Comments: Reflecting on the outcome of the EU Referendum

Andrew Lightbown - to quote the Krankies, Fan-dabi-dozi. Absolutely cracking piece.

Posted by Kate at Friday, 1 July 2016 at 11:23pm BST

Desmond Tutu once famously said "When people say that the Bible and politics don't mix, I ask them what Bible they are reading."
I think I rather agree with the former Dean of Wells for it seems to me that the "lead" given by our bishops and deans (with the honourable exception of Michael Sadgrove, Dean Emeritus of Durham)in that dreadfully divisive Referendum "debate" has been, to say the least, Laodicean.
In this respect our religious and spiritual leaders response has been similar to the half-hearted and indifferent backing given to the REMAIN campaign by Mr. Corbyn on the left and Mrs. May on the right.
The end result is that a major plank of our Foreign Policy has been decided by the residents of Boston, Clacton, Hartlepool, Sunderland and Yarmouth. As the Bishop of Burnley has pointed out these are the people who will unfortunately suffer most from a Brexit victory as we prepare to cut the ties with the EU and descend ever deeper into political and economic mayhem.

Posted by Father David at Saturday, 2 July 2016 at 7:09am BST

It's an unpopular idea at the moment but is certain to come - a second referendum, perhaps couched in terms of 'is the new Brexit deal that the government has negotiated acceptable?' The answer to this will almost certainly be a rejection and et voila a second referendum will have delivered a wish to remain in Europe.

In this plausible scenario, just as the Archbishops made their view clear before the referendum just past, so the Church will need to have an opinion again.

Discuss ...

Posted by Nicholas Henderson at Saturday, 2 July 2016 at 12:22pm BST

Anna Rowlands' analysis is superb.

She calls us towards the true political objective: "the real object: the pursuit of the life of the common good."

And she makes the sharp point, that when local community fails, and people lose cohesion at the local level, how can we expect them to look out for others from outside?

"When civic institutions are largely gone or viewed as irrelevant, where... do we form bonds of affection and a sense of shared life across different classes, ethnicities and faiths?"

There is a sense in which community life has been hollowed out from inside, and people have looked to themselves more and more, and also suffered neglect from the political centre.

As society has broken down - in a communal sense - and the benefits of the European project have seemed to benefit the privileged, not the dispossessed... people have looked to the nation for protection, identity, support of community. Europe has seemed distant, remote, too large in the face of local loss, bitterly felt of:

"the institutions that were meant to guarantee our common bonds, to ground our common life... There is mourning for the loss of "settled" community. And so, the last utopia for many is... the nation-state. In the face of precarity and the erosion of communities, the protector of the local and the fragile becomes the national: the nation-state as a vehicle for memory and aspiration."

And yet, national politics (in England at least) also seems remote and broken.

Deep solutions start with community and relationships. There is surely a power vacuum here, but the question for Christians is how can we help mobilise true community, true democracy, true 'common weal', when national politics seems invested in neo-liberalism and austerity for the poor, and democracy grows brittle and fragile, and people look to their own defences (and enemies).

If we take a look at Jesus, he did not try to 'own' the establishment... he brought a new message, a new politics, and it started 'out there' in local community.

Yet in many ways, it overturned the world. When the Church becomes part of the 'establishment', part of a professional and privileged class... it needs to guard against the loss of roots... even as people in our communities have suffered loss of roots, of active, caring, neighbourliness and sense of belonging to a common good, that welcomes, shares, and cares.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 2 July 2016 at 3:35pm BST


I was less impressed with Anna Rowlands' analysis. She rails against an overly simplistic assessment of motivation for voting Leave and her analysis there I agree is very good.

But after pointing out that Leave is grounded in a sense of Identity, she then fails to grasp that Remain is too. She talks of Remain voters losing tangible financial benefits but doesn't recognise that Remain is about actively having a sense of European identity which had superseded, and for some replaced, national identity.

Leave asked people to vote for a British identity but the result rips away the European identity of the other half of the population.

And that is why Brexit will fail. Half the population now identifies as European more than British and will spend the next forty years fighting for that identity against the Britishers's of Leave. Civil wars have started for less.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 2 July 2016 at 6:42pm BST

Kate, I wasn't really worried about the 'sides' involved. I was saddened by what I think is her correct analysis about the loss / deterioration of community in England (and almost abandonment by the political classes). And I feel that her analysis is correct, in suggesting that the Church has an opportunity to try to right that wrong. If God the Holy Trinity - the God of eternal community and relationship - doesn't show us what is really important I life and society, then it's probably because we don't listen or open ourselves enough to God.

The building of community is vital, and yet we live in an era of budget cuts, library closures, and transfer of provisions to often distant private/corporate groups for the care of the elderly.

The breakdown of community has occurred because of economic and also political reasons - "there is no such thing as society" etc. The political elite (for example Labour under Tony Blair) became more metropolitan, less in touch with grassroots, more professionally centrist.

When it comes to Remain or Leave, my personal view was very borderline, though I voted remain in the end. What I liked about Anna Rowlands' piece was that she majored not on a partisan position, but on the need at the heart of it all: the need for community, the need for relationship, the need to care for others. Such things don't happen by magic, or because of the EU, or leaving it. They happen by people building, and caring about the common good. And this community building is something that the Church is (or should be) right at the heart of.

In the places where people feel politically abandoned. The places where there is a poignant sense of lost community.

I (narrowly) voted Remain, but I definitely understand and empathise with why many people didn't.

What is most needed is not the EU establishment or the Westminster establishment. What is needed is sense of belonging, where people live, and there is a huge role the Church can play in that precious community building.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 2 July 2016 at 11:31pm BST

We are in a period of social change as abrupt as the industrial revolution. Historians will look back and identify that many minorities were treated badly. With that I agree.

But community is changing rather than being lost. Community of interest is replacing spatial proximity. That will transform Christian fellowship but is massively disruptive for the Church which is so focused on the number of bums on seats IE upon physical presence.

Methodist Pastor Tim Ross wanted to offer a Twitter Eucharist. The Methodist Church blocked it. But I think the Church must get past a sentimental view that community is based entirely on geography and start building a global community. I believe that Ross expressed the view that the inclusion of Christ within a [virtual] gathering was far more important than the spacial proximity of those involved. I entirely agree.

In many ways the LGBT community is like that already. Yes, cruising and local hookups are part of the community for some, but equally if I was moving to Newcastle, or Edinburgh of even New York, it wouldn't take me too much effort to make some contacts there through the grapevine before I physically arrived. In my experience it is a community which transcends locality to a degree the Church of England cannot yet comprehend, let alone implement.

The referendum showed a large generational effect with the younger generation forging new communities and not feeling as dislocated. In this the age profile of the Church of England is a serious hindrance to the rapid modernisation needed.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 3 July 2016 at 6:50am BST

In 2008, after a hate campaign, 52 percent of Californians voted to strip marriage rights from lesbian and gay couples: seven million outvoted six million.

Did the defeated side roll over and accept the tyranny of the majority? Did they hell: Proposition 8 was struck down in federal court. The majority were overruled by the Constitution.

Popular sovereignty's meaningless without the rule of law, and an indispensable part of sovereignty is the right to change your mind and undo what's been done. It's not down to the government to decide to grant the people another say in light of broken promises and fraud: it's their unalienable right to decide, and rights aren't given, they're taken.

Posted by James Byron at Sunday, 3 July 2016 at 8:00pm BST

Thank you, James. You have just presented the case for a second Scottish independence referendum. Circumstances have changed since last year, and the Scottish people have the right to call a referendum (via their representatives in Holyrood) to establish whether Scotland has changed its mind.

The sovereignty of the Scottish people is poorly defended and upheld, when Scotland elects only 1 Conservative MP out of 59 Scottish seats, yet gets landed with an austerity-driven Conservative government. And votes 62-38% to remain in the EU, and yet apparently will be taken out of the EU.

That democratic deficit is quite stark, and the Scottish people may wish to re-assess the decision we took last year. That is entirely up to us. We could, of course, still remain good neighbours and best buddies.

Self-determination is indeed an inalienable right, and - to return to the Anglican context of this website - applies to matters of conscience within the Church as well. It is a matter of human dignity. Priests and local churches should be able to follow their consciences, and build community in their own integrity, and politics on the street works a bit like that as well.

The difference between England and Scotland thus far being, that democracy came alive on the street in Scotland last year, and the people became politically engaged at grassroots level. However, I still sense that in England they look to their 'betters' (Westminster) to sort things out, rather than mobilise themselves. Time will tell whether the close referendum result changes that.

Similarly, there seems to be a stronger inclination in the Church of England to let central authority impose uniformity from Lambeth, whereas in the SEC the signs are that people are going to be trusted at a local level to 'decide' and exercise a diversity of consciences, with respect for that diversity.

There is a lot to play for in both situations, but this EU vote has played right into the hands of those Scots who campaign for independence, so the EU vote has potential consequences for the 'UK' union as well as the 'EU' one.

I voted for the 'UK' to remain in Europe, and I shall vote for Scotland to remain in Europe if that case arises in a second referendum. Scotland has aligned with continental Europe many times in its history, but that is a matter for the whole Scottish nation to decide. We should not shy away from democracy even if it is fluid and people change their minds.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Sunday, 3 July 2016 at 10:58pm BST

"The difference between England and Scotland thus far being, that democracy came alive on the street in Scotland last year, and the people became politically engaged at grassroots level. However, I still sense that in England they look to their 'betters' (Westminster) to sort things out, rather than mobilise themselves. Time will tell whether the close referendum result changes that."

I suspect, Susannah, that the difference lies in different concepts of sovereignty: in Scotland, the people are sovereign; in England and Wales, the Westminster parliament claims sovereignty via the Crown (and the Crown, though it keeps it on the Q.T. these days, from God). If sovereignty's something top-down, you expect top-down solutions.

Parliamentary sovereignty's just another species of authoritarianism: law is whatever the legislature says it is. Worse, this E.U. referendum appears to have fused that notion with a bastardized version of popular soveriengty, where the votes of 52 percent of the people take on the status of holy writ (but parliament gets to deny them another vote). So much for flexibility.

No. Vox populi isn't vox dei. Legislatures aren't sovereign. People are fallible, whether they write scripture, speak ex cathedra, or vote in legislatures and referenda. All descisions must be reviewable according to the principles of fundamental justice, and if they don't measure up, be cast aside.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 4 July 2016 at 6:23am BST

It is good to hear such a respected MP as Dominic Grieve (former Attorney General)speaking about the possibility of a second EU Referendum as so many who rashly voted LEAVE are now expressing the view that they wished they had voted REMAIN in the light of the mayhem that has resulted following a Brexit win.
The Church of England offers the perfect model concerning a second vote. With regard to both the General Synod's votes to introduce women into the priesthood and the episcopate - the first votes, in both cases, were NO while the second vote produced a YES vote, thus casting us further afield from the two Great Churches of East and West - just as the Referendum result has loosened our political, financial and economic links with the mainland continent of Europe.
How disappointing it is to see those who are responsible for the current chaos and turmoil (Cameron, Johnson and Farage) are resigning from their responsibilities and abandoning ship.

Posted by Father David at Tuesday, 5 July 2016 at 8:08am BST

Martin Percy's excellent essay has much to commend it. Party politics aside, his recommendation for a new outlook in both Church and State in the U.K. seems highly commendable. There is no room in today's world for isolationism. God's world, though diverse, was created to be inclusive. No one nation can expect to 'go it alone' anymore. As with the Church, the Body of Christ, we all need to look to and nurture what unites us - rather than seek to dwell on our divisions.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 5 July 2016 at 9:46am BST

You asked us to discuss, Nicholas. I too favour a second referendum as a way to get us out of the mess we are now in.
Like Susannah, I voted remain, but with a heavy heart. Idealistically, of course we should be part of a larger grouping but the group we were being asked to reaffirm is so deeply flawed, so far short of any ideal, that I was reluctant to encourage it by voting to remain. But I feared the consequences of leaving, and the turmoil and political vacuum now developing is far worse than I imagined.
Normally of course the best way to reform an institution is to remain in it and argue from the inside. But the EU's biggest flaw is its glaring lack of democracy, so that approach can't work. If you doubt this assertion, look at the results of the European Parliament elections two years ago, which were won in this country by UKIP, and other secessionist parties in France, Germany and elsewhere also did well. But it made not one iota of difference to the direction of travel - the ruling oligarchy just carried on as if nothing had happened, because, as far as they were concerned, nothing HAD happened. The EP is merely a form of theatre, put in place to deceive the proletariat into thinking the institution is democratic, but in reality it has no power at all.
Immediately after the vote, my fervent hope was that the result would provide the shock needed to bring about fundamental reform in the EU, but that currently looks very unlikely indeed, as the oligarchy are hunkering down and playing hardball in the hope (probably futile) of preventing contagion.
Nevertheless, like Nicholas, I cling to the hope of a second referendum when the terms of our departure become clearer. It was sheer folly to allow a referendum which could decide such a momentous issue on such a narrow vote. There should have been a higher threshold, as in 1975.

Posted by Malcolm Dixon at Tuesday, 5 July 2016 at 5:41pm BST

Some of the comments submitted have spilled over into a discussion of one or other of the party leadership contests. That's off-topic for this thread, sorry.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Sunday, 10 July 2016 at 4:19pm BST

Apparently a thousand Barristers now are of the opinion that the Referendum result is not legally binding and merely advisory. They state that the campaign "was influenced by misrepresentation of fact and promises that could not be delivered". Amen to that!

Posted by Father David at Monday, 11 July 2016 at 10:42am BST
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.