Wednesday 21st October: Notes on “The Future of Brexit Britain”
With Jonathan Chaplain and Andrew Bradstock, the joint editors.
The initiative for the book was the strange silence from the Church of England about the Brexit Referendum- any personal statements made (eg from Bishops) were for Remain, but it was clear that many Anglicans were for Leave. The book tries to “speak into that gap” by bringing together as wide a range of responses as possible, including a balance of Remainers and Leavers (some passionately for one or the other, some less so). It fails to include enough women, young people or BAME contributors. The hope is to provoke a better debate, to encourage listening to opinions different from your own, and to explore the role that Anglicans can play in this.
The first part of the evening dealt with some prepared questions:
– Does the book say anything about a theological basis for patriotism? Some contributors talk about the “soul” of a nation- others are more sceptical. How do we define a “nation”. There may be a theological basis for the EU, but does the UK have to belong to it?
– Does a concern for National Identity risk alienating some groups in the UK? Can the CofE be an “honest broker” and a focus for listening. Is its neutrality (despite some outspoken Remain leaders) an asset in this? Do the English have (or want) a national identity that enables them to question their colonial and imperial past?
– In February 2017 Theresa May said the UK voted to leave the EU but not Europe or to step away from the world. Most chapters in the book recognise the UK’s continuing involvement with Europe and with the world. Some are optimistic about independence, global trade etc, others less so. One chapter sets out six principles for relationship with Europe but outside the EU.
– What impact will the book have in the wider community? Hope to promote conversation and to engage with views other than their own by trying to get into heads of people you disagree with (eg the Radio 4 programme “Crossing Red Lines”). The Archbishops’ letters on the Internal Market Bill and the Ireland border got the reaction from some that the church should keep out of politics. But it can’t.
– Why couldn’t churches say anything about Brexit? A fear of causing divisions. Membership of EU was said not to be a “theological question”. One chapter reckons the CofE will never be able to have a coherent view.
– England voted more heavily for Leave, but which England, and is the CofE better at speaking for some sections rather than others? Several chapters mention David Goodhart’s distinction between “Anywheres” (not concerned with local identity) and “Somewheres” (locality a priority)- Church leaders mainly the first and congregations the second. Two competing nations. Tensions over globalisation and immigration. Was uncertainty about English identity a main driver of Brexit? Are the “Celtic” nations more comfortable with their identity, if so why?
The second half of the evening was a general discussion, but also dealing with questions that participants had sent in beforehand:
Does Brexit make it easier to deal with Carbon emissions? “Leave” promised more control, but does this lead to a more authoritarian government? Do extremists want to re-assert Britain’s imperial past and destroy the EU? Did a “binary” referendum and confrontational politics foster division and block more complex questions? Where do Anglican (and other churches’) global connections fit in? What about the “Red Wall” of the North? Will Brexit solve anything- is it the cause or a symptom of the UK’s problems? It is the “Somewheres” who are likely to suffer most. Neo-liberals want a more authoritarian State, are less interested in reconciliation. Who are “the People”- said (by both Trump and Boris) to be those who voted for the leader. Luke Bretherton’s work on democracy (ie not just “majoritarianism” is important here. Can the CofE be a reconciler when only 1 percent of 18 to 24 yr olds identify as Anglicans? Remain voters hoped to see the EU reform, and that a Brexit would remain close to the EU. Lament is an important element to retain- the influence of “dark money” and fragmentation caused by social media. The Church needs to be a prophetic voice, not just a neutral reconciler. White people need to be the ones who speak out about race, not leaving it to BAME people. Michael Gove’s contribution to EU Agricultural policy gives a chance to deal with Climate Change, but will the UK adhere to the EU’s environmental policies? What is the right balance between national and local independence (subsidiarity?) and the need to share power over some policies and decisions? Why are we unwilling to share power? Are the Celtic nations more used to this because they have had to do it for a long time? But many people voted for Leave because they felt they have no power and want government to be “within their reach”. Where is the theology we need to tackle the things that face us now Brexit is happening? What is it that we are passing on to the next generation?
We agreed to be in contact in a month’s time to ask whether we wish to meet again in the New Year. By the New Year we should have a clearer idea of a Deal or No Deal. And by then perhaps some beginnings of an appropriate theology for Brexit?