UNITY, hope, and generosity are the values needed to enable the country to emerge from the transition out of the EU “confident and successful”, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have said.
In a result that confounded last-minute expectations, 51.9 per cent of voters in the UK opted to leave the EU. Regional results revealed a sharp division between London, Scotland, and Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The Archbishops joined other church leaders in calling for reconciliation.
“We must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward-looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world,” they said in a statement issued on Friday morning. “We must remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers.” [Full statement below]
People must support those from overseas who would now be feeling a “deep sense of insecurity” by offering “reassurance, by cherishing our wonderfully diverse society, and by affirming the unique contribution of each and every one”.
Acknowledging that the campaign had caused “hurt”, they called for “humility and courage — being true to the principles that make the very best of our nation”.
Prayers for the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who announced on Friday that he would step down after three more months in office, were also sought.
Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, Mr Cameron said: “The British people have made a very clear decision to take a different path, and, as such, I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.” He had fought to persuade Britain to remain part of the EU with “head, heart and soul”.
Every region in England except London voted in favour of the Leave option. Although an overwhelming majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party supported the Remain campaign, many of its strongholds in the North voted against. In Burnley, two-thirds of voters backed Brexit.
“It is those from the more deprived communities of our nation that have voted decisively for leaving the European Union, especially in the north of the country,” said the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, speaking on Friday. “And yet the great irony is that it is the poor who will suffer disproportionately from the severe economic shock that this decision may well bring.
“I very much hope people will not be disappointed to find that the promises upon which they based their decision are not kept. And I trust that those politicians who have made these pledges will take responsibility for their words and deeds. Should it prove that our decision to leave the EU has been based on spin, exaggeration, or unrealistic promises, the public mood could soon turn sour.
“This referendum has proved profoundly divisive for our national life. We will need to work together if we are to recover any sense of national unity. That will take strong leadership from our politicians, and a clear moral steer from faith and community leaders. Now is not the time for running away.”
Some of the largest cities in the North, including Liverpool and Leeds, voted to remain. “The people have spoken,” the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, wrote on Twitter. “Not clear what they have said. But, the outcome is clear. Now to shape the future and not simply wish it were different.”
He added later: “We will need to ask in the months ahead what ‘taking control’ looks like when we have no control over (a) markets and those whose priorities, fears, and interests drive them; and (b) those with whom we shall have to negotiate . . . and whose interests might not be ours. However we voted, Christians will need to pray and work for reconciliation in a deeply divided — and now rudderless — nation.”
One of the few Labour MPs who campaigned to leave (Comment, 3 June), Frank Field, said that the result was “the first clear revolt against globalisation and its undermining of working-class living standards”.
He went on: “The major task from now on is to reassure Europe that we want our negotiations to be successful for them, but also for Great Britain. To that end, the Government needs to be reformed to reflect accurately the views in the Tory Party, in Parliament, and the country, and have a negotiating team that brings the country together.
“Above all, we now need to think carefully about what our next moves are in disengaging from Europe. The last thing we require is precipitative action that serves no one’s interests.”
London voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, said that he was “very conscious of the fact that the large majority of those under the age of 25 voted to Remain”. The Church would “continue to cultivate our already-close relationships with Christians throughout Europe, and indeed throughout the whole world.”
Before the announcement of the referendum result, he had expressed concern in the House of Lords about a diversion from “our settled preference for a representative democracy”.
By the time voting was under way on Thursday, at least 20 C of E Bishops had publicly stated their intention to vote Remain, including several of those with seats in the House of Lords. All the Church in Wales Bishops expressed their intention to vote Remain, though the Welsh voted 52.5 per cent to leave.
The Church in Wales Bishops issued a joint statement on Friday praying for "reconciliation amongst the divided factions in our nations, communities and families".
The Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, said on Friday that the campaign had exposed “the extent to which a good many British people feel alienated from mainstream London and Brussels-centric political discourse”.
The “discontent with the structures of the EU” was “widely shared by other Europeans”, he said. “I hope that EU leaders and officials are able to bring about the reform to European political structures that is needed for these structures to endure.
“I pray that they do endure. Because they were constructed to serve the cause of peace and reconciliation after the two terrible world wars. The task of reconciliation is never done, and I want my children and grandchildren to enjoy the kind of European peace which my generation has known.”
He expressed concern for both Ireland and Scotland.
The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, said that the decision to leave "turns away from the long-term project of building a new Europe following the devastation of two World Wars. It aspires to reclaim national sovereignty and to establish Britain as a major independent world trading nation. . .
"In a hard-fought and at times bruising campaign, it has been clear that debate about Europe has allowed a number of difficult issues to come to the surface. The debate and the patterns of voting suggest that our politicians in recent years may not have paid sufficient attention to some of the deeper issues which are present in our life. The inevitable and necessary period of reflection which must now follow will allow space for questions of poverty and immigration to be explored."
The Church of Scotland’s Convener of the Church & Society Council, the Revd Dr Richard Frazer, said that the decision to leave was one “ which many people will regret”. He believed that it was “a vote against that spirit of international co-operation” for which the Church of Scotland stood, and one which “hardly seems to be an act of solidarity even with our friends in places like Greece, which is going through so much turmoil at the moment both economically and in bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis”. The result would “raise questions about Scotland’s future in the rest of the UK”. On Friday, the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, spoke of the likelihood of a second independence referendum.
Preparations to leave the EU will now get under way. Mr Cameron said that it should be his successor who decides when to trigger Article 50 to begin the formal and legal process. The Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, warned that “some market and economic volatility” could now be expected, but said that “extensive contingency plans” were in place. “We are well prepared for this.”
In Tower Hamlets, the region in which City votes were registered, voters opted to Remain by two-thirds.
“There will be many disappointed parishioners today,” said the Assistant Curate of St Paul's, Shadwell, the Revd Alexandra Lilley. “London, in its multicultural diversity, and perhaps with greater opportunities than elsewhere in the country, once again had quite a different perspective from much of the UK.
“Although I am saddened and concerned by the outcome, I trust in a God who brings life out death and redeems the bleakest of situations. I hope that this encourages the church to be a space where we listen more deeply to those with whom we disagree, rather than drawing up bridges to those who are different from us."
A Clacton perspective
AMONG the areas with the strongest percentage voting to leave was Clacton in Essex which voted Leave by almost 70 per cent. The Revd Guy Thorburn, Vicar of St John the Baptist, reflects on the result.
‘I have served as Vicar of St. John’s, Great Clacton for the past 19 years and have come to believe increasingly that there is an enormous and widening divide between the thinking and aspirations and values of many of the people whom I serve here and those who live in the ‘Westminster Bubble’. There is also a great divide between the rich and the powerful and the well-connected and very many of the ordinary hard-working people who form the back-bone of our society.
“An enormous number of people who live here have moved out of the North and East London suburbs as the character of these suburbs has changed beyond all recognition, and often in ways which they do not like. It is a mistake, I believe, simply to ignore these views.
“I personally have felt throughout the referendum campaign that the relentless focus by the Remain supporters on the economy was a great mistake. Economies are changeable — they go up and they go down. The focus should, rather, have been on issues which are permanent and unchanging — issues such as democracy and sovereignty.
“In our church at the moment we are studying the Exodus. In light of what happened last night, a rather appropriate topic. The people moved out of the place in which they had been settled for many years, they then spent some years in the wilderness of uncertainty, until finally God called them to cross the Jordan and take up residence in their appointed land.
“We are leaving the EU. We are entering uncharted, perhaps even dangerous territory. But as long as we look to God to lead us, He will guide us safely to the place we should be.
“It could be argued that those who don’t like the great changes taking place in British society, and especially in London, are simply out-of-date and old-fashioned. I would disagree with that view. It is clear that a majority of UK citizens have deep misgivings, and feel that their voice is not being heard.
“These people have now spoken and I am convinced that it is incumbent upon the Church to listen carefully to what they are saying.”
Full statement from Archbishops of Canterbury and York
“On Thursday, millions of people from across the United Kingdom voted in the Referendum, and a majority expressed a desire that Britain’s future is to be outside the European Union.
”The outcome of this referendum has been determined by the people of this country. It is now the responsibility of the Government, with the support of Parliament, to take full account of the outcome of the referendum, and, in the light of this, decide upon the next steps. This morning, the Prime Minister has offered a framework for when this process might formally begin.
”The vote to withdraw from the European Union means that now we must all reimagine both what it means to be the United Kingdom in an interdependent world, and what values and virtues should shape and guide our relationships with others.
“As citizens of the United Kingdom, whatever our views during the referendum campaign, we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward-looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world. We must remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers. Many of those living among us and alongside us as neighbours, friends and work colleagues come from overseas and some will feel a deep sense of insecurity. We must respond by offering reassurance, by cherishing our wonderfully diverse society, and by affirming the unique contribution of each and every one.
”The referendum campaign has been vigorous and, at times, has caused hurt to those on one side or the other. We must therefore act with humility and courage — being true to the principles that make the very best of our nation. Unity, hope, and generosity will enable us to overcome the period of transition that will now happen, and to emerge confident and successful. The opportunities and challenges that face us as a nation and as global citizens are too significant for us to settle for less.
”As those who hope and trust in the living God let us pray for all our leaders, especially for Prime Minster David Cameron in his remaining months in office. We also pray for leaders across Europe, and around the world, as they face this dramatic change. Let us pray especially that we may go forward to build a good United Kingdom that, though relating to the rest of Europe in a new way will play its part amongst the nations in the pursuit of the common good throughout the world.”