The Christian case for a people’s vote

by
21 September 2018

Brexit will harm the young most: the Church must get behind a second referendum, argues Eve Alcock

PA

Members of the group Our Future, Our Choice protest outside Chequers during the Prime Minister’s Brexit Cabinet meeting, in July

Members of the group Our Future, Our Choice protest outside Chequers during the Prime Minister’s Brexit Cabinet meeting, in July

THE referendum outcome split the country pretty much straight down the middle: 51.9 per cent voted to leave, and 48.1 per cent voted to remain.

Since that vote, many of the promises made by the Leave campaign have been broken. Based on lies and deception — hopes of an extra £350 million to the NHS per week, no change to the Irish border, and a “jobs first Brexit” have since been dashed. The Brexit that people voted for in 2016 is not the Brexit that we know today, particularly with the threat of no deal on the horizon.

But perhaps most worrying for Christians are the attitudes of individuality, pride, moral superiority, and grandiosity that Brexit has fostered in the UK. The narcissistic notion that we can “go it alone”, the nostalgia for British supremacy, and the intolerance and prejudice surfacing daily are precisely what the life and teachings of Jesus warned us about.

In his letter to the Philippians, St Paul addresses a prosperous Roman colony in Philippi falling into the same trap as we have: self-centred pride and a sense of superiority in their identity. Recognising this, St Paul teaches: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”

Right from its inception as a selfish promise — based on party management from David Cameron to appease potential UKIP voters — to its manifestation today, which is driven by a desire to “take back control” and fulfil the country’s “destiny”, as Boris Johnson put it, Brexit is born out of selfish ambition and vain conceit.

Yet St Paul commands the Philippians: “With humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others.”

 

ONE way in which Christians can do this is by supporting the movement that is demanding a people’s vote on the terms of the final Brexit deal.

Advertisement

As a 22 year-old Christian, I believe that a people’s vote is a chance to put our money where our mouth is when we talk about living like Christ. A decision made two years ago that hits the poorest hardest, chooses independence over interdependence, and was based on selfish ambition and deceit is simply not one that sits comfortably in my theology. That is not who I know Christ to be. Jesus encouraged an interdependent way of living, a sense of community that was countercultural by breaking down barriers and defying hierarchical norms. It was founded on deep love and generosity.

The impact of Brexit will be felt most severely by young people such as myself. It will disproportionately affect your nieces and nephews, your children — and even your children’s children. Our universities rely on EU research funding. Our ability to work and study abroad rely on Erasmus+ and free movement. If it goes ahead, our country could be paying off a divorce bill until I am 68.

All this, for a future that we did not choose: more than 70 per cent of young people voted to remain, and more than 1.5 million young people have turned 18 since 2016, who did not get a say in the referendum. Leave won the referendum by just over 1.2 million votes — you do the maths.

And then there are the EU citizens living in the UK who are terrified of losing out on housing and jobs in a post-Brexit Britain, especially after the Empire Windrush scandal. Spare a thought for our Irish brothers and sisters for whom the Irish border issue threatens peace in their communities. Think about people of colour, for whom the overwhelming anti-immigrant rhetoric peddled during the Leave campaign led to a stark rise in hate crime after we voted to leave.

 

THIS is kind of rhetoric that Jesus, as a Middle Eastern child refugee growing up in a hostile empire at a politically turbulent time, would have been familiar with. He was no stranger to politics, but he did not resemble the kind of politicians that might have advocated for Brexit. He was crucified by those very rulers and authorities. Instead, he would have looked far more like the children on Farage’s infamous immigration poster, refused asylum and deported back to his own country to be killed by Herod after all.

To support a People’s Vote on the terms of the Brexit deal is to advocate against a hunger for power, wealth, pride, and selfishness. It is a decision to choose tolerance, openness, and community. It is to say no to selfish ambition and vain conceit and, instead, as St Paul taught us, not merely to look out for our own interests but the interests of others.

 

Eve Alcock is President of the University of Bath Students’ Union, and a supporter of For Our Future’s Sake, a youth and student-led campaign for a people’s vote. ffsakes.uk

Church Times: about us

Latest Cartoon

The Church Times Podcast

Interviews and news analysis from the Church Times team. Listen to this week’s episode online

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read twelve articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)