Our Priest-in-Charge, David, and our Licensed Lay Minister, Becky, discuss the recent result of the Referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
D: We are both Christian people, living in West Malling, worshipping and sharing together in our local community. You voted to Leave the EU. I voted to Remain. What was it that was most important to you about voting to leave?
B: It’s a very complex situation, so there are no simple answers. I think the more distant a parliament is from its electorate, the more likely it is that the legislation they propose will have unintended, negative consequences. I think there is a very strong case for structural reform, limiting the scope of EU powers. This is not just about Britain: there are other countries within the Union (Greece and Cyprus for example) where there is a great deal of disaffection with the EU. I was quite aware that voting ‘Leave’ was a risk and there were likely to be financial repercussions. Sometimes risks are necessary to effect change. I hope it will be change for the better. Why did you vote Remain?
D: I tried to consider both sides carefully but ultimately, I felt that a lot of the Leave arguments relied on things that I felt weren’t true. The £350 million figure, the supposed loss of Sovereignty. I do think we have a problem of population capacity and we do need control, but that was outweighed for me by the economic side of things, worries about a political vacuum or major swing to the Right and I felt certain politicians were telling half-truths or lies. So I decided to Remain. Any regrets?
B: I absolutely regret that some Europeans who now live in this country suddenly feel that they are no longer welcome. I’d feel the same way about any immigrant, whatever their nationality. I’m aware just how important these people are for many successful businesses including, for example, some of our local farms – we can’t do without them. Equally, I’m appalled that those on the Far Right feel liberated to make xenophobic protests; they’re divisive and hurtful. I’m less concerned about the financial side of things because market volatility happens and will calm. But the Press doesn’t tell stories like mine – I guess it’s just not just newsworthy. But no, I don’t regret voting the way I did. What about you?
D: No regrets for me but plenty of hurts. It does feel raw and painful. Especially when it started to emerge that some Leave voters had done so either because of racism, or because they wanted to give David Cameron a black eye but didn’t think Leave would win, or because they really didn’t understand the question. That upset me greatly. One thing we can agree on though is that racism or xenophobia or ugly treatment of those from other nations is simply not acceptable, and as Christians, we need to be brave and stand up to resist that.
I think the penny dropped for me a little when I was teaching about bereavement on a pastoral care course this week. The shock and disbelief of Remainers, their denial of the result (and wanting to do it all again), the anger and abuse are all typical symptoms of grief. There’s a mourning going on for something that has died for them – rightly or wrongly, they feel like part of their identity as Brits, as Europeans, has died. It’s a loss and like any loss, people will grieve.
B: They may feel that way now; I understand that feeling. But we can be European without being in the EU. I see myself as European as much as I am British (and probably quite a lot of other stuff as well). We are still a country in Europe – we can’t not be. I’ve recently come back from Montenegro which isn’t in the EU (so Montenegrins have to obtain a visa to visit the UK) but they trade in Euros. Croatia, next door, is in the EU but trades in Kunas. There were border controls between the two but no problem with passing between. There are a lot of different ways of being in Europe which don’t necessarily entail being part of the gigantic bureaucracy that is the EU.
D: Absolutely. That’s the thing all Brits need to embrace now – how can we be outward looking, European, and so on, but simply not part of the EU. I wrote in last month’s parish magazine that regardless of the result, the key would be how we come together as one nation again when we have had to vote on a question that inevitably polarizes everyone – regions of the UK, towns and communities, older and younger voters, even families. Reconciliation and healing is vital. Remainers, like myself, now need to do their bit to prove we were wrong and the Leavers were right.
B: Thank you. For Leavers I think it’s vital we voice our opposition to xenophobic and racist actions. It’s important not to gloat, to act with integrity and good grace. It’s all going to take time: we’ll need to be patient. Within the church, to continue to pray for the political process, for the politicians and all involved in disentangling. We need to pray for the EU itself, and for those within the UK who are in deep despair at the result. I don’t like language of winning and losing because that mentality won’t help, but it’s quite hard being on the ‘winning’ side when a) you know your actions have produced deep distress and will continue to do so and b) you suspect you are being tarred with the brush of being a non-thinking bigot.
D: There’s no excuse for Remainers to be abusive – misdirected anger and abuse is not healthy grief. But if I may offer something for Leavers – if Remainers are grieving – then like any bereavement, there’s good things to do and say, and things to not do or say. A grieving widow doesn’t need to hear that ‘time is a great healer’ or ‘I know how you feel’. It doesn’t help. Saying ‘it will all work out’ doesn’t help Remainers right now. I also wonder whether, like any bereavement, the Church can help with that by providing space for such thoughts and prayers in the way we would at a funeral.
The former Bishop of Tonbridge, Brian Castle, is a bit of an expert in reconciliation and he’s written recently that the UK can’t reconcile yet. He says “reconciliation can only happen when the roar of battle has died down, when all involved regard themselves as equals (there can be no victims when pursuing reconciliation) and when people can talk about their hopes, aspirations and fears.” He also says it needs all parties to be open to change for the sake of the other. If we rush to reconcile, we won’t let the wound truly be clean before it heals over.
B: My prayer is that our churches will be able to model how to disagree well: how to keep our hearts, minds and arms open to embrace others despite the uncertainty and despite the hurt. We need to build a future now in which Remainers and Leavers can come together as one nation. I can only promise to try to do my bit.
D: Amen to that.