After a very restless night, I have decided that this will be my last posting on the subject of Brexit. I am also taking my distance from groups on Facebook where many arguments depend on demonising or stereotyping the adverse position. One thing of which I am becoming increasingly aware is the divisiveness of this question. As my Bishop mentioned in his comment yesterday, he and I see eye to eye about many things, but his reaction to my postings on the political situation in our country was altogether predictable. One could almost say I was “asking for it”!
I have to be aware that he and many others voted to leave the EU in full lucidity. Perhaps a proportion voted under the influence of untrue information (the message on the iconic red bus about money for the NHS, etc.) or lack of education or culture. My Bishop is a thinking man and has always had a keen interest in the welfare of our country and its traditions. I too come from a conservative family attached to the same values of Christendom, patriotism, law, order and cultural cohesion. The conscience of the voter in the booth has to be respected, which is the foundation of democracy. My own father, now 90 years old, has said the same things about Brussels and the overbearing bureaucracy. I haven’t the heart to debate things with him. He needs his peace and quiet. Our country was increasingly being ruled from abroad and dictated to, so it seemed. The last straw was the quotas of Islamic immigrants to house, feed and legalise from an overburdened Welfare State. We feed ’em, house ’em and they behave as invaders, looting and raping. That, among other reasons, was why we had Brexit. Our country is small and housing is already unaffordable for young people in full-time jobs and good salaries. I might well have voted for it in 2016 had I not been out of England for more than fifteen years, and I might have failed to notice that I would have sawn off the very branch I was sitting on!
I have followed the news attentively over the past few weeks, and tried to understand things with a critical mind. I was swayed to the “remainer” camp by my predisposition to cosmopolitanism over nationalism, to an extent by the prospect of an end to free movement of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in Europe. The way I see things going, a negotiated Brexit or a cancellation of the entire Brexit project would seem to limit damage in comparison with the prospect of a “hard”, “blind” or “no-deal” Brexit. I have listened to informed analyses and opinions of the possible consequences of a second referendum and a cancellation of Brexit. The polarisation will not go away, and the general tendency worldwide is towards nationalism and authoritarian politics. A cancellation of Brexit would discredit all the mainstream political parties and institutions in the UK, leaving the door open to men like Nigel Farange, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson. That very door opened in France to Emmanuel Macron who is young and not affiliated to any traditional political ideology. Some of his economic policies are making him very unpopular in France. There may be more transport strikes in France in November and more Stack Operations in Kent, as my Bishop justly reminded me.
We are flawed right across the board, in the UK but also in much of Europe. There is the election in Brazil of Jair Bolsonaro, so the tendency to “National Populism” is going far beyond Europe. Donald Trump is the elephant in the room in America. In Europe, Frau Merkel is losing popularity like Macron, and the vacuum is being filled with this new form of an old authoritarian nationalism. Italy and Austria are examples, and Hungary is known for its resistance to uncontrolled Islamic immigration.
Perhaps Brexit will be cancelled, and our free movement can continue across Europe as we have grown accustomed to it. There will still be problems with the EU and domestic problems in the UK, perhaps less dramatic than after the “date with the electric chair” at the end of next March. There are signs that the EU itself is not immune from trouble and division. Then all the countries would have to ***exit! Eventually, after a long process of political changes within each country, there would be rivalries and conflicts on a small scale, not necessarily World War III. It would depend on how radically right-wing various countries would go. The battle would not be finished, not by a long chalk! We should prepare ourselves for the unknown and the destruction of many of our comfortable certitudes.
I also found inspiration in the gloom of the night: I am a priest and it is my duty to witness to the love of Christ that unites in peace and justice. Our Church is small and has suffered very badly from division because of the wrong men in the Episcopate or doctrinal issues. I see a parallel between what my country is facing and the endgame I faced as the TAC crumbled and Archbishop Hepworth went from being our Primate and pastor to being an obscure nobody. The mighty will fall and will be replaced by others. We are all fearful, but Christ exhorts us not to fear those who can kill the body when we hold onto our soul. A lot of what we fear comes from fake news or scaremongering, but there is very little to reassure us that it will be business as usual. We priests can be thankful for our education in philosophy and the art of reasoning – in order to refuse the uncritical acceptance of ideology and the surrender of our mind and rational faculties.
I will try to wage my own little campaign by encouraging a return to faith in and knowledge of God, the values and principles of the Enlightenment and its humanising by the Romantic movement. As priests, we are here to serve all, regardless of their convictions, fears and concerns. Trouble is on its way, in whatever form it might take. We are here to comfort and guide those who suffer and doubt, not add to the conflict and violence. I have a lot to learn, as we all have.