NOW that Article 50 has been triggered, it occurs to me to wonder whether the Bible might offer any parallels with Brexit.
For the most optimistic Brexiteers, our departure is a kind of Exodus, an escape from the oppression of Euro-bureaucracy and a triumphant march to the Promised Land of low taxes, curbed immigration, and free trade with anyone.
Should doubts come up on the journey, there are plenty of latter-day Moseses to remind us of our former slavery: how we once had to contribute to Euro MPs’ inflated expenses and collude in the decimation of our fishing fleets. Whether Brexit is orderly or disorderly does not really matter — indeed, there is a certain glee in the thought that we might “crash out” of Europe, battered but proud, poor but free at last.
The remaining Remainers are more likely to be contemplating a kind of internal exile, in which Britain is increasingly distanced from her immediate neighbours, and so from our place in the world. The thought of reimposed borders at Calais and elsewhere represents an unwelcome loss of comradeship, free movement of peoples and ideas, and shared values.
The only chance is to cling on to as much of this as we can, hoping to salvage something lasting from the wreckage of our former faith. Vaguely, the Remainers experience their condition as a punishment, a judgement on their failure to grasp the discontent of those who wanted out. They might also contemplate that leaving Europe is only one aspect of a greater exile ahead, after the break-up of the UK, and even the end of the monarchy. Britain as an entity is finished, and we are reduced to being Little England.
If scripture is to guide us in these uncertain times, the only thing that we can be sure of is that our expectations are unlikely to be fulfilled. The Exodus ended in savage warfare, the promised land was not taken without cost, and stability took years to establish and was arguably always fragile.
Nor was the exile the unmitigated disaster that it might have been. It was the beginnings of the Jewish diaspora: it brought new interpretations of faith, new insights into the meaning of being God’s people. Again, there were disappointments along the way. The return to the land was not the glorious fulfilment foretold by the exilic prophets, but a slow, patchy, and only partial recovery.
Politicians, like prophets, point to glory or disaster, but scripture as a whole never promises a rose garden, or underestimates the capacity of nations to screw things up. In the end, our earthly pilgrimage is a hard slog, with a heavenly vision to keep us going, and much confusion along the way.