REFERENDUM DAY: The Last Word

The last word

I wanted to write one last great exhortation encouraging people to vote Leave today – a grand summary bringing together all of the compelling reason to reject the miserabilist, pessimistic, soul-sickeningly unambitious case put forward by the Remain campaign and embrace instead the possibility of real democratic renewal which can only come about with a Leave vote.

But someone has already made the closing argument much better than I ever could. And they did so before I was even born, in 1975 at the time of our last referendum on whether to remain part of the European Economic Community.

If you read this blog, you already know my thoughts on the EU referendum. And if you follow the work of The Leave Alliance you know the type of Brexiteer that I am.I will not restate all of these arguments now. I will leave you instead with the words of the late Peter Shore MP, a man whose politics could hardly be more different to my own, but whose understanding of and commitment to British democracy is second to none.

Speaking at a 1975 EU referendum debate at the Oxford Union, Peter Shore MP concluded his remarks with this devastating critique of Britain’s accession negotiation – all of which can be applied to David Cameron’s failed renegotiation – followed by a stirring rejection of the EU’s antidemocratic, supranational form of government in general:

I say to you this is not a treaty which in any way is a fair and equal treaty. It was not negotiated, it was accepted. Not one word, not a comma, let alone a clause, let alone a paragraph of the Rome Treaty – not one comma has been altered in order to meet the perfectly legitimate and serious differences that exist between Britain and the Common Market.

And now the experience itself – three and a half years ago, when they were urging us to go in. Oh, what a campaign it was. “You’ve got to get in to get on” was the slogan of that day. Five or six pounds a week better off for Britain, if we could only get in to the common market. All the goodies were read out – Donald Stokes of Leyland buying one-page advertisements saying all we need is a great domestic market of 250 million, and we will sweep Europe!

[..] When you add to that the burdens I mentioned a moment ago, and we are under great threat, we are in peril at the present time, and the country must know it.

Therefore now what do they say? What is the message that comes now? No longer to tell the British people about the goodies that lie there. No longer that – that won’t wash, will it? Because the evidence will no longer support it. So the message, the message that comes up is fear, fear, fear.

Fear because you won’t have any food. Fear of unemployment. Fear that we’ve somehow been so reduced as a country that we can no longer, as it were, totter about in the world independent as a nation. And a constant attrition of our morale, a constant attempt to tell us that what we have – and what we have is not only our own achievement but what generations of Englishmen have helped us to achieve – is not worth a damn, the kind of laughter that greeted the early references that I made that what was involved was the transfer of the whole of our democratic system to others. Not a damn.

Well I tell you what we now have to face in Britain, what the whole argument is about now that the fraud and the promise has been exposed. What it’s about is basically the morale and the self-confidence of our people. We can shape our future. We are 55 million people. If you look around the world today – I listened to Gough Whitlam and his 14 million Australians, and he trades heavily with Japan, I’m very fond of the Australians – but do you think he’s going to enter into a relationship with Japan where he gives Japan the right to make the laws in Australia? Do you think Canada, 22 million of them, and to the south a great and friendly nation, yes they are, but do you think Canada is going to allow its laws to be written by the 200 million people in some union in America? No, no, of course not. The whole thing is an absurdity.

And therefore I urge you, I urge you to reject it, I urge you to say no to this motion, and I urge the whole British country to say no on Thursday in the referendum.

All of this beautiful prose – a relic from a bygone age when political speeches didn’t make one want to jump out of the window to escape the boredom – was delivered while a stony-faced Edward Heath looked on, chastened.

God willing, today we will have the opportunity to chasten our current prime minister David Cameron – a man who has conducted himself in many ways like a lame Ted Heath tribute act – by ignoring his pro-EU campaign of lies, distortions and intimidation.

I can say no better than Peter Shore. But please – if you have not already done so, go to your polling station and vote for democracy, vote for Britain, vote to leave the European Union.

 

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American Conservatives For Brexit, Part 5 – The National Review Endorses Brexit

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If the future is a post-democratic world then Brexiteers should be proud to have the support of the magazine founded by William F Buckley in order to stand athwart history yelling “Stop!”

“A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it”William F Buckley

The National Review comes out forcefully for Brexit, in an excellent piece which takes David Cameron to task for the tawdry and nauseatingly left-wing campaign he has run.

Money quote:

One of the less noticed aspects of the referendum campaign has been the extent to which Cameron has had to rely more and more on fundamentally left-wing arguments to make the case for the EU — and, indeed, to rely more and more on Labour and trade-union organizations, too. He removed from the government’s program some items of legislation that were especially offensive to labor unions in return for the unions’ spending more on campaigns to arouse their apathetic members (many of whom are in fact Euro-skeptic). That oddity has gradually revealed two hitherto unseen truths about the campaign: First, the EU is essentially a left-wing corporatist cause that is hard to support on conservative grounds; second, the traditional Tory arguments of patriotism and free enterprise not only can’t be appealed to, but would arouse emotions on the right that would weaken Remain’s entire case, including its only positive argument for staying in.

That argument is that Britain would face ruin outside the EU and prosperity inside, as all “experts” know. Those experts turn out to be (some) corporate businessmen, the leaders of international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, and heads of governments such as President Obama. Delegations of all three have been turning up in London and issuing grave warnings about Brexit at regular intervals. Small businesses and native entrepreneurs such as inventor James Dyson apparently don’t count as experts, but they have been speaking out in favor of Brexit, as have a significant number of leaders of both British and multinational corporations. What is emerging as a fault line is that this battle is between Davos Man and the rest of us.

The National Review goes on to criticise the sheer defeatism and pessimism of the Remain campaign, whose pitch to the electorate has basically been that Britain is too small, weak and puny to prosper outside of the EU’s political union:

It would be easy to continue rebuking the alarmist scare stories from Remain — and distinguished economists, including two former British finance ministers, have been doing so with zest. What is more important is to realize that they are designed not to persuade but to instil a sense of defeatism in the British people. Their consistent message is that the Brits are rubbish, can’t hack it, need the protection of Europe, and that anyone who differs from this masochistic view is in the grip of an imperialist nostalgia.

That is nonsense. The Brits are an unusually influential middle-ranking power in military, diplomatic, and intelligence terms. Culturally speaking, they are a global superpower. And — to repeat — Britain is the fifth-largest economy in the world, a leading member of all the main international bodies and likely to remain so, and a country which is a byword for effective democratic constitutional governance. It is — or ought to be — shocking that a British government should seek to instil a false sense of failure and dependency in its citizens in order to win a campaign they can’t win on the intellectual merits of the case.

And of the three explanations later offered by the National Review for this appalling behaviour from the British establishment, the third is the most persuasive:

Third, and above all, a half-conscious rejection of democracy. For the EU is a mechanism that enables the political and other elites in Britain to escape from the constraints of democracy. It removes power from institutions subject to the voters in elections, such as the House of Commons, and vests it increasingly in courts and bureaucracies in Brussels that are effectively free of democratic control and even of democratic oversight. As a result, the EU is seductively appealing to those who want to exercise power and who believe they would do so more responsibly and successfully if they did not have to account for their decisions to… well, ordinary people like their relatives.

All three passions are temptations to the power-hungry, and they have shaped a Remain campaign reflecting the interests and values of post-national, post-democratic elites. Once we step outside the moral universe of these elites, however, there is no case whatever for Britain to surrender its self-governing democracy to Brussels.

With the due deference of outsiders, we urge the British people, our friends in peace, our allies in war, to be true to themselves and to their democratic traditions on Thursday. That should be more than enough.

A good argument, well made. When publications as diverse as the National Review and Spiked are making the same case, warning against the attempt by European elites to construct an unaccountable, post-democratic society, alarm bells should seriously start to ring.

And in the fight against the dystopian, post-democratic future heralded by the European Union, it is good to have the endorsement and support of the American publication whose founding mission is to “stand athwart history, yelling Stop!”

 

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American Conservatives For Brexit, Part 4

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Brexit is very much in the American spirit of independence, and in no way harmful to long term US interests

In an excellent piece for Colorado Christian University’s Centennial Institute, James C. Bennett argues convincingly that the US national interest is no longer best served by pursuing the post-war policy of playing midwife to a terminally flawed United States of Europe.

Bennett begins by exposing the sheer implausibility of a stable, functional, democratic European state – the clear and unabashed goal of most EU leaders – ever emerging at all:

To begin with, the idea of a united Europe that would be genuinely federal, which is to say anything other than an empire of one culture over the others, is highly unlikely if not chimerical. To the extent Europe today works, it is an empire of Germans, with the French as their lieutenants, over the rest. The Germans try to be polite about it, unless money is at stake, but the reality is a bit too visible for comfort these days. The British who believe in the idea of their place in a federal Europe, tend to work as lieutenants to the Germans on economic matters, and allies of the French on security matters, except where it comes to cooperation with the US, where they have only minor allies from Eastern Europe, who do not count for much in Brussels.

As many critics of the EU have noted, democracy requires a demos — a distinct national community, which shares the language, institutions, memories, and experiences that make possible a meaningful discussion about the decisions that must be made through political means. There is no such European people, rather, a series of national communities who each have their own discussions. European institutions are therefore particularly prone to decision-making by consensus of elites, many of whom are distant and insulated from the opinions of the people they supposedly represent. However, it is also the case that decisions are often simply not made, and inertia rules, while problems are merely kicked down the road year after year. The Single Currency provides examples of all of these phenomena — it took a long time to come to the decision to launch it; it was only ever wanted by a few elites; popular opinion was almost universally against it; it worked better for some nations than for others, but poorly for most; and there is no momentum either for changing institutions to make it work better, on the one hand, or abandoning it on the other.

This point about the perennially absent European demos is absolutely key. Even if one were to wave a magic wand and instantly make all of the European Union institutions directly elected, properly empower the European Parliament and take other measures to correct what is understatedly termed the EU’s “democratic deficit”, it would not give those institutions any greater legitimacy.

If Britain were suddenly annexed by India and British citizens given a vote in Indian elections this would not be “democracy”, but rather the smashing together of one demos against another. British citizens would not feel part of the Indian state, would have no emotional connection to it and no great political interest in it. And so it is now that Britain is effectively annexed by the European Union. Even building a perfectly modelled federal government for Europe would not erase the stubborn fact that most British people do not “feel” European first and foremost, and therefore cannot participate meaningfully in its political life.

Bennett goes on to criticise the EU as a weak partner to the United States:

Furthermore, the EU is not turning out to be a useful ally for the US, nor is Britain able to influence very much in directions the US desires. To the extent it has ambitions in the security area, these typically create a rival and inferior capability to what already exists through NATO. To the extent it has ambitions in the foreign policy area, it is so hard to establish a consensus among European powers that its policies are usually much weaker than what Britain typically adopts by itself. The European federalists are now agitating for France and Britain to give over their UN Security Council seats to the EU, which will again substitute the weak and uncertain voice of the EU for the more assertive voice of the UK.

While the EU’s leaders clearly have dreams of wielding great influence on the world stage, they are constantly stymied in their ambitions by the fact that they are called on to reflect the squabbling and divergent interests of 28 separate member states. Floridians and Californians are happy to be jointly represented by the State Department because they owe their primary allegiance and affinity to the United States of America. By contrast, Brits and Swedes are not greatly thrilled to be jointly represented on the international stage by Italian former Young Communist Federica Mogherini. On paper, Mogherini speaks for all of Europe. In reality, she speaks only for an EU elite numbering in the thousands, not millions.

Bennett, like this blog and others of The Leave Alliance, believes that an interim EFTA/EEA (or Norway Option) Brexit path is the most likely outcome in the event of a Leave vote, minimising the economic and political risks by guaranteeing Britain’s continued access to the single market:

The international financial community would probably default to the second most desirable option from their point of view, which would be to press for British membership in the European Economic Area and the European Free Trade Association, the so-called “Norway Model.” Although in theory there are a number of potentially viable options for post-Brexit relations between the UK and the remnant EU, the EEA-EFTA model would be the most accessible, best understood, and least disruptive option, and therefore the one the financial interests would prefer. The major European leaders would then come under very strong pressure to announce their support for such an outcome. Once made, along with guarantees to expatriates and other interests, this would restablilize markets and probably become the signal for a sustained rally.

This recognition of economic and political reality immediately puts James Bennett well ahead of serious American journalistic outlets including CNN, USA Today and the New York Times, all of which defaulted to the most apocalyptic and unlikely of Brexit scenarios in their effort to make the idea of Britain leaving the EU seem like a reckless risk with no potential upside.

However, Bennett’s assessment on the impact of Brexit on American interests is better still (my emphasis in bold):

From a short-term perspective, Brexit would have relatively little effect on American interests. Article 50 of the European Union’s current constitutional document, the Lisbon Treaty, provides for member-states to withdraw by giving a two-year notice of intent to withdraw, and mandates the EU to negotiate in good faith for free-trade measures during that time period. During that time period all rights and obligations of membership continue as normal, so US companies operating in Britain would continue to function as normal. The EEA-EFTA option would also permit such companies to operate as normal after EU membership was terminated. Most other US-UK cooperation, such as military and intelligence cooperation, is conducted under bilateral or multilateral agreements having nothing to do with the EU, and would continue to function as normal.

The biggest short-term effect will be on the American foreign policy establishment, in seeing the fundamental assumptions of their world view challenged. Some will cling to the past, and hope that the UK, humbled by life outside of the EU, will repent and ask to rejoin. This is highly unlikely, as it is more likely that the EU, now shorn of the most powerful and stubborn opponent of a United States of Europe, will proceed to greater centralization, although it is also possible that it will shed a few other recalcitrant members, perhaps including Denmark and/or Sweden. The Franco-German core, and the principal Eastern and Southern European dependent states will likely remain. However, this reduced remnant EU will still not become the capable and willing partner the US State Department has always craved. Rather, it will be a medium-large power with problems, somewhat like Japan but with a less capable military.

Exactly so. The only threat posed by Brexit concerns the outdated thinking of certain fossils and arthritic thinkers within the State Department, many of whom seem to be operating based on mental software which has not been updated since the height of the Cold War, when large regional blocs were both the norm and the key to the West’s victory against the Soviet Union. The world has moved on.

And in this age of globalisation, when regulatory harmonisation and convergence are key precursors to unlocking further economic growth, what matters most – though you may not hear many others speaking of it – is ensuring that ordinary people, through their national governments, have the ability to influence these standards and decisions when they are made, and on rare occasions to exempt themselves from them as a last resort. This applies as much to America as to Britain. But from the British perspective, the EU is an active impediment to this process, diluting our influence before we even get to the regional and world bodies which are the source of much new regulation.

And away from the trade sphere, it is self-evident that Britain will remain the only truly indispensable ally of the United States for the foreseeable future. Our shared history and overlapping cultures, together with the fact that Britain wields a military and diplomatic clout far in excess of any other European nation (though recent generations of meek political leaders have often failed to properly leverage this advantage) mean that the idea of Washington pivoting away from London and towards Berlin is pure fantasy. Simply put, you don’t ditch the partner which offers a blue water navy, a nuclear deterrent and a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, no matter how much certain wobbly-lipped EU apologists may suggest that Brexit would somehow damage the special relationship.

Ultimately, a realisation must eventually dawn on the American political elite and foreign policy establishment that the dream of a United States of Europe incorporating the United Kingdom – a term conjured by Churchill but never intended to include Britain – is untenable. A federal Europe may yet emerge from the “core” EU nations, but as James Bennett points out, this will be a distinctly medium-sized power beset with many intractable problems of its own and unlikely to be a great proactive partner to the United States, at least in military matters.

Thus a re-evaluation is necessary. Today, Britain is seeking to assert her independence from a terminally flawed and profoundly, deliberately antidemocratic supranational government of Europe. Americans once knew something about seeking independence from empire and asserting the right of a people to govern themselves, captured in the cry “no taxation without representation”.

America also knows something about turning up a bit late to important, existential fights. And so even at this late hour, it would be gratifying if more American leaders paid heed to James C. Bennett, sought to rediscover that spirit of independence, democracy and national destiny which has been increasingly absent of late, and lent their vocal support to the Brexit cause.

 

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American Conservatives For Brexit, Part 3

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A bold warning against supranationalism

This blog has rarely found common cause with former Senator for South Carolina Jim DeMint, but his OpEd in CapX (written with Nile Gardiner) is a welcome expression of solidarity with the Brexit cause.

From the OpEd:

The contrast could not have been starker – between a message of genuine optimism on the Brexit side, and the language of gloom and doom emanating from the Remain camp. It was frankly sad to witness an intensely negative campaign by those who suggest that Britain will not benefit from being a free and independent nation.

It is unthinkable that Americans would ever subject themselves to the kind of suffocating supranationalism that exists within the EU, with nation states surrendering large amounts of their sovereignty to unelected bureaucrats in a distant capital, with their courts overruled by foreign judges. It is all the more disturbing therefore that the leader of the free world, the president of the United States, has chosen to warn our British friends against leaving the EU.

This very much echoes the sentiments of this blog – the United States branches of government would not for one second tolerate the kind of subjugation to a supranational entity and curtailments on sovereignty that are required of EU member states – therefore, Barack Obama’s intervention in the EU referendum debate was very much a case of “do as I say, not as I do”.

Moving on to security, they point out:

Ignore the childish scaremongering coming from the White House. If the British people decide to leave the EU, their national security will be enhanced, not least because Britain can retake full control of its own borders. And the NATO alliance would actually be strengthened, rather than weakened, if Britain left the EU. The European Commission’s drive to create a European Union Army would draw vital resources away from NATO, and lead to duplication of key military assets in Europe. It is NATO, not the EU, that has secured peace in Europe in the post-World War Two era.

Before concluding:

A British exit from the EU would be good for Britain, Europe, and the United States. A United Kingdom that is not shackled to a declining EU that is mired in a culture of big government, soaring public debt and welfare dependency, would be a better partner for the US. A resurgent, self-confident Britain that looks outward to the world instead of inward, that is free to shape its own destiny, decide its own laws, craft its own foreign and security policies, and negotiate its own trade deals, can only strengthen the Anglo-American Special Relationship. A Great Britain that has absolute control of its own borders will also be a stronger partner in the fight against ISIS and Islamist terrorism.

Our former Heritage Patron, Margaret Thatcher, loved the United States and cherished the bonds that tie our two great nations together. She condemned the European Project, the idea of a European superstate, as “perhaps the greatest folly of the modern era.” The Iron Lady was absolutely right about the dangers of ever-closer union and rampant supranationalism in Europe, and how it threatened both Britain and the transatlantic alliance. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Lady Thatcher’s leadership on the world stage. Her warnings against a federal Europe have come true. Today, Great Britain has an opportunity to be a free country once again. If the British people seize the day and break free of the EU, this should be a cause for celebration and rejoicing on both sides of the Atlantic.

Jim DeMint and Nile Gardiner are quite right to warn about “rampant supranationalism”. A point which has rarely been made in the EU referendum debate is the fact that no other countries in the world have rushed to replicate the EU model. One might point to the African Union and its Pan-African Parliament, but the two institutions are hardly comparable – the second objective of the African Union is “to defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its Member States”, a goal to which the EU most certainly does not subscribe, in theory or in practice.

Look elsewhere in the developed world, to Asia, Australia and the Americas, and there is no desire whatsoever to form a political union based on the supranational form of government, in which a new pan-national entity takes on more and more of the traditional roles of the nation state. This should tell us something – and yet the EU persists with the steady, stealthy implementation of its mid 20th century blueprint even as globalisation and the emerging global regulatory system makes it increasingly irrelevant, a clumsy middleman rather than an effective defence.

And at a time when too many voices from the United States – the one country which should truly understand the desire for independent self government – have been fearfully urging Britain to stay in the EU, it is good to hear some bold conservative voices supporting Brexit.

 

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A Strong, Christian Case For The Nation State (And Against The European Union)

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Here is an intellectually robust, theologically rooted argument in support of the nation state and against the European Union. Why are Christian EU apologists unable to produce a similarly heavyweight case of their own, instead of relying on woolly platitudes about ‘togetherness’ and ‘co-operation’?

The Reimagining Europe blog has just published a serious intellectual (and even theological) but highly readable case for the continuance of the nation state, and criticism of those who suggest that the age of supranational government is either logical, inevitable or a goal to which Christians should aspire.

While I do not agree with every single nuance of the argument put forward by Nigel Biggar (Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Christ Church college, Oxford) the overall thrust of his argument is quite unimpeachable. It certainly is rooted in a far deeper reading of scripture and theological analysis than the glib statements of support for the European Union and Remain campaign from Archbishops John Sentamu and Justin Welby.

Biggar begins:

Thirty years ago I was told by a senior Anglican clergyman that the nation-state was passé. I can’t remember why he thought as he did, but I do remember that his conviction was a fashionable one. Quite why it was fashionable isn’t clear to me now. The mid-1980s were too early for globalisation’s transfer of power from national governments to free global markets and transnational corporations to have become evident. Perhaps it was the recent entry of an economically ailing and politically strife-torn Britain into the arms of the European Economic Community that made the nation-state’s days look so numbered. And, of course, the Cold War, which would not thaw until 1989, made international blocs look like a monolithic fact of global political life.

Finally, someone raises the historical context of Britain’s entry into the EEC in their Christian argument about the EU referendum. Good. Nothing can be understood without understanding the history and purpose of the European Union, but also the circumstances which led Britain to join in the first place. For if those circumstances (global obsolescence and lack of a “role”, economic decline, industrial strife, the very real risk of being ejected from what Michael Moore might call the “Premier League” of nations) are no longer present, why on earth would we now wish to stay, given all of the EU’s manifold flaws and failings?

Biggar goes on to discuss differing national attitudes toward being a quasi-autonomous member of a larger supranational grouping:

But there’s another, historically deeper reason. This was graphically impressed upon me during a visit to last year’s exhibition at the British Museum, “Germany: Memories of a Nation”. (I’d strongly recommend the book, by the way.) One of the exhibits was a map of north-western Europe in the mid-18th century, on which were superimposed the coinages current in Germany and Britain at the time. In Britain, there was one coin; in Germany, about sixty. Britain was a unitary state; Germany a territory with a common language, but comprising dozens of different kingdoms and principalities.

And here’s where being both German and Roman Catholic comes into play. For the dozens of mini-states in mid-18th century Germany were the vestiges of the multinational, Catholic, Holy Roman Empire, which the Protestant Reformation had helped to destroy. For Roman Catholics, especially on the European continent, and especially in Germany, the notion of a federation of states, sharing a broadly common culture and subject to a transcendent, quasi-imperial authority seems a perfectly natural condition.

Not so for the English, who have inhabited a nation-state whose basic structures span a thousand years, and whose history has taught them to fear the concentration of continental power. It’s no accident, therefore, that one can find in Anglican thought a marked tendency, from F. D Maurice in the mid-19th century to Oliver O’Donovan now, to affirm the existence of a plurality of independent nations, whose external relations are governed by international law rather than a supranational state.

Quite so. The lived experience of Britons, and our national history, is simply too different to reconcile with that of continental Europe under the umbrella of an overarching set of political institutions. In some areas of Europe, particularly the disputed regions which have changed back forth between countries over centuries (think Alsace-Lorraine), people have a history of maintaining a cohesive identity almost separate to whichever nation happened to claim their territory at the time. There is no similar history in Britain (though one could argue that the experience of the non-England home nations within the UK comes closest).

The upshot is that there is precious little in our folklore, literature, art or indeed politics which well equips us to carry on functioning happily no matter which foreign king makes the key decisions, or from which city they may do so. We are not built for supranational rule – despite ourselves having presided over an empire which did exactly that, we have not been on the receiving end in a thousand years.

Biggar then gets biblical, something which too few of the most prominent Christian apologists for the European Union have been willing to do:

Christians tend to view the nation-state and so the prospect of a European federation differently, according to whether they are Roman Catholic or Protestant, and according to their historical experience. All Christians, however, are accountable to the Bible. What does it have to say about these matters?

On the one hand, the New Testament makes quite clear that a Christian’s affection and loyalty have to go beyond the nation. They have to transcend it. Primarily, they have to attach themselves to God and to His coming Kingdom or rule. This we read in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians, where St Paul, having identified himself strongly with the Jewish nation—“a Hebrew of the Hebrews”—then firmly subordinates his Jewish identity to his loyalty to God in Christ:

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ…. [O]ur citizenship”, he tells the Christians at Philippi, “is in heaven” (vv. 7-9, 20).

Taken at face value, it would seem that Paul is saying that Christian identity must obliterate and completely replace national identity. But Paul, I think, is speaking hyperbolically here; he’s exaggerating. In fact, he never entirely repudiated his Jewish identity, but rather sought to understand how his new-found loyalty to God in Christ could actually fulfil his original national loyalty.

Biggar is right to suggest that St Paul’s injunction to completely erase national identity is a rhetorical exaggeration. And it is certainly the case that if British Christians were indeed called to renounce their Britishness, there is absolutely no reason why they should then take up a European identity – if any passing allegiance to country is wrong, then allegiance to a supranational body which is actively trying to become a country in its own right is just as wrong.

As Jesus Himself said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). While we are indeed all brothers and sisters in Christ, it is made very clear to us that our common citizenship is at an embryonic stage in this temporal world, represented by the global Church, and that the nation to which we shall all one day belong is not one of Earth.

Biggar goes on to concede the transitory nature of nation states:

Against such idolatrous nationalism, Christians must refuse the claim that nations have an eternal destiny, and that their survival is an absolute imperative. Nations are in fact contingent, evolving, and transitory phenomena. They come and they go. The United Kingdom did not exist before 1707 (and could have ceased to exist this year, had the Yes campaign won the Scottish independence referendum.) The United States could have ceased to exist in the early 1860s. Czechoslovakia did cease to exist in 1993.

So a Christian cannot be a Romantic nationalist, idolatrously attributing an absolute value to any nation. That’s one part of the truth.

With this important counterpoint:

But there is another part. This is alluded to by St Paul’s continuing identification with the Jewish people. And it’s made explicit in the Old Testament, where the prophet Jeremiah addresses the Jews, who had been carried off into exile in Babylonia, after the sacking of Jerusalem in the year 586BC. This is what he says:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the welfare of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper (vv. 4-7).”

Though they are citizens of another country, though they are currently exiles in Babylon, the people of God should nevertheless “seek the welfare of the city”.

Why is this? The answer lies in our created nature as human beings. We are finite, not infinite; creatures, not gods. We come into being and grow up in a particular time, and if not in one particular place and community, then in a finite number of them. We are normally inducted into particular forms of social life by our family and by other institutions—schools, churches, clubs, workplaces, political parties, public assemblies, laws. These institutions and their customs mediate and embody a certain grasp of the several universal forms of human prosperity or flourishing—that is to say, the several basic human goods—that are given in and with the created nature of human being. It is natural, therefore, that we should feel special affection for, loyalty toward, and gratitude to those communities, customs, and institutions that have benefited us by inducting us into human goods; and, since beneficiaries ought to be grateful to benefactors, it is right that we should.

This is true – we do indeed feel special affection and loyalty toward communities, customs and institutions which give us utility. But we should be wary of where this particular strand of thought may lead us. For as we know, the European Union is particularly adept at “purchasing loyalty” by using funds raised from nation state taxpayers and sent to Brussels as EU membership fees to then bribe national citizens with their own money in the form of development spending or sponsorship of various arts and community projects.

Pete North warns about this very phenomenon with this brilliant observation:

The founding fathers were savvy in their design of le grande project. They always knew it could never be done all at once because the central vision would never secure a mandate. Integration by deception has always been the modus operandi. It salami slices powers little by little, so gradually that few ever notice. And you’d never see it unless you know what the game plan is. They were long term thinkers. They knew it would take a generation or so to advance their agenda and they had a roadmap to do it.

It has always used funding of local projects to manufacture consent. It’s why you’ll find EU logos emblazoned on any nature reserve or community hall or obscure museum out in the shires, to convince the plebs that their benevolent EU guardians cared more for them than the London government. It is why it funds universities too. Every strata of civil society has an injection of EU cash. Education, NGOs, you name it. And it works.

[..] The founding fathers always knew a day would come where the legitimacy of the EU would be questioned. And now you see how well their pernicious scheme worked, with the entirely of the civic establishment coming out in favour of remain. They have made idle supplicants of our institutions, robbing them of their vitality, curiosity and dynamism.

While Biggar is absolutely correct to make his point, defenders of the nation state must be careful that this is not then used as justification by EU apologists for the behaviour and existence of the EU – a kind of retroactive justification for unwanted supranational political union based on the wheedling claim that people like it when Brussels gives them back their own money.

Biggar’s conclusion is a resounding rejection of pessimism about the nation state and the ignorant embrace of the EU by many in leadership positions in the church, based only on the woolliest of Christian thinking (my emphasis in bold):

Of course, institutions at a national level are not the only ones that enable us to flourish as human beings, but they do remain among them; and they are still the most important. This is true, notwithstanding the easy illusion of global identity that today’s social media create. While international institutions such as the United Nations have developed since the Second World War, they haven’t replaced nation-states and don’t seem likely to do so any time soon. Indeed, the UN only has as much power as nation-states choose to give it. So the nation-state is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and it continues to have great power to shape the lives of individual human beings. Insofar as it has shaped our lives for the better, helping us to prosper, we owe it our gratitude and loyalty; insofar as it has mis-shaped our lives (or other people’s) for the worse, we owe it our commitment to reform. Either way, we owe it our attention and our care.

So, in sum, as I see it, the Bible teaches on the one hand that no nation-state deserves absolute loyalty. Every state is subject to the universal laws of God, of which it may fall foul and deserve criticism. On the other hand, Scripture implies that nation-states can, and should, and often do furnish the structures necessary for human flourishing. They cause us to prosper. Therefore, they deserve our loyal, if sometimes critical, care.

[..] In the age of global capitalism, they are less powerful than they used to be. And they have always been bound, more or less, to each other by need, by treaty, and by law. Nevertheless, nation-states remain the fundamental units in the international order, and the day when they will be superseded by a global state is nowhere in sight.

Nation-states are not in fact passé, and the Bible doesn’t tell us that they should be. What’s more, my German Catholic friend really shouldn’t argue for Britain’s remaining in the European Union on the ground that the age of the nation-state is over. Because, of course, a federal EU would be nothing other than a larger state, serving the newly self-conscious nation of Europeans, and able to hold its own against the United States on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other.

There may well be good reasons for Britain to remain in the E.U. But if that is so, the unchristian nature, or the obsolescence, of the nation-state is not one of them.

An intellectually rousing piece with a resoundingly clear conclusion – that the nation state, for all its flaws, has been the underwriter of our most fundamental freedoms and liberties for too long to carelessly cast it aside in the blinkered rush toward supranationalism.

Those with senior leadership positions within the church – I’m thinking here particularly of Archbishops John Sentamu and Justin Welby of the Church of England – are too intelligent not to know the history, purpose and inevitable future trajectory of the EU. Unlike the average man on the street, we need not extend to them the charitable assumption that they are simply ignorant on the matter – after all, our state church is about as deeply embedded in the British establishment as it is possible to be.

Therefore, when the likes of Justin Welby or John Sentamu argue that Britain should vote to remain in the EU in the coming referendum, they do so from a clear base of knowledge that this would mean our continued participation in a project whose ultimate direction has never wavered – the creation of a common European state. This means that they either want Britain to be part of this reckless European endeavour (though they are too dishonest to admit as much, perhaps believing it is their duty to mislead their congregations, who they consider too stupid to appreciate the necessity of political union), or they think that Britain can somehow flourish as a kind of “associate member” on the margins of an ever-tightening political union of the eurozone countries, in which our existing influence would be greatly diminished.

If it is the former, and the Archbishops are closet euro federalists who dare not declare their ultimate goal in public, then this is a truly reprehensible way for them to behave, advocating as they do a wishy-washy, hand-wringing argument for Remain based on economic fears rather than making their true political intentions clear. And if it is the latter, and they have convinced themselves that remaining on the margins of a steadily integrating European Union can do anything but marginalise us and diminish our presence on the world stage then their political judgement is bordering on the catastrophic – and only reinforces the case that the Church of England should be fully disestablished and severed from its anachronistic, unjustifiable constitutional role in the United Kingdom.

But here we have it – a muscular Christian case in support of the nation state, and implicitly against the European Union. Will we ever hear the equivalent pro-EU Christian case articulated so eloquently, or at such length? We have certainly seen nothing to date. In fact, the further up the church hierarchy the Christian EU apologists are found, the weaker and more insubstantial their arguments generally become.

I recently had an exchange on Twitter with Nick Baines, the Anglican Bishop of Leeds, in which I questioned his description of the Leave campaign as “insular” and asked when we might expect a substantive Christian case in favour of the EU:

Bishop Nick Baines - Sam Hooper - EU Referendum - Brexit - Christian case for EU

Bishop Baines promised just such an article, but none has yet been forthcoming. Indeed, a clear, unambiguous and unapologetic Christian case in favour of the European Union and a Remain vote in the EU referendum can scarcely be heard, despite the weight of establishment Christianity coming down on the side of remaining in the EU.

This is untenable. If the bishops are to retain any kind of temporal authority – at least in my eyes – it is not enough to make wishy-washy statements vaguely supportive of the Remain campaign without any intellectual or theological legwork to back them up. This reeks of confirmation bias – of bishops, comfortably ensconced in the establishment, making up their minds that the EU is a good thing in advance, and then cherry picking facts to support their existing viewpoint.

A common Christian complaint is that our religion is being increasingly forced from the public square in this new secular age. And it is partly true – freedom of speech and religious expression are sometimes outrageously curtailed in this country. But participation in the public square comes with a price: if one wants to be heard and taken seriously, one must say sensible things and be prepared to back them up with a solid argument.

At present, too many bishops of the church are willing to sell out the public square and everything else in this country to Brussels, and do so without offering a sound argument for remaining in the European Union based on our knowledge of the nature, purpose and direction of the EU. The bishops believe that a sprinkling of glib words about “togetherness” and “co-operation”, mixed with some hand-wringing concerns about the short term economic impact of Brexit taken straight from the Remain camp’s playbook, amount to a sufficient case. But they do not.

Ideally, the bishops should come down unanimously on the right side of this issue. But since that is not going to happen, they should at least participate in the debate with a shred of honour. And if they arrogantly proceed with their current approach, preaching the Remain argument on the flimsiest of pretexts, then they should not be surprised if they cause the gates to the public square to be permanently locked to Christians.

And what a dismal legacy that will be.

 

Postscript: More on the Christian case for Brexit hereherehere and here.

 

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Top Image: New Statesman

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