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Letters to the Editor

10 June 2016


The case for and against membership of the EU: the debate continues

From the Ven.
Martin Gray
Sir, — To date, the arguments for and against remaining within the European Union are bewildering. On the one side, the risks of leaving are highlighted, particularly the economic risks, and, on the other, the benefits of reclaiming our lost sovereignty. Both sides strongly contradict each other’s arguments, and it is quite difficult to get at the truth. Clearly, there are always risks associated with stepping out into unknown territory, but have they been overstated? Being the master of one’s own destiny has many attractions, but have the risks associated with achieving that state been underestimated? The answer to both those questions is probably yes.

These and associated questions are obviously important, and any decision made on 23 June needs to be properly informed; but for me they do not really strike at the heart of the matter. I find it disturbing that much of the thinking underlying the arguments of those campaigning to leave the EU is based on a desire to be self- sufficient. It presupposes that the blame for our ills lies outside us: with the bureaucrats in Brussels who spend our money extravagantly and burden our businesses with unnecessary legislation; with the immigrants who keep “our own people” out of work, keep wages down, and take all our houses.

It disturbs me, because throughout history these sorts of arguments are used by nationalists to justify building walls, both metaphorical and, at times, physical, for self-protection. History, time and time again, informs us that nationalism, both secular and religious, has been the cause of immense suffering and conflict. There are certainly many examples of this today, and I believe that it should be resisted in all its forms.

In a world that, with modern communications, is becoming “smaller and smaller”, and where that process is bound to accelerate rather than slow down, building walls and going it alone is not the answer to providing the peace, justice, and prosperity that we all desire. Accepting and valuing our fellow human beings in all their diversity and rejoicing in that diversity most certainly is.

Of course, this is not to say that the EU is without fault. As with any organisation, reform has to be a continuous, never-ending process, driven, yes, by the needs and well-being of its members, but also mindful of the needs of our neighbours and the world, too. This should be the case whether, on 23 June, we vote to remain in or to leave.

11 Cann’s Lane
Norwich NR9 3JE


From the Revd Richard Hay
Sir, — Frank Field (Comment, 3 June) is right to be concerned about the poorest in our society, but wrong about the way to help them. The migrants who come from other EU countries are often well educated and motivated. Before we can achieve the better conditions that Mr Field wishes for those in our country who are missing out, we have to succeed in giving them comparable attitudes.

This poses well-known challenges to our schooling and family structures, to address the deep and complex problems of inequality and social cohesion. We need, too, to recognise that, independently of the EU, the UK has become a multi-racial country over the decades since the Windrush.

There is no simple solution to the longstanding problems that Mr Field focuses on. To alleviate them needs resources as well as understanding and political will. These depend at least in part on the leadership of UK politicians, not on the EU. But the resources available are actually helped by those from the EU who come to work here, because the published studies show that they contribute much more to the economy and to taxes than they take out.

Leaving the EU would damage our economy and increase the problems of the poorest in the UK.

15 Fox Close
Woking GU22 8LP


From the Revd James Mustard
Sir, — Frank Field significantly misrepresents the pattern of immigration to the UK since 2004 (according to the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory).

Between 2004 and 2014, 1.98 million came to the UK from EU nations, while 3.08 million came from non-EU nations. In the same period, just under one million UK citizens returned to the UK.

In addition, he introduces the concept “population churn” further to obscure wayward statistics and raise alarm. Far from vaunting “compassion”, Mr Field’s argument is distinctly shady and plays on xenophobia. At least he has the good grace not to call it a “Christian” response.

The Rectory
136 Church Hill Road
Barnet EN4 8XD


From the Revd Paul Nicolson
Sir, — Frank Field appeals to his fellow Christians’ concerns for the poorest in our communities, whose choices in life are by far the most restricted, as his argument for leaving the EU. Those of us who will be voting to remain in the EU are only too well aware that the necessities of life in the UK are not scarce. They have been badly managed by the Westminster Government for three decades.

The disaster now faced by the poorest UK citizens began in the 1980s with the deregulation of lending and the abolition of rent controls. Money was allowed to flow freely in and out of the UK, leading to land-grabbing for private gain by national and international speculators on an unprecedented scale.

Mr Field’s colleagues in the “out” campaign want freedom from a European ethic, more tuned to the human needs of the people, to impose more of the same. It is John Major who has said: “Michael Gove wanted to privatise it [the NHS], Boris wanted to charge people for using it, and Iain Duncan Smith wanted a social insurance system. So the NHS is about as safe with them as a pet hamster would be with a hungry python.”

Taxpayers Against Poverty
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF


From the Revd Martin Jewitt
Sir, — In response to your double-page spread on the coming referendum, I agree with your leader comment that the referendum should never have been called, but it is too late to call it off.

Frank Field MP is usually worth listening to, but he has simply rehearsed all the propaganda of the Leave campaign in slightly more considered language, except for his extraordinary “churn” adding up immigrants to emigrants. His appeal to consider the disadvantaged in this country is absolutely right and Christian, but is our membership, or otherwise, of the European Union really going to make much difference to the effect on the UK of the current massive global challenge of population migration?

The referendum will take place. I hope we will vote to Remain. But, whatever the outcome, it is going to present a great challenge to Christians to bear witness that we have a King who is sovereign over whatever political institutions emerge, and who, as the Very Revd Dr John Arnold reminds us, gives us our true identity.

The people of Europe will need him more than ever to guide us back into the good relationships you remind us of in your leader.

12 Abbott Road
Folkestone CT20 1NG


From Mr A. M. Hughes
Sir, — Your rather intemperate leader comment (3 June) says that the referendum should be called off. But, as you acknowledge, this referendum was part of the governing party’s manifesto.

Like it or not, referendums are now a well-established part of our democratic machinery (there were regional referendums in 1979 and 1997, the UK referendum on the voting system in 2011, and the Scottish referendum in 2014). For you to advocate the cancellation of a manifesto promise is reminiscent of the actions of a totalitarian regime.

For years, none of the main political parties offered a variant view of EU membership. As more and more people came to doubt the advantages of membership, they were left without a voice until now.

My vicar, in our monthly parish magazine, writes: “the EU has been the most successful idea the nations of Europe have ever had.” Does this allow for Greece’s being kept in a permanent state of indebtedness (only this year the IMF said that Greece needed debt relief, i.e. forgiveness of some debt, but Germany would not allow such a thing — “Deutschland über Hellas”, as someone has remarked); or for the fact that there is a very great deal of unemployment in some Southern countries of the EU, and that the eurozone economy as a whole is stagnating?

By all means, let us co-operate with the other countries of Europe, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, and seek to share a common vision. But when it comes to the political entity of the European Union, I will vote to leave it. The EU can hardly continue long in its present form, and if we remain a member it is impossible to forecast how its changes may affect us, willy nilly.

For me, the overriding consideration is that EU legislation and policies, which have force in the UK, are initiated by unelected commissioners responsible to no electorate. “Challenging political elites when they err has value,” you say. How can anyone challenge unelected officials? Neither does it appear to me that the nation states of Europe are yet ready for the political unification that EU leaders advocate (as the Very Revd Dr John Arnold does in the same issue).

3 Moody Road
Oxford OX3 0DH


From Margaret Bull
Sir, — After reading your leader comment on 3 June I have come very close to cancelling your paper. The referendum should have been called, and it most certainly should not be called off.

Those of us who were able to vote in the 1970s voted for a Common Market place. We did not vote to become a member of a United States of Europe. Politicians, on all sides, have betrayed us over this. We have sat and watched our democratic values be submerged under the rules and regulations of an unelected power mad elite, who do not appear to have any one holding them to account. The most telling example of this is the fact that the accounts for the EU have never been able to be signed off by the auditors. This stinks of corruption.

Yes, house prices might fall if we come out. Good. The young may have a better chance of being able to buy. It breaks my heart to see the desperate plight of the refugees and migrant workers, risking their lives to come to some imagined Eldorado, which is not always the case, especially for young women.

18 High Street
Warwickshire CV8 1LZ


From Mr John Wallace
Sir, — May I congratulate you on one of the most sensible pieces I have read concerning the EU referendum? It takes courage to say “Cancel it,” but it is the most logical position to take.

The referendum was designed as an act of appeasement by David Cameron which has rebounded on him. Sadly, time has passed to stop this juggernaut; so we have to hope and pray that sense prevails and that we remain part of the EU.

The “bureaucrats” so often castigated are no less democratic than our own civil service. We had an opportunity last year to vote for our 70-plus MEPs, who have the ultimate power. Unfortunately, very few used this opportunity to elect mainstream candidates committed to making Europe work for the common good rather than wrecking it.

14 Church Street
Leighton Buzzard
Beds LU7 1BT


From the Revd Kim Fabricius

Sir, — Thank you for your leader comment (3 June). Amid the cacaphony of falsehoods and flapdoodle from both Brexit and Remain — with their sound-bite utilitarian appeals to the basest instincts of fear and self-interest, and their absence of any vision of political and cultural renewal — you speak with the judiciousness of the wise and the urgency of the prophet.

Given its genetic xenophobia, Brexit was always going to wage a morally bankrupt campaign, but to watch Remain squander its spiritual capital with the alacrity of the prodigal has been both agonising and infuriating.

So, thanks for telling it as it is. Would that your leader were read from every pulpit some time this month.

17 Carnglas Road
Swansea SA2 9BJ


From the Ven. Norman Russell
Sir, — Paul Vallely was partly right to observe (Comment, 27 May) that the arguments for leaving the European Union are based around sovereignty and control over immigration. He does not, however, mention the Commission’s rather more serious lack of democratic accountability.

None the less, he may be right in thinking that economics will win the day. But there is much more to economics than comparisons between headline figures of predicted GDP. Despite the appearance of accuracy, these are always dependent on the (usually contestable) assumptions fed into the mathematical models; there are also other issues that have long been recognised in economics discourse.

In 1967, the late E. J. Mishan, then a Reader at the London School of Economics, published The Costs of Economic Growth. At the heart of his important little book was a memorable parable describing an economy in which the GDP was impressive, but predicated on a society in which no one in their right mind would wish to live.

Mishan, who was interested in welfare economics, was making the important point that a GDP attractive to bankers, international investors, and property owners does not necessarily guarantee a society in which ordinary people are able to flourish.

In the UK, successive governments, Labour, Coalition, and Conservative have been less than candid about levels of immigration. There is very little sign that any of them developed adequate complementary strategies with respect to the provision of housing, medical services, or schools. Some of your readers will have read about “the generation that can’t afford to have babies”, because in London they can afford to rent only a one-bedroom flat.

The present terms of EU membership allowing uncontrolled immigration are not the sole cause of these and other problems, but they are demonstrably a contributor and have a seriously negative effect on the personal flourishing of a good many people in a variety of communities.

We should, of course, look carefully at economics, but remember that serious economic discourse takes account of much more than headline GDP figures.

47A Theobalds Way

Frimley, Surrey GU16 9RF


From the Revd Jonathan Frais
Sir, — The debate on the EU referendum (3 June) omits three issues.

First, does Article XXXVII (the monarch “is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction”) bind the clergy to vote “Leave”?

Second, does the design of the European Parliament building in Strasbourg (after Bruegel’s The Tower of Babel) and the statue outside the Parliament in Brussels of the rape of Europa by Zeus (while the EU Constitution declines to reference the Christian history of the Continent) permanently favour ungodliness?

Third, does not the biblical idea of living “in Babylon” (1 Peter 5.13) invite us to leave if we can?

The Rectory, 11 Coverdale Avenue
Bexhill, East Sussex TN39 4TY


The Church Commissioners and ExxonMobil

From Mr Edward Mason
Sir, — The Revd Hugh Lee contends that shareholder engagement with ExxonMobil on climate change has failed and that divestment would be the better option (Letters, 3 June). The Church Commissioners do not agree.

Significant progress is being made by shareholders on climate change with the oil and gas majors. After shareholder engagement in which the Church Commissioners have played a great part, BP, Shell, Statoil, and Total have all agreed to provide detailed annual reporting on their strategic response to the risks and opportunities posed by the transition to a low-carbon economy. We are already seeing changes in their approach to public policy, capital allocation, and low-carbon opportunities.

US companies, including Exxon, are outliers. The Commissioners are at the forefront of investors pressing them to change. The resolution we proposed at the company’s AGM in May was backed by investors with more than $10 trillion of assets, and saw the highest ever vote against management (38 per cent) on a resolution on climate change at Exxon. While not a majority, it was a major shareholder revolt, which should be heeded.

The Commissioners believe that both divestment and engagement have a part to play in promoting transition to a low-carbon economy. We have already divested from companies specialising in the highest-carbon fossil fuels — thermal coal and oil sands. Our climate-change policy includes the option of further divestment. But with Exxon under more shareholder pressure than ever before, now is not the moment to call time and sell our shares to another investor that may have no interest in mobilising action on climate change.

There is no magic bullet that the Commissioners or any other investor can deploy to create a low-carbon economy. Sustained work over many years is needed from all of us. Under our climate-change policy, we are committed to a comprehensive effort involving corporate- and public-policy engagement, low-carbon investment, and divestment, while managing the Church’s endowment for our beneficiaries in a responsible way. We intend to be in this for the long haul.

Head of Responsible Investment
Church Commissioners
Church House
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ

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