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Brexit responses: 'There is an enormous and widening divide'

01 July 2016

THE result of the referendum revealed a divided nation. We asked priests for their insights into why their parishes voted the way they did

Dr Ken Eames, research and statistics unit, C of E central services

Divided: a map of how the dioceses voted Dark blue: More than 55% Leave Light blue: 50- 55% Leave Dark yellow: 45-50% Leave Light yellow: Under 45% Leave

Divided: a map of how the dioceses voted Dark blue: More than 55% Leave Light blue: 50- 55% Leave Dark yellow: 45-50% Leave Light yellow: Under 45% Le...

Tower Hamlets: 67.5% Remain

The Area Dean of Tower Hamlets, the Revd Andy Rider

“What is clear from the referendum result is that Westminster is out of touch with vast numbers of the British public. . . The communities of Tower Hamlets benefit in part from London’s wealth, and, as a multicultural cosmopolitan slice of London, we were never going to be won over by the rantings of Nigel Farage. What we must remember, though, is that London’s East End was welcoming immigrants from across Europe for at least 250 years before even the EEC was going through its birth pains. Welcome and generosity is what typifies many in this borough.

“Westminster has to listen. Too many are fed up with too few who have it all. Let this be, in Tower Hamlets, London, and across our lands, a turning-point in history where we live what we believe: if anyone matters, then everyone matters.”



Clacton: 69.5% Leave

Vicar of St John the Baptist, Great Clacton, the Revd Guy Thorburn

“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 backbone 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. . .

“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that those who don’t like the great changes taking place in British society, and especially in London, are simply out-of-date and old-fashioned.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.”



Burnely: 66% Leave

The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North

“It is those from the more deprived communities of our nation that have voted decisively for leaving, 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.”



North Hertfordshire: 54% Remain

Rector of Kimpton, and interfaith adviser to the Diocese of St Albans, the Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills

“The day the results of the referendum were announced, I joined in the Big Iftar in Luton town centre [Luton voted to leave by 56.5 per cent]. The mood was subdued, but also held a deeply poignant determination that as a community, Luton was going to hold together. . . There were Muslims and Christians and Hindus and people of no faith, and people of many nationalities and traditions and languages, all joining together, to honour the sweetness of their friendship across cultures and faith, a sweetness that is essential if life is to flourish. In a town lodged in the popular imagination as a birthplace for hate movements, the people at the grass-roots level are weary of the reputation. When you have nothing left, rather than acts of desperation, maybe the only thing that matters is the relationship we have with the people around us: is it loving and nurturing, or is it one of fear and suspicion? We can only live in fear for so long.”



Cornwall: 56.5% Leave

The Archdeacon of Bodmin, the Ven. Dr Audrey Elkington

“Cornwall was not unanimous in the way we voted, any more than any other part of the country. Perhaps the reason why Leave was the majority vote reflected something of our slightly older age profile. Also, Cornish people are independent-minded, and perhaps the message of standing on our own two (sovereign) feet resonated more than the idea of working interdependently with other nations.

“Nevertheless, the Church is in the business of reconciliation. We have an opportunity here to model this in our churches, which include people who have voted both ways. Our calling to love our neighbour still stands, both in terms of those with whom we disagree and in terms of those who need to seek to come to the UK. I hope that maybe the strong feelings which people have experienced on this matter may also result in people sensing new vocations to political service.”



Lambeth: 78.6% Remain

The Vicar of St John the Evangelist, Angell Town, Canon Rosemarie Mallett

“People are angry about the levels of racism that are being displayed by a few, who seem to be grabbing a lot of headlines. Some people I know have been abused in their communities, and some of us remember the old hurts of racism from a long time ago. Young children are asking if they will be asked to leave the country.

“That probably is the way our area will respond because of the high levels of BAME [Black, Asian, and minority ethnic] people present. In other areas, it will be different and a colleague told me today that he was berated by a 40-year-old person for having been one of those who voted us out. He did not, but because of his age it was assumed that he had. So stereotyping and prejudice is being flung around by all sides post the vote.

“I understand the fear that has underpinned the decision to vote out for some people, and that increasing levels of inward migration, a decline in care services, the climate of austerity, and the appearance that all is well in the capital, and not elsewhere in England, have made some people feel left out.”



North Tyneside: 53.4% Leave

The Priest-in-Charge of St John the Evangelist, Wallsend, the Revd Alexander Faludy

“It’s distressing but there is a logic to it. Many Tyneside communities are exceptionally ethnically homogeneous (as much as 98 per cent White British). Put that together with poverty and it’s easy for the unscrupulous to play on fear of immigration among people who have not experienced its benefits.”



Boston: 76% Leave

The Team Rector of Boston, the Revd Alyson Buxton

“Since 2004 the government has not given due attention to the concerns of the people of Boston. The incredible increase in the population numbers have come from the economic migrants that are vital for the needs of the food industry. All services, schools, housing, GP surgeries have been overstretched because of this increase of people. The blend of sofa surfing (people rent beds for four hours, then work, and the rest of the time they have nowhere to hang about, except on the streets) and the closing of the main town public conveniences have resulted in increased anti-social behaviour. These factors are what people ‘see’, not the root cause of the problem, i.e. lack of investment, money, overstretched resources, an incredible increase in the population.

“The result has caused a division that needs intentional action to heal. There are hearsay stories that people now do not feel welcome and they are staying in their homes, and yet the town needs a certain number of economic migrants to be vibrant and for the businesses to flourish. A quarter of our congregation are from Eastern European countries and 15,000 votive candles are lit a year (mainly from Eastern Europeans). We have the same duty of care and cure of souls to everyone, Our challenge is how to do this in a seemingly divided town.”

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