Should We Stay Or Should We Go? - 2 views on the EU

Two prominent Christians explain which way they'll be voting on June 23rd

SECURITY, PROSPERITY, JUSTICE AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Sir Simon Hughes presents his reasons to Remain

When the UK joined the EEC in 1973 I was at university. At last it seemed that our country was becoming a central player in the future destiny of our continent. The first referendum 41 years ago gave overwhelming support for this political decision – by two to one on a 65% turnout. Such a positive endorsement for our future in the EU is much more elusive now. British experience of EU membership has, of course, shown that shared endeavour can be challenging, difficult and sometimes frustrating. But for Christians, those of other faiths and those of no faith, the case for the UK to remain in the EU is extremely strong.

  • First, the founding principles of the European Communities remain as aspirational as ever. Instead of a Europe of separate competing nations which produced two world wars with millions killed and many dictatorships, we now have more than half the countries of our continent linked together in such a way that war between its major players – Germany, France, Italy and the UK – or any others is inconceivable. Spain, Portugal and Greece are unlikely ever again to be dictatorships. And we have given opportunities for liberty, democracy and prosperity to Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and the three Baltic states.
  • Membership of an EU of more than 500 million, where we are one of the biggest and most influential players, gives us the chance to influence the development and diplomacy of the world in a way equivalent to that of the USA and China, and in a way impossible if we returned to being on our own.
  • We now have the opportunity to be both our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers by negotiating for internal continental solidarity and the rule of law. Ten out of 28 EU countries are net contributors to the common budget and our poorer neighbours – with the UK in only eighth place.
  • Membership is not possible without adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights, a guarantee at home and abroad of the rights and liberties of all individuals and groups in a way with no parallel across any other region of the world.
  • We have collective justice and security so that across the EU, criminals can run but cannot hide. The European Arrest Warrant ensures criminals are speedily brought to justice where they are accused of crime.
  • There are far better chances of helping the asylum seeker and the refugee at our continents’ gates than we could manage by working on our own.

By contrast, some of the arguments of those who want us to leave are fundamentally flawed.

Little Englanders or Little Britains argue that we have given control to Brussels. This is not true. The appointed commissioners propose, but the democratically elected ministers of 28 countries make the decisions. We often get good decisions which apply to us but also in 27 other countries too. Many more than four out of five British laws passed are not agreed in Brussels, but in Westminster.

The four fundamental freedoms give the right to free movement around the EU for people, capital, goods and services – a common market – but no longer to claim benefits and always with the right for Brits to go to any of the other 27 countries to holiday, live, study or work. But quite properly we have not given up the control of our own borders to police everybody who enters or leaves. And remember the majority of immigrants into the UK are not from the EU, and so we could stop them tomorrow if we chose to.

The ‘go it alone’ brigade also forget our history. We won two world wars against imperialism and tyranny. But not on our own. It was with European and other allies. We are always stronger together. The 50 states of the United States of America and so many other unions of smaller states are testimony to this too.

If the UK leaves the EU, there is a high risk that this will lead to the break-up of the UK as all the evidence suggests that Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar want to stay in. We would be the first-ever country to leave. What example would that set to the rest? What a discouragement that would be to those queuing up to join.

We can be leaders in Europe – in democracy, solidarity and the rule of law. We can also be neighbours seeking to grow together, not move apart. Where there are inadequacies and failings, we should seek to put them right. But in this wonderfully blessed, rich continent of ours, we should seek to be generous and positive and not selfish and negative. And we should not be afraid. With God’s grace and wisdom we should strive not just to build Jerusalem in our own very green and pleasant land – but in all the rest of our continent too.

Sir Simon Hughes is the former deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats and president of Christians for Europe

Listen to Simon Hughes and Adrian Hilton in public debate on Premier Christian Radio's Unbelievable? programme.

 

DEMOCRACY, SOVEREIGNTY, ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY

Dr Adrian Hilton sets out the Christian argument for Brexit

There are many complex moral considerations and nuanced Christian perspectives to consider in the matter of the UK’s continuing membership of the European Union. Christian political theology is broad, and secular political truth is many-sided.

But there are some biblical principles on which Christians may draw to incline towards a ‘Leave’ vote, and these are based on issues of peace, justice and the use and abuse of power – themes which pervade the whole of scripture.

No one disputes that the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and European Economic Community (EEC) in the 1950s was for noble motives. Peace and national reconciliation forged through the pooling of coal and steel production – the means of war – did indeed help to end 1,000 years of Frankish-Germanic conflict. The political cooperation and economic interdependence helped to reconcile ancient enmities and forge an era of relative prosperity. But that was a problem of yesteryear.

Political impotence

To which contemporary question is EU supra-nationalism the answer? What is being gained by the subjection of our national democracy to an immutable corpus of overarching law decided by by unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats? Certainly, elected national representatives participating in the Council of Ministers provide a degree of democratic oversight, but who votes for what and how may we know? And what national interest can be served when Qualified Majority Voting is incrementally eroding the power of veto?

One only has to consider the plight of Greece – with its rampant unemployment, rising poverty and spiralling debt (being compounded by more debt) – to appreciate that far from the EU sustaining peace, its policies have become a very cause of civil strife and political unrest. Where is EU solidarity for the young people of Greece, Spain or Italy, where youth unemployment ranges between 40 to 50%?  

Across the EU, some 4.5 million young people are trapped in a soul-destroying spiral of unemployment and welfare. The ‘economic governance’ demanded by the euro is manifestly not working for them. You may say ‘we’re not in it’, but the point is that such supranational policies, imposed by an aloof and indifferent elite, ride roughshod over the real-life needs and concerns of the people who are incapable of doing anything to effect a remedy. Even when they vote against such policies in referendums or national elections, their voices are ignored.  

Biblical principles

The biblical model of nationhood (Genesis 10; Acts 17) does not equate precisely with the pattern of nation states forged in the 18th century, or with the modern political understanding of national defence, taxation, liberal democracy or ethnic identity. But broad principles may be drawn which incline us towards righteous government and, I suggest, towards Brexit:

  • Power must be dispersed (Genesis 11:1-9)
  • Authority must be limited and accountable (Exodus 9:13-19; Deuteronomy 17:14-16; Daniel 4:28-34)
  • Rulers may not trample over the birthright and inheritance of the people (1 Kings 21)

When Babylon becomes a source of oppression, as many in southern Europe feel the EU has certainly become, Christians might want to reconsider the concentration of power in its institutions. Where are liberty and subsidiarity to be found when the EU Commission, Parliament and Court of Justice are all bound by the foundational precept of ‘ever closer union’? What national divergence or differences in identity are tolerated in ever-centralised governance within borders assimilated by Schengen? Where do you find 800 years of developed British jurisprudence when you can be extradited to Greece under the provisions of the European Arrest Warrant, to languish for months in squalor, without Habeas Corpus or Trial by Jury?  

Finding the common good 

Reasoned theological responses to address some of these urgent questions are readily dismissed as ‘nationalism’, ‘individualism’, ‘isolationism’, ‘xenophobia’, ‘racism’ or ‘populism’. Insults and derogatives hurled by Christians at other Christians only have the effect of entrenching partisan views and inhibiting constructive dialogue. I believe that a robust, passionate response to the EU’s failings is not only necessary, but demanded by those whose vocation it is to warn against impending disaster. Europe is not the EU, and the EU certainly is not Christendom.   

If more pro-EU Christians would entertain the possibility that the desire to leave the EU may be consistent with global catholicity, justice, brotherhood, collaboration and cooperation, we might together discern the common good. It is entirely possible to love the diverse peoples, cultures, liberties, customs and Christian traditions of Europe while hating the coercive political and secular moral uniformity of the EU. If we exchange the steel tower of Brussels for the canvas tabernacles of the nations, we don’t necessarily come to the point of war or genocide. We might just begin to open our eyes and ears to the possibility of a Europe which is tolerant of political divergence, exulting of cultural difference and truly at peace with itself.  

Dr Adrian Hilton is a conservative academic, theologian, author, educationalist, blogs under the name Archbishop Cranmer and is co-chair of Christians for Britain  

Listen to Simon Hughes and Adrian Hilton in public debate on Premier Christian Radio's Unbelievable? programme.


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