The past few months have been a bruising one for our country. The debate over our continued membership of the EU has divided opinions significantly, just as it did in Scotland over the independence debate. The tone of the debate has been unpleasant, and will leave a damaged government, a fractious nation, and contribute to a dangerous trend of a more polarized world. While the USA flirts with a version of politics that threatens global stability, the last thing we need here is an angry Britain, with hurts that may take years to heal.
The main lines of the debate have been gone over many times. Each side has its own stronger points – the economic arguments seem to lean towards the Remain campaign, with most financial analysts and commentators arguing for the merits of staying in. Immigration however remains a significant concern for many people, especially perhaps those whose wages might be undercut by immigrants from other European countries who are willing to work for a lower wage. I fully respect the views and integrity of many good friends who will be voting to leave, but I will be voting to remain, for three main reasons:
1. If we pull out, a great deal of government time and energy over the next few years will have to be out into re-negotiating trade deals with European countries and beyond, and establishing new policies in a wide range of areas. This is at a time when we are facing some massive global issues which need our full attention - the migrant crisis which will not disappear quickly, religious terrorism and the threat of IS, not just in the Middle East but with the potential of attacks happening nearer to home, and the ever-present problem of climate change, perhaps the biggest threat to our world over the coming years. While the rest of the world will be trying to tackle these major issues, we will be wrapped up in the lengthy task of re-organising our relationships with the rest of the world, with little energy left to look outwards.
2. The EU is far from perfect. As I argued in an article in the Times on Saturday, it has lost its original expansive Christian vision, has become excessively bureaucratic, focuses too much on the single market and needs reform. However, it has been extraordinarily successful in one major area - it has helped prevent a European war for the past 60 years where the previous 40 years had seen two devastating conflicts that had left millions dead. Our neighbours on the continent are nervous that if we leave, it could lead to the unravelling of the whole EU project, and who knows where that might end up? Countries who trade and talk regularly and whose economies are interdependent are much less likely to go to war. That reason alone is worth voting Remain.
3. Much of the Leave case has been based around the right of Britain to govern itself. It is worth remembering that the nation state itself is a relatively recent creation, and from a Christian point of view, easily becomes an idol. We are called to love our neighbour, not our nation. That means our individual neighbours who live near us but also our national neighbours. The big issues that face us globally – terrorism, climate change, global poverty - are ones that cross borders and boundaries. They can no longer be confined to the nation state, nor dealt with on that basis. A Christian’s first loyalty is not to his or her nation, but to the Kingdom of God, which transcends borders, and to a holy church that is truly international. The Christian vision is that we live best when we are interdependent not independent. Leaving the EU feels like a withdrawal from partnership and interdependence, reneging on an earlier solemn commitment to contribute to and make a difference within Europe. It feels like a rejection of our neighbour, not a love for our neighbour. It says we are better on our own, without you. And that does not seem the way of love.