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Compromise is needed to heal Brexit divisions

Bruce Blackshaw responds to Dave Borlase's blog which urged Christians to display Christian unity as the UK begins the process of leaving the EU.

Last week the Director of Intercessors for Britain Dave Borlase said that as Christians, we should put aside our differences over Brexit and "pray for God’s leading for our nation as we leave".

He's right, of course, to encourage us to pray this way, and all Christians in this country should be doing so. We should also be praying "for our spiritual state as a nation and also that we might also be a blessing to the world", irrespective of our relationship with the EU.

But I'm not sure what Dave means by putting aside our differences. It seems to mean embracing the government's current intention of leaving the single market and customs union as well as the EU - possibly leaving with no deal at all. Unfortunately, this determination to make Brexit as extreme as possible is the cause of most post-referendum divisions. This is despite only a slim majority in the referendum, with many on the leave side stating we would remain in the single market. As a direct result, a second referendum on Scottish independence seems almost inevitable. Divisions are actually increasing.

Why does Dave want us to leave the single market? He admits to its many benefits for members. But he wants to discard these benefits because of its trade barriers that "hurt the world’s poorest nations", and he wants the UK to be able to make its own trade deals to help lift them out of poverty. A laudable aim, but Dave has confused the single market with the customs union, the latter of which prevents independent trade deals. We can stay in the single market and forge our own trade deals. Our two most successful export industries are heavily dependent on the single market – banking, much of which relies on our financial "passport" granted by virtue of membership, and car manufacturing, where the EU is our biggest export market. We can't replicate the single market in a trade deal with the EU.

Dave also enthuses that we can now "reach out to the world" and "have freedom to trade with whomever we like". We already do, with about 55% of our trade being outside the EU. Some of that is dependent on EU trade deals with other nations, and the remainder is not. The idea that Brexit will usher in a golden river of non-EU trade is a mirage. Also, it's often glossed over, but forging free trade agreements is hard, and takes many years. If we leave the single market it may be decades before we replicate its benefits.

One critical issue left unmentioned is the status of millions of EU citizens in the UK, and that of over a million UK citizens in the EU. Currently human bargaining chips in our negotiating strategy, they face an uncertain future, and the human cost of that uncertainty is increasing. Many Christians are among them.

What can we do to heal divisions? Brexit may now be inevitable, but its shape is not. There's still every reason to fight for a Brexit that works for all of the UK, rather than accept a Brexit forged by a small minority who want to sever all EU links.

The simplest option is to stay in the single market by joining the EFTA. This would secure the rights of millions of people currently in limbo. It would maintain our trading relationship with the EU, and allow us to make our own new trade agreements. It would probably satisfy Scotland, and help prevent a hard border in northern Ireland. It would still honour the referendum result. Finally, the EFTA agreement is very limited compared to EU membership. EFTA countries adopt less than ten percent of EU legislation, are not subject to the European Court of Justice, and remain outside the common agricultural and fisheries policies. We might even be able to negotiate on free movement if it is deemed essential.

True, this option may not satisfy the most determined Eurosceptics. But given almost half of the voting population did not want Brexit at all, it would likely satisfy the vast majority of voters. Compromise is needed to heal divisions.

Bruce Blackshaw is co-founder of a small software company that exports world-wide. He is deeply involved in apologetics, loves philosophy, and is a member of Everyday Church in Wimbledon, London

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