths”; indulging in “crass populism”; “lying” which (I was graciously reminded) “isn’t Christian”; and that my desire for controlled immigration is “really about blacks and Muslims”. In each case, these slurs have come from Christian academics – professors and doctors – one of whom (with his knighthood) was very fond of reminding the audience: “I’m an academic, so I look at the facts” (the inference being… oh, never mind). Most Remain Christians have been kind and attentive to a robust exchange of views, but rather too many talk about Leavers as though we are one step removed from pederasty.
I was fortunate – the priest at my local church exhorted us only to think prayerfully about the question and vote according to our consciences. Eurosceptic Anglicans have had to suffer their first and second in command (Justin Welby and John Sentamu) declaring eagerly for Remain as a “personal decision” while somehow making it crystal clear that you are a Bad, Insular Person of you disagree.
The world is changing, and quoting Dicey doesn’t quite cut it. Each incremental piece of legislation or regulation from Brussels does not remotely challenge the sovereignty of the UK parliament because i) that parliament is not sovereign; and ii) those who constitute that parliament have consented to every piece of EU legislation and regulation. What is challenged in some shape or form is the sovereignty of the people. When we cannot vote to change agriculture policy, fishing policy, financial regulation, remove VAT, change welfare (etc., etc.), it doesn’t quite cut it to shout ‘Club rules’. When a British citizen can be arrested here and extradited to languish in a Greek prison for months – no corpus juris; no trial by jury; not even a hearing conducted in his own language – it is the ancient rights and liberties of the freeborn Englishman that are denied. What does that have to do with an economic community?
I have listened to and considered carefully what every Remain Christian has told me over the past few months: principally that we must remain to reform the EU; we must somehow make it better, more responsive and more democratic. But I have not heard any Remain Christian set out how we may achieve that.
You will not hear concrete proposals for reforming the European Union from anybody, Christian or otherwise. “Of course the EU needs reform!” is perhaps the most overused phrase of this entire referendum campaign, impatiently spat out by many a Remainer finding themselves on the ropes while defending the indefensible EU. But there is never a follow-up sentence explaining how the fundamental, deliberate anti-democratic nature and structure of the EU might be feasibly changed, against the wishes of those who like it just as it is.
And as for post-referendum reconciliation:
I have been exasperated by bishops and other clergy who have suggested that my personal motives and political objectives are xenophobic, racist, self-regarding and, in the final analysis, un-Christian. Such judgments wound, but they are not so deep – as they may be in the Conservative Party – that it becomes impossible to conceive of unity being restored. ‘So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another…’ But there are undoubtedly some churches I wouldn’t want to visit again, and doubtless others which would never want to see me again. My, how these Christians love one another…
But love we must, and be reconciled before the sovereignty of the Cross, where partisan posturing pales into utter inconsequence.
Hilton is a better man than I. Personally, I really don’t take kindly to being called uneducated and borderline xenophobic, or labelled as some kind of economically left-behind loser who is afraid of the modern world – all of which the bishops have done. I particularly don’t like it because of all the bishops who have declared for Remain, I can comfortably say that I know more about the European Union than any of them.
And that’s not a boast – if anything, I am aware of how much I have yet to learn, particularly about the global regulatory environment and the emerging global single market which is making the EU obsolete. But at least I have the curiosity and humility to learn more. The pro-Remain bishops, marinating in their smugness and certainty, think that their tired old tropes about “cooperation” and “working together” are the Alpha and the Omega of the debate.
So when we talk about post-referendum reconciliation, I think we need to make clear a distinction between social reconciliation and political reconciliation. Unlike a number of my pro-EU acquaintances, I have never been moved to end a friendship or block/mute people on social media because they hold differing political opinions to me. I have had this done to me, and it is quite wounding when it happens. But at all times I have been happy to courteously debate (or not) with the people I know. It is the duty of those who think otherwise to extend the olive branch, in the unlikely event that they wish to do so.
And as for political reconciliation – no. We have passed a point of no return. The prime minister of this country – a man who calls himself a conservative – as lied, threatened, deceived and bullied the British people in order to coerce a Remain vote. There is no forgiving that, politically. David Cameron must go, and his name should be mud, politically speaking. This blog will not rest until that happens. Likewise with many other conservative politicians who built their careers and reputations on what turned out to be the most superficial and cosmetic forms of euroscepticism. Even now, Michael Fallon is going around telling people that he is a eurosceptic, even as he campaigns for a Remain vote. There can be no tolerating such people in our politics either.
Some new friends and allies have been made along the journey too, particularly those few principled left-wingers who advocate Brexit on democratic grounds rather than fearing “Tory Brexit” because it might lead to a democratically elected British government implementing policies with which they disagree. Others on the Left – particularly Jeremy Corbyn and commentators like Owen Jones – have clearly betrayed their most deeply held principles in order to support Remain, and are deserving only of contempt.
On June 24th, regardless of the referendum outcome, most of us will continue to display common human decency toward one another. It would be a terrible shame if that changed. But there should and will be political consequences for what has transpired over the course of this EU referendum. If, as seems likely, Remain’s project fear wins the day, then they will have committed us to remain in the European Union based on a castle of lies, ignorance and naivety. And there will be a price to pay for that behaviour.
Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.