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Pilgrim, priest and ponderer. European living in North East England. Retired parish priest, theological educator, cathedral precentor and dean.

Friday 24 June 2016

On Saying Farewell to the EU: the morning after

Here is the blog I've written for the "Christians for Europe" website in the light of the Referendum result.


This is the day we hoped and prayed would never dawn. 

But it has. The UK has voted to leave the European Union. After months of debate, the voters have decided. And even it's by a narrow margin, so narrow that less than half of the eligible adult population are behind a Brexit, that's the outcome. To say we are disappointed doesn't begin to express it. But a vote is a vote. We respect it.

There will be much to reflect on in the days ahead. There will be post-mortems. Why didn't we Remainers succeed in making our case for EU membership? Why did the nation fall for the self-interested inward-looking arguments of the Leave campaign? Why did our national politics become so divisive? 

And more important, there will be big questions about the uncertain future that now lies ahead. What will become of the EU after this outcome? Will the UK's Union hold together or will Scotland go its own way? How do we reconfigure our trading relationships with the EU and the rest of the world? We suddenly find ourselves in a strange Brexit-land where there are no landmarks and no map. The next few months and years could be turbulent not only for the UK but for Europe and the world.

How should we as pro-EU people of faith respond?

During the campaign, "Christians for Europe" has tried to help frame the referendum as a matter not simply of pragmatic politics ("what's best for Britain") but also of social ethics and a theology of society. We've emphasised the central tenets of our faith: loving our neighbour, standing in solidarity with the disadvantaged, seeking the common good, promoting life together rather than apart. We've wanted to argue that the European project is based on a fundamentally Christian vision of nationhood and common life.

All this still stands. So even if, to our immense sadness, the UK will soon be walking away from the EU, it mustn't stop us from being good Europeans who will continue to work closely with the peoples of our continent who are our natural allies and friends. We must go on taking a global view of our place in the world and not draw in our horizons as if we were some insignificant offshore island. We must continue to work away at trying to create a more wholesome politics of respect and compassion both internationally and in our own country.

In that spirit we shall go on seeking the welfare of the human family and playing our part as good citizens of our nation and our world. That will involve the healing of the divisions that opened up during the Referendum campaign, and we are committed to this too in both word and action. And it goes without saying: we must now, more than ever, say our prayers. 

The Christian gospel of Jesus's death and resurrection makes us people of hope. We do not lose heart.


Perhaps I can end on a more personal note. If I say that I am heartbroken, I don't want you to think that I'm dramatising. But as this "day after" dawns, it's hard for me to see any good in it. So much of my own story is intertwined with the story of continental Europe - if you've been reading this blog regularly, you'll understand how. So it feels as if part of my identity is being stripped away, all that is symbolised by the words "European Union" displayed in the cover of my passport. I've been immensely proud of my EU citizenship. I've regarded it as a privilege to think of myself in that way. To face the fact that I am going to lose a fundamental aspect of myself feels terrible. It's as if a light is going out.

When it was clear that Leave were on their way to winning, Paddy Ashdown tweeted: "God help our country". I share his sense of desperation. Or is it desolation? Or devastation? All those words seem to fit. At a stroke, we find ourselves in exile. It feels like a lonely place to be.

But I know, of course, that it is not the end of the world, however bad it seems. What I wrote at the end of the official blog is the most important sentence of all. It's a quote from St Paul's second Corinthian letter where, having catalogued the ordeals and suffering he has had to face for the sake of the gospel, he speaks of his indomitable hope in the God of resurrection. "We do not lose heart."

I need to say those words to myself over and over again. It will take time to come to terms with what we have done as a nation. There are "fightings within and fears without". We undoubtedly face times of great difficulty. It may be that the UK may come to rue the day. But Paddy Ashdown has given me the clue about facing the future. "God help our country" is the best prayer we can say right now. For praying is all I can think of doing at this moment. 

God will not abandon us, for all that we have done something extraordinarily foolish. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. We must trust him. 


  1. God is always with us, but remember he is under no obligation to rescue us from our own stupidity. He will be with is in times of trouble.
    If I think back, it's plain we are here by accident. "Dave" didn't want a referendum. He offered one in order to get more votes in the General Election, and was then stuck with it. He probably expected another coalition, and the Lib Dems would have refused to hold one.
    I don't think Boris wanted out. I think he just wanted to position himself to his own best advantage. Sharing a platform with Dave wasn't it.
    So here we are, the answer nobody but Nigel Farage wanted, purely by accident. And Boris Prime Minister by Christmas, just as I predicted.
    We do give more in money than advantages we get back, that is true. But I'm not expecting to see any of that financial advantage myself. Most people won't. Workers' rights are mostly EU laws, which is depressing. So I expect an increase in the exploitation of the poor and powerless by the strong and powerful.
    And I think most people's reasons are encapsulated in that disgraceful UKIP poster. A queue of people fleeing for their lives made out to be a queue of benefit seekers.
    I daresay we will manage.
    I'm sorry you're so upset, Michael. From where I'm sitting, you haven't ceased to be European. Although, my computer doesn't like the diphthong I just put in! You are still you. I'm from Yorkshire. That doesn't stop me feeling proud of my Scottish heritage.
    And there's another possible consequence. Wur Nichola has a cast iron reason for another referendum in Scotland. And Gerry Adams a good one for a united Ireland. I wasn't sure, as you know. And I think the Remainers led a lack-lustre campaign. But I am a bit depressed, in the lay sense, this morning.

  2. Peace, Michael. Calm yourself. I'm one of the Leavers, but as I said, I was born into a sovereign state with a competent constitutional government, managed by a compassionate parliament. In those dark days, of course (1939) it was a cross-party government. These are not, by contrast, dark days. As you suggest yourself, we are now freed up to be more confident relatives of Europe and indeed the world. And the same compassionate government - irrespective of party politics - will now use all its skill to fare forward with a new political model. Everything has to refresh, and we have just opted out of an old political system that was no longer fully functional for our needs. Repeat - that does not mean, as you agree, that we opt out of Europe. Of course not! But we have a new, mature relationship with the continent, in place of the subordinate status that has never suited us as the fifth power of the modern world. When you have had a good sleep, you will wake up to this new, challenging and exciting dawn and be glad to remain British! What really pleases me about the state of the nation today is the reversal, pro tem, to oross-party leadership and co-operation. We are 'crossing the threshold of hope', to go forward together in our 'land of hope and glory/mother of the free'. I take glory to mean 'light', a light that extinguishes darkness. Take heart!

  3. The trouble is, Jean, some of us don't think we have a compassionate government, and I'm not sure we were subordinate! And we were always going to be British, after all.