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Brexit’s biblical parallels

07 April 2017

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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.

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