Leave or Remain? The Referendum on the EU

After considerable thought I offer my reflections on this very important issue. This is not a comprehensive discussion, but highlights what for me are the key issues.

FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE

Baptist Christians above others have always championed freedom of conscience, the ability of each individual to discern right from wrong and the obligation to choose to do right. This idea is one of the foundations of modern democracy and at the same time of the first clause of the Baptist Union of Great Britain Declaration of Principle, “that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws”

In the world today a “nation is recognised as ‘the’ political community that ensures the legitimacy of the state over its territory, and transforms the state into the state of all its citizens.” (UNESCO)  A nation is held together by elements such as shared history and heritage, culture, currency, language(s), recognized borders and common government. As such the United Kingdom functions as a nation-state. The UK is insistent that the European Union should never become a “super-state” but will only be at best a group of states working in cooperation in a number of areas. Some other nations are committed to much fuller integration, with many believing that the European Union can only thrive if that goal is pursued, especially through a shared monetary policy and common currency.

Freedom of conscience gives each citizen a share in the responsibility of choosing for ourselves what is best for our country, rather than to allow people and institutions who we have not directly appointed to make those decisions for us. It seems both irrational, and contrary to the experience of recent history and current events, to trust that unelected bodies of people tasked with creating solutions for the benefit of 28 very diverse nations will make better decisions for Britain than the admittedly flawed bodies directly elected only by the British people. If those EU decisions are so wise, why have successive British governments insisted on so many exemptions and special deals for Britain?

Baptist Principles lead us to believe that each church is capable of making decisions for itself. The analogy of this in international affairs is to believe that an autonomous state is capable of making decisions for itself. Just as we resist hierarchical church government with Union or Associations imposing decisions on churches, so logically we should resist an unelected bureaucracy imposing decisions on member states of the EU. Other lines of argument over what is in the best interests of the UK and of our citizens are not relevant. The issue of sovereignty over-rides any sacrifices which we may (or may well turn out not) need to make in order to establish our democratic freedom once again.

RESTORING SOVEREIGNTY

The European Project has expanded beyond recognition from the Common Market Britain joined in 1973: in particular, its approach to freedom of movement and legislation in areas far removed from trade agreements. In many areas of life our democracy has been replaced by an imposed bureaucracy. Specifically, within the EU Britain does not have control of our borders.  A criminal record is not sufficient grounds for excluding a citizen of the EU – they have to be a demonstrable threat to our nation. With regard to migration EU citizens, even those from countries which have only just joined, have an automatic right to settle in England which citizens of non-EU countries do not have, even those from Commonwealth and other countries with much stronger historical links to Britain. Elements now in English law have been imposed by bureaucrats from Brussels rather than by decision of the UK Parliament or case law precedent. Many believe this process is eroding basic principles of English law such as the presumption of innocence. Freedom of speech and religious freedoms are being overridden by nebulous principles of “equality”.

Many years ago the veteran MP Tony Benn posed “five powerful questions” with regard to any government.

  • What power have you got?
  • Where did you get it from?
  • In whose interests do you use it?
  • To whom are you accountable?
  • How do we get rid of you?

Many would argue that the unelected and faceless bureaucrats of the European Union continue to step beyond their mandate. Since there is no evidence that EU is open to reform in this regard the only way in which the UK can regain our sovereignty and democratic control is to leave the EU.

NO PROSPECTS OF A “REFORMED EUROPE”

Those who advocate remaining in the EU hold out the hope of “reforming the European Union”. Prime Minister David Cameron negotiated for reforms in February 2016 and in the end achieved far less than the very weak set of reforms he had aimed for. In reality these were only a few special exceptions for UK within Europe, most of which are time limited or will in time be eroded. Those failed negotiations serve to demonstrate how reluctant the EU is to change and how long and hard such a process will be, if it is even possible. There is increasing evidence that the EU may well itself fragment irreparably rather than reform.

If it was the case that the EU was such a “good thing” to belong to, the consistent position would surely be to belong fully, demanding no independent border controls, accepting all EU legislation and in particular adopting the Euro as currency. In the Baptist times of 9/3/2016, Baptist Minister Ian Tutton put it this way. “Is it really right, morally, to opt in to that which benefits us whilst opting out of that which doesn’t; isn’t the only morally right position ‘everything’ or ‘nothing’? ‘Everything’ isn’t on the table…’Nothing’ is…” See http://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/462960/Why_Brexit_is.aspx.

“BENEFITS VS COSTS” AND “PROJECT FEAR”

Arguments from the Remain camp have focused on supposed economic advantages of remaining part of the EU. While neither side can reliably predict the economic situation of Britain if we choose to leave the EU, it is mere scaremongering to represent that possibility as “a leap in the dark”. Moreover Britain’s “best interests” are much broader than finance. Some argue that Europe gives better protection for the poor and the marginalized, for workers’ rights and for refugees than these groups would receive if Britain were completely independent. This is surely a more worthy consideration than shameless self-interest, but implies that those making decisions in the EU are more moral than our own government and we need “them” to make sure we do the right thing. It does not make sense to suggest that the governing body concerning itself with 28 states will do a better job of protecting the vulnerable people in the UK better than the UK government could, if it so chose.

The Remain campaign has not offered particularly cogent arguments in favour of belonging to the EU. Their case has chiefly been based on the uncertainties of what might happen if UK chooses to Leave. We should not be swayed by this “Project Fear”. It seems to me that many who are advocating Remain are behaving as if they were trapped by a variation of the Stockholm Syndrome. ”Stockholm Syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon described in 1973 in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness. …  The syndrome can also be found in other non-hostage situations.” (Wikipedia)

I suggest that in decades to come an analogous effect will come to be known as Brussels Syndrome. Many people will vote to Remain in Europe only because they are uncertain of what life might be like if we Leave. Statistics are suggesting that older people are more likely to vote to Leave. This may well be because we remember a time when UK was not part of the EU and are not afraid of returning to that situation. We remember what EU was intended to be and the ways it was mis-sold to the UK last time the people had a say. And we have seen that the reality today is so far from the dream. We now have a once in a lifetime opportunity to put things right. To conclude with the words of Ian Tutton. “For me BREXIT is the solution, not that the problems will go away but at least we will be able to address them for ourselves.”

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