Brexit in the balance: responses to our special issue
From Professor Richard Bauckham
Sir, — I wonder whether those who advocate a second referendum have considered how bitter and divisive it would be. The 2016 referendum stirred up more visceral emotion than any political event in this country for decades.
The small rise in anti-immigrant incidents after the vote was matched by an outburst of elitist fury against the stupid bigots who voted to leave and should never have been allowed to vote. In a second referendum, we would all know (as we did not in 2016) how close the result would probably be. The stakes would be higher, the rhetoric more belligerent, and the rifts in our society more painfully exposed.
Moreover, there is the difficulty of deciding what question(s) should be asked. Since there will be several options available, it is hard to see how the choice given to voters would not tilt the result in one direction rather than another. There would be plenty of scope for questioning whether the result really reflected what people wanted.
Those who feel that Brexit is disconnecting them from Europe could well consider a different way forward. As has often been said, we are leaving the EU but we are not leaving Europe. The Single Market, with its dogmatically inseparable four freedoms, is not Europe. It is an economic construct designed to further a specific political vision of European unity. The EU’s project is by no means the only way in which European nations can live together in peace and collaboration.
In recent years, I have visited Switzerland a few times. It does not seem to me isolationist, xenophobic, or puffed up with nationalistic arrogance. That Switzerland has chosen not to join the particular political project that is the EU does not prevent the Swiss from relating in all sorts of beneficial ways to their neighbours on the Continent. Post-Brexit Britain, if we want it to, can be European as well as global.
11 Archway Court
Cambridge CB2 9LW
From the Rt Revd Frank White
Sir, — The editorial and articles on the subject of Brexit (Comment, 21 September) offered welcome insights into this paralysing question. Meanwhile, the momentum for a second vote is growing. Is there another way to come to a final decision?
A free vote of MPs in the House of Commons on the proposed deal would restore responsibility to the people whom we elected to make difficult decisions such as this. MPs are elected to discern the common good, which, sadly, the Leave and Remain camps have cast into a state of confusion. Such difficult circumstances call for exceptional solutions.
MPs are not delegates in thrall to electors’ demands, or even to hastily written manifestos. They are community representatives charged with seeking the welfare of all those in their constituencies. They should be free to vote as their conscience directs and with the supporting prayers of all of us.
When we have their decision then the Government will have the proper authority with which to proceed.
Hullen House, 11a Woodfield Lane
Hessle, East Yorkshire HU13 0ES
From the Revd Andrew McLuskey
Sir, — People of faith can legitimately differ on the Brexit issue. It is fair to say, however, that — wherever we stand in the debate — there can be no place for the xenophobia or crass populism which has already threatened to emerge.
17 Diamedes Avenue, Stanwell
Surrey TW19 7JE
From the Revd Toddy Hoare
Sir, — It was an interesting array of articles about the pro-EU standpoints around Brexit. I pick up on Lord Green’s description of three circles and wonder why transition is so hard between them and a fourth — us the UK out — when other member states clearly want to move. So many years since it was set up, some changes are long overdue, changes that, sadly, David Cameron failed to initiate, despite the threat of a referendum.
That referendum, for better or for worse, has been, and, if a decision is forced by a referendum, it is pointless to form policies about further referendums. All hands are required at the pumps to achieve the stability demanded.
There are things that have been long overlooked. London is a bubble out of touch with the north. There is a north-south divide. Having ministered in the north-east and now based in Oxford, I witness big differences, not irreconcilable, but essentially to do with people, where they are and what they need.
Politicians also overlook that we are an island: geographically, we are detached from Europe, which in itself calls for our own special measures. Being an island dependent on trade means that we also need to make wider trade arrangements; so there needs to be provision. We have considerable fishing waters, and are an advanced agricultural system; so the EU covering the land mass that it does cannot shoe-horn everything into a one-size-fits-all.
There is too much media doom and gloom for the average citizen to see a way forward, but there are few reports of what changes the EU has to make when we leave, which in turn may help clarify a way forward. There are other aspects that need no change if heads would come out of the sand: security, defence, education, and research as these should continue to be shared. Surely some of the complex trade inter-relationships are capable of finding their own level, which should throw some light in turn on working out the Irish border problems, without becoming a no-deal Brexit.
Lastly, when one considers that our welfare state and NHS are so open to being milked, it is hardly surprising that immigration and the NHS are often misquoted as the main concerns leading to Brexit. Though it is clear that these issues need addressing, there is also a need for those from abroad to supplement our economy and facilities. What is overlooked is the £3 trillion outstanding on plastic cards; so Brexit may be the sharp shock that leads to future belt-tightening.
Pond Farm House, Holton
Oxford OX33 1PY
From Mr David Lamming
Sir, — You are to be commended for the extensive and broad coverage on the issues facing our nation over Brexit. So much of the current political debate is infected by, as you put it, “personal ambition and infighting”, as so-called Brexiteers exchange vague promises or threats. As Bishop Baines rightly says, the Church “can and must contribute to improving the nature of the discourse”.
It is ironic that you quote David Davis (the former Brexit Secretary) in saying that we should be building “a national consensus wherever possible”. It was Mr Davis, when in Opposition, who said this in 2002 about the then Labour government’s plans to hold referendums on proposals for regional government: “There is a proper role for referendums in constitutional change, but only if done properly. If it is not done properly, it can be a dangerous tool. . .
“Referendums should be held when the electorate are in the best possible position to make a judgement. They should be held when people can view all the arguments for and against and when those arguments have been rigorously tested. In short, referendums should be held when people know exactly what they are getting... We should not ask people to vote on a blank sheet of paper and tell them to trust us to fill in the details afterwards.”
Electors did not “know exactly what they [would be] getting” when they voted in 2016. Democracy does not rule out the possibility of a change of mind. Paul Vallely (“No one should be disenfranchised”) and Eve Alcock (“The Christian case for a people’s vote”) set out powerfully the arguments for a “People’s Vote” on the terms of the Brexit deal (or no deal). That referendum must include the option of voting to stay in the EU when, as you put in in your editorial, “the electorate can, for the first time, give their informed consent.”
The European Council President, Donald Tusk, has told MEPs that the UK would leave the bloc unless it had a “change of heart”, and added: “We haven’t had a change of heart. Our hearts are still open for you” (BBC website, 16 January). Are our hearts still open for our neighbours across the Channel?
20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Suffolk CO10 5HU
From Mr Richard Bloor
Sir, — Your contributors on Brexit think that it is “destructive” to support Brexit. The main reason seems to be that we should be closer to European countries. Indeed, this is what the European draft constitution demands in its object of “ever closer union”. Many of us voted against Remain precisely for this reason: to retain our sovereignty and not become part of a federal Europe. We wish to retain our flexibility to unite with other world powers.
The leaders of the EU have made it perfectly plain that, if we remain, we shall all be part of a single state incorporating the draft constitution. This may be what the Bishop of Leeds desires, but I do not think it would be good for our sovereign nation or the Church of England.
The Springs, Burton Overy
Leicestershire LE8 9DF
From the Revd Christopher Smith
Sir, — I thought it strange that, in a ten-page Brexit special, all or nearly all 15 articles, were pro EU membership. I rang to see whether there would a similar pro-Leave special this week; apparently not. The leader comment “Yes to Europe” echoed the 1975 column, a short extract from which was printed below.
The original also included the observations: “Day after day in the past weeks members of both main political parties as well as professed economic experts have contradicted one another, with one side calling continued membership ‘a recipe for total disaster’ and with the other affirming ‘it would be sheer national insanity for Britain to quit.’ . . .
“As for the purely economic arguments it is impossible for anyone to decide with confidence whether food will be dearer or cheaper, unemployment greater or less, by reason of British involvement in Europe. It is an open question, on which opposing experts roundly accuse each other of downright lying.”
Well, little change there in 40 years, but it’s a shame that the Church Times couldn’t offer the balance in 2018 that it at least attempted in 1975. Whether we are in the EU or not, surely we can hope that fair play remains a British value.
Homedean Road, Chipstead
Sevenoaks TN13 2RU
From the Revd Professor James H. Grayson
Sir, — In your special issue of 21 September on Brexit, along with others who voted to leave the European Union (not Europe), I am distressed by the continued implication by Remainers that anyone who voted as I did did so because they were racial bigots, ill-informed, ignorant of the consequences of their decision, and other disparaging comments. I voted to leave because of the essentially undemocratic and unrepresentative nature of the political institutions at the heart of Union which work against the interests of ordinary people.
There is, for example, no proper system of subsidiarity (as in many federal nations such as Canada or the US). People as diverse as Frank Field or Gisela Stuart voted to leave the European Union and did so for reasons of principle, a principle of having the best political and economic arrangements for the mass of our population.
The call for a second referendum reminds one of the referendums held to approve the Treaty of Lisbon, the legal framework for today’s EU. After France, the Netherlands, and Ireland voted to reject it, the Commission told Ireland to vote again (to get the “right” result, which happened), and then said that it would be OK if the Treaty was then ratified by national legislatures.
Let us accept the result of the referendum, work to get the best deal, and not accuse those who voted to leave the EU as bigots or woefully ignorant folk.
JAMES H. GRAYSON
25 Whitfield Road
Sheffield S10 4GJ
From the Revd John Ray
Sir, — Thank you for your Brexit special. The contributions from Professor Anthony Reddie (“The wounded psyche of white privilege”) and of Bishop David Chillingworth (“The view from across the nation’s borders”) specially pointed to the need for clergy and leaders in white English parishes to speak out against the rising tide of extremist language. Many church members have solid reasons for having voted Leave, but their cause is being overtaken by crude populism.
After 30 years in Pakistan and Kashmir and 27 in the Sparkbrook-Springfield area of Birmingham, my wife and I feel sure that a largely hidden and dangerous element in the present debate is fear of Islam. This fear, as the rollout of Brexit continues, is likely to move increasingly from words, spoken and printed, to actions.
At a recent meeting in all-white East Yorkshire, where we now live, I was asked how I felt about the state of affairs. My reply, “Too many reminders of 1930s Germany,” was met with incomprehension by those present. But if 2020s Britain is not to be like 1930s Germany, now is the time for all with influence to speak out for the common good. In our rather political family, I am old enough to remember my mother persuading my father against going to Spain to support the Republican cause in 1937.
The gospel need not fear Islam, though the defenders of secularist ideology may well do so. Christians like my friend Alan Craig, now UKIP’s children-and-families speaker, blame Islam for Rotherham and Rochdale. I well understand this, but the weakness is really in own society, unable to care for its lost youth.
It was the same during the messy Trojan Horse dispute five years ago. An Islamist trust could never have taken over state schools in Birmingham without the connivance and lack of understanding of our liberal society. The people who could see clearly what was happening were Muslims who valued the hard-won freedoms of Britain. It was the chair of the Muslim Women’s Network UK, as well as leading members of the Quilliam Foundation, who was ready and able to oppose those “destroying democracy in the name of democracy”.
Again, it has now taken a Muslim Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, to put to bed our enfeebled multiculturalism. His support for Louise Casey has contrasted with those in society who claim that she is targeting the Mirpuri communities. It has taken a straight-thinking insider to say that she was defending the women and children in those communities from the tyrannies that we have allowed them to suffer from their own patriarchal elders.
Great numbers of English people today are angry and disillusioned after decades of meaningless materialism. The danger is that, urged on by those who should know better, they will find a scapegoat in Muslim communities on which to vent their frustration when things turn out badly for the poor.
“It couldn’t happen here!” Oh, no? As one who has seen the mob coming down the street in Srinagar and whole communities displaced, who went to the Punjab just a decade after the events of Partition there in 1947, I would say that now is the time for Christians in leadership to make sure that it does not.
And can we not speak the gospel of Jesus to Muslims? Of course we can, but now we have to show that the Church is, in real terms, good news for them as for us all.
2 Birchfield, Hook, Goole
East Yorkshire DN14 5NJ
From Mr C. J. Ryecart
Sir, — Archbishop Welby’s proposals for “radical tax reforms” (News, 7 September) should serve as a reminder to the British people that at the heart of Britain’s economic malaise lies the mismanagement of the economy by a government committed to widening the gap between rich and poor.
The architects of Brexit have fooled the electorate into believing that exiting the EU will suddenly solve all our great economic and social problems. The reality is that Brexit cannot act as a substitute for the implementation of Archbishop Welby’s radical tax-reform proposals, which are necessary for a just society.
CHRISTOPHER JOHN RYECART
Weinberg 4, 4292 Kefermarkt
Upper Austria, Austria
‘Chilling effect’ of the Lobbying Act 2014
From the Revd Paul Nicolson
Sir, — Lord Young of Cookham’s answer to Lord Harries’s warning of the “chilling effect’ of the Lobbying Act 2014 (News, 21 September) could have done with a bit more research. He said that it was about maintaining the integrity of the electoral process by having transparency of expenditure.
But a charity does not have to spend extra money to oppose a political party. A statement on social media or a letter to the papers requires no extra expenditure at all. Such free speech is a fundamental right in a country signed up, like the UK, to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
And yet a letter from the Charity Commission to me, dated 10 April 2015, about the Lobbying Act 2014 states that “a charity must never support or oppose a political party”, not only when there is an election. That law means that the Church of England, a charity, can never lawfully oppose a political party, no matter how far the laws it makes stray from the Church’s principles of truth and justice, and from a peace that is not only the absence of conflict but also the presence of well-being for all. We are duty bound to oppose a Fascist party, but if the Bishops did so in the name of the Church of England, they would be like Christopher Robin treading carefully to avoid the bears “All ready to eat the sillies who tread on the lines of the street” — led by the Charity Commission.
Taxpayers Against Poverty.
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF