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Brexit vs. Bremain and the ethics of political discourse

Brexit vs. Bremain and the ethics of political discourse

As the United Kingdom heads towards a referendum on June 23 to decide if they should remain a part of the European Union, the churches in England have been caught up in the debate even as they try to stay out of it.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has said he will vote to stay:

…the Archbishop of Canterbury has said he will be voting for the UK to remain in the EU, adding that Britain should be “a country for the world”and warned against “succumbing to our worst instincts” over immigration.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, the head of the Church of England, the Most Rev Justin Welby, said he would vote to stay in the EU to avert economic damage that could harm the poorest.

“We each have to make up our own minds,” he said. “But for my part, based on what I have said and on what I have experienced, I shall vote to remain.”


Evoking the union’s founders’ vision of healing the continent in the years after World War Two, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the choice facing Britons in the June 23 referendum should be made with the same ambition and idealism.

“The EU came together in a Europe broken beyond description by war, and has shaped a continent which until recently has contributed to more human flourishing, and more social care, than at any time in European history,” Welby wrote in a Mail on Sunday newspaper article.

Canon Giles Frasier is voting to leave, even if he is uncomfortable with some the most extreme rhetoric on the ‘Brexit’ side of the debate:

These are curious political times, creating unusual and uncomfortable bedfellows. Leftwing Brexiters find themselves crawling into bed with Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, and leftwing remainers with David Cameron, Jeremy Clarkson and Goldman Sachs. For a while, at least, we are all sleeping with the enemy, and comforting ourselves with the justification that it’s just a temporary fling and all for a good cause. Close your eyes and think of England. Or the UK. Or Brussels, as the case may be.

Personally, I find it amazing that progressives are so keen to offer support to a remote and undemocratic bureaucracy that locks in a commitment to neoliberal economics, and prices out poor African farmers, and whose track record on immigration from outside the EU is patchy at best, and getting worse. From where I sit – and from where many of the left used to sit, including Jeremy Corbyn – the EU is not a natural love match for the left. But while both sides are playing away, lefty Brexiters are accused of an especially egregious form of infidelity because of the racist memes that have been invoked by the out campaign. As someone who believes in open borders, I regard Vote Leave’s cheap scaremongering over immigration as particularly irresponsible and downright nasty, and that Labour is wrong to follow its lead. But even so, I am still going to vote leave. Indeed, I’d vote the same way as the devil himself if that were the way my conscience dictated. It’s not who you vote with – it’s what you vote for.

Thirty-seven religious leaders, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote a letter to the Observer urging voters to stay in the EU:

Religious leaders from the UK’s main faith communities – including former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams – have joined forces to oppose Brexit, saying the EU is vital to preserving peace, fighting poverty and tackling the migration crisis.

In a letter in the Observer, 37 leading figures from across the faiths say that they hope people will reflect, before voting on 23 June, “on whether undermining the international institutions charged with delivering these goals could conceivably contribute to a fairer, cleaner and safer world”.

The signatories include Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, the principal rabbi at the Movement for Reform Judaism; Bharti Tailor, executive director of the Hindu Forum of Europe; and Miqdaad Versi, assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council of Great Britain. Anglicans the Right Rev Paul Bayes, bishop of Liverpool, and the Right Rev Stephen Conway, bishop of Ely, also signed.

Members of the group, who say they signed in their personal capacities, write that “faith is about integration and building bridges, not about isolation and erecting barriers”.

The brutal murder of Jo Cox, a Labor member of Parliament (MP), has complicated matters, especially as she was actively campaigning to remain with the EU and her killer was apparently violently in favor of leaving. The New York Times says:

As the shock of the brutal murder Thursday of a young member of Parliament began to subside, there was a growing sense in Britain that something ominous had been unleashed in the country.

The increasingly ugly, anti-immigrant tone to the campaign over the referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union, coupled with the violence of English fans at the European soccer championships, have left many here feeling that the boundaries of acceptable behavior are breaking down.

“What we are just seeing generally is a very disturbing shift in British politics,” said Simon Tilford, the deputy director of the Center for European Reform, which favors British membership. “It is quite upsetting to me what is happening.”

With Thursday’s vote on the referendum only days away, campaigning was suspended as a gesture of mourning and respect for the victim, Jo Cox, 41, a rising star in the opposition Labour Party who, not coincidentally, was a strong backer of Britain’s remaining inside the bloc.

Alex Massie writes in the Spectator:

Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.

We can’t control the weather but, in politics, we can control the climate in which the weather happens. That’s on us, all of us, whatever side of any given argument we happen to be. Today, it feels like we’ve done something terrible to that climate.

Sad doesn’t begin to cover it. This is worse, much worse, than justsad. This is a day of infamy, a day in which we should all feel angry and ashamed. Because if you don’t feel a little ashamed – if you don’t feel sick, right now, wherever you are reading this – then something’s gone wrong with you somewhere.

Jo Cox was, by all accounts, a fine parliamentarian and a fine woman. She has been taken from her family and her constituents but her death strips something from all of us as well. I cannot recall ever feeling worse about this country and its politics than is the case right now.

Events have a multiplier effect. So do feelings.

Jonathan Freedland says that if you inject enough poison into the discourse, someone will get sick:

In the early 1990s I watched as it became a staple of US debate that all America’s woes were the fault of the federal government. On the right, it became incontestable to blame “government bureaucrats” for any and every problem. On talk radio – the social media of that era – “government bureaucrats” were assailed daily as the enemy, worthy only of contempt. And then, on 19 April 1995, Timothy McVeigh planted a bomb in a building in Oklahoma City filled with government bureaucrats, and killed 168people. Perhaps McVeigh was mentally unstable, but that hardly weakens the point: even the mentally unstable hear the conversation around them.

And how has our national conversation sounded in recent weeks? As it happens, before Jo Cox was so brutally murdered I had a plan for the column I would write today. Its headline was to be “Behold the demons we have unleashed”. It was to convey my deep anxiety about the darker loathings stirred by the debate over next week’s EU referendum….

…this campaign has torn away at a fabric that took years to weave, one that ensured we could argue with each other without challenging the basic legitimacy of our opponents, one that had grown to accept diversity as a strength rather than a threat to be feared, one that allowed us to keep calm and civil even when we disagreed passionately.

Whatever happens next Thursday, it will take time to repair that fabric. But repair it we must. For what we have learned this week is that the veil that separates civilisation from mayhem is thin. The tragedy is that it took the death of a devoted, admired and adored woman to teach us that lesson.

Daniel Webster writes in Christianity Today about the need for a more civil debate:

The campaigns to either leave or remain in the EU had reached fever pitch in recent days. The claims from rival camps had ramped up to the most divisive, distorted, destructive levels.

It went from the bitter to the bizarre. MPs were backstabbing colleagues they usually sided with because they backed different sides of this particular vote. A former prime minister described members of his own party as “hungry pythons.” We’ve even had rival flotillas on the Thames River.

Claims of the costs of staying and the consequences of leaving have bounced from billboard to campaign bus. It was the most toxic political environment I have ever encountered.

Sadly, this seems a common theme in contemporary politics. It resembles the heated political campaign in the United States, where two polarizing candidates with historically low favorability ratings are battling for president.

This final weekend before the critical Brexit vote, I am speaking at a church about the EU referendum and how Christians should engage in it. It is a crucial vote, and evangelicals in good conscience find themselves on both sides of the debate. My role is not to tell people how to vote, but to help Christians think through a few key themes and look beyond the headlines and superficial slogans that have dominated the campaigns.

Robert Armstrong, writing in the Financial Times, looks at one village in the southeast of England to see how they will vote:

St James’s Church in Egerton was already old when my ancestor read out the lesson there. Its 13th-century structure is mostly intact. A church warden, John Lumley, tells me the Sunday congregation is down to 20 or so. There are no other visitors to disturb us, but it is a place where one speaks quietly. Much of his work consists of taking care of the building, a task “that has been ongoing for the last 500 years”. He speaks the Queen’s English, is evidently pleased about his church and his village: “It’s a very good village, this. There is a sense of place here . . . There are all sorts of different sorts, though. There are lots of little groups within it . . . ”

The village, he says, has mixed views on the referendum, with lots of waverers and anxiety. As for himself, he voted early, for “out”. He reaches for an image I have become familiar with: his heart was “out”, his head less sure. He voted “in” in 1975, but things have changed, the country can stand on its own two feet. “And if the answer is ‘out’ on June 24, part of me will be very pleased, and part of me will be full of foreboding.”

There again — in considered, even, particularly British phrasing — is the emphasis on independence that made me think of the Rev Lothrop, and of America. One should be suspicious of an emotion that is so protean, latching on to almost any political or economic issue with equal ease; it smells a little of reptilian irrationality. At the same time, maybe the resilient and formless spirit of resistance has survived because it is fundamentally healthy.

A few hours later, as Richard King whirls me through Egerton’s fields in his open-top car, I put to him my idea that resistance to authority was native to the English character. Maybe, he allows. “But even if you’re right,” he bellows over the noise from the antique engine, “leaving Europe doesn’t solve the problem. There will always be some other stupid bastard telling you what to do!”


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Rod Gillis

Difficult to call if you don’t live there (UK) but the comment from Giles Fraser is interesting, “…amazing that progressives are so keen to offer support to a remote and undemocratic bureaucracy that locks in a commitment to neoliberal economics…”. While something of a fan of Giles Fraser’s comments, I’m not sure he has this right strategically. As John Kenneth Galbraith pointed out decades ago in The New Industrial State, bureaucrats and what we would call these days “technocrats” are ubiquitous. Restrains on the same are merely variable from system to system., perhaps less so now than when Galbraith wrote.

Additionally, referendums are inherently divisive. The UK has Mr. Cameron to thank for this mess no matter what the outcome.

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