After Brexit, bonds of affection are crucial  

by
30 August 2019

Once the UK has left the EU, strong ecumenical relationships will be more vital than ever, argues Alexander Faludy

ANGLICANISM has a clear sense of its vocation to help the faithful to “read, mark, [and] learn” the words of holy scripture, as the BCP says. In the coming post-Brexit world, it is also called, I suggest, to help us “read and understand” our European neighbours better.

The imperative to understand our Continental partners better becomes clear after contemplating some of the misunderstandings that have brought us to the looming “no-deal” crunch. It is generally accepted that, since 2016, political leaders have repeatedly misread the UK’s domestic political scene, in both Parliament and country. The results have been painful for them — and especially for Theresa May — to experience, and for us to watch. Less understood is how not “getting” our European friends has worsened things.

In July 2017, the then Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, predicted: “The free-trade agreement . . . with the EU should be one of the easiest in human history.” The Telegraph’s Jeremy Warner asserted earlier this month that “Europe has more to fear from no deal than Britain.” Some have contested these views on account of the massively uneven EU-UK trade balance. I think that there is also an overlooked problem of perspective.

Just as “No man is an island,” the UK’s attempted withdrawal has not happened in a political vacuum in Europe. Brexit intersects with the EU’s most sensitive fissures at multiple points, and in ways guaranteed to deter the bloc’s leadership from accommodating Brexiteer “red lines”.

 

THE EU is faced with a struggle among remaining member countries to find a workable, redistributive solution to the challenge of mass migration from Africa and the Middle East. Against this backdrop, the idea that Brussels might grant the UK special favours that would allow it to retain complete economic integration without free movement of labour was never remotely plausible.

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Deep governance reform is needed to address serious rule-of-law issues in newer EU states. Reform cannot proceed while so much attention is devoted to Brexit. Moreover, further Brexit uncertainty turns the task of agreeing the next six-year budget cycle (finalisation is due in 2020) from intricate to nightmarish.

These are existential questions for our neighbours. The potential costs that deep institutional rupture or fiscal disturbance have for Messrs Barnier, Juncker, and Tusk always outweighed the value of lost British trade. Put bluntly, it is in their interests now to wish us “Au revoir” — even if Remainers wish that it were not.

For the future, it is vital that we have leaders and communities who understand both Europeans and the EU better. Working hard to bring this about will be even more important when we are outside the EU structures and less exposed to its discourse.

 

THE Church of England can make a difference. Before the 2016 EU referendum vote, leading bishops sought to offer an appearance of neutrality which could easily be confused with disengagement. In the strange “between time” between the referendum and today, they belatedly sought to play the part of civic reconciler, urging churches to hold “tea and prayer drop-ins” to encourage better conversations (News, 22 March).

Unfortunately, clergy were not given either adequate notice or a supply of extra tea bags. The project occasioned more satire than mutual understanding. When it comes to improving Anglo-European understanding after Brexit, however, the Church does have significant, if latent, gifts to bring to the table.

To date, the C of E’s ecumenical relationships in Europe have mainly been appreciated by those who have specialist interests or personal ties to the partner Churches. Those partnerships could now be a source of social capital.

The Porvoo, Meissen, and Reuilly agreements connect us, respectively, with Christians in the Nordic and Baltic States, France, and Germany. After Brexit, link-scheme visits, exchanges, and prayer cycles might carry a new significance, emphasising a “bond in the spirit” with people to whom we are no longer bound by laws or trade.

Most people in the pews know little or nothing of the work of the fast-growing diocese in Europe. It, too, could be a valuable resource. Parishes and deaneries on “the mainland” might twin with their equivalents in the diocese in Europe for friendship and mutual support.

Germany is the most prosperous, populous, and politically influential country in the EU. German-language teaching in this country, however, is tapering towards extinction: GCSE entry has shrunk by 67 per cent since 2002. As one of the main partners in education, the C of E might help to address the decline. Better still, integrating revived language teaching in church schools with diocesan partnership visits to German Landeskirchen might actually be fun.

None of the above should be offensive to churchgoers who voted Leave in 2016: they did so out of political disaffection, not xenophobia. Showing that they still care about spiritual fellowship with Christian neighbours in Europe might even be something that Leavers and Remainers could do together.

The Revd Alexander Faludy is an Anglican priest presently pursuing studies in law.

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