I’ve repeatedly said I won’t stand for re-election as an MEP. Here’s why.
As an MEP, over the last year it has become abundantly clear that from the European Parliament I will be unable to make any meaningful difference to the Brexit cause. I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to put my points across to politicians at Westminster, giving evidence to a House of Lords Select Committee on the financial implications of Brexit. I’ve tried to make my arguments in a reasoned way in the newspapers, on the radio and on television. I’ve done my best to make myself available at short notice for interviews where possible. In the European Parliament I’ve made hundreds of speeches.
There are issues that aren’t related to Brexit that are close to my heart. I’ve done a lot of work over recent years on the persecution of Christians worldwide, which has given me the opportunity to put my case to some influential people. I’ve met senior diplomats and government ministers from various countries to put that case.
I’ve done my job, to the best of my ability, over the last five years. Unlike most career politicians, I’ve got through it without massive scandal, ‘car-crash’ interviews, or saying anything particularly outrageous and stupid. I don’t seek controversy solely to generate headlines. I try to attack opponents only when they deserve it – though that is, to be fair, quite often. There are many things in life that I constantly second-guess; my record in political life is not one of them.
But if I were to stand for election again, it wouldn’t be to the European Parliament. It would be to Westminster, because only at Westminster can we ensure that Brexit is delivered. The centre of gravity has shifted back to Westminster. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve found myself sitting in Strasbourg, watching online to find out what’s going on in Westminster.
Remain-candidates for the European elections argue that their MEPs will ‘reform the European Union from within’. That is, sadly, a load of nonsense. MEPs just don’t have the power needed to be able to reform it. If the European Union were reformable, the last 45 years of attempted reform would have made things better. They haven’t. The democratic deficit has grown. To ‘reform’ the EU would require Treaty change. Last month, the European Parliament voted twice in under a week to end the Brussels-Strasbourg travelling circus. It’s been doing the same for years, but it doesn’t have the power to decide where it meets.
Every single time the Treaties have changed, it’s made things worse. Further power has been transferred from national governments to the European Union. That’s the nature of the EU; the so-called ‘ever-closer Union’ that pushes us inexorably in one direction. MEPs cannot reform the European Union. Those who suggest they can are selling you snake oil.
We do need a Brexit-backing party to win the European elections. We’ve told them four times already (Euro2014, GE2015, Ref2016, GE2017) that we want to leave the European Union. They haven’t got the message; we need to tell them a fifth time. Westminster isn’t listening; let’s say it again – louder!
There is only one such party capable of winning in 2019, and that is the Brexit Party. I will therefore be voting for, supporting, and campaigning for, the Brexit Party at the European elections. I wish them, and their candidates, all the very best. The future of our nation depends on your endeavours. You must stand firm, be strong, and never let us down.
As a former teacher, I used to know the GCSE syllabus inside-out. Every couple of years, some bright-spark politician would change everything – teachers had to attempt to become experts in a new specification or a new syllabus. I can’t recommend teaching as a career choice at present: too much paperwork, too much bureaucracy, fear of inspections, not enough spontaneity, not enough focus on actually transforming young people’s lives.
I started teaching a few years after the 1996 Education Act came into force – which specifically forbids (Section 406) the promotion of partisan political views in schools. I genuinely, and naively, believed our education system to be overall reasonably impartial. I put the fact that younger people are more likely to be pro-EU, and older people more likely to be anti-EU, down to the old differences between idealism and experience. The quote “a man who is not a liberal at 16 has no heart, and a man who is not a conservative at 60 has no head” dates back centuries and the words are popped into the mouths of almost every famous statesman of the 18th and 19th centuries; who truly knows who used it first?
Then, when reading the GCSE specifications that I was teaching, I spotted something strange: every single one contained a reference to a ‘European dimension’ in the curriculum. In Maths, it didn’t mean so much. It’s quite a precise subject. There were a disproportionate number of examination questions featuring the euro, but nothing particularly egregious. That ‘European Dimension’ is a requirement in every single subject. Google “European Dimension” and any examination board, and it’s mentioned throughout. In subjects like Mathematics, solving a quadratic equation is still solving a quadratic equation. But in artistic subjects, in modern foreign languages, in literature and others, such pro-EU bias is far more wide-reaching. Some teachers manage this quite well: in order to avoid promoting any one partisan view, I’ve known schools invite a range of politicians to address Y10/Y11 assemblies or sixth-form politics groups. That way, children hear the full range of views and have the chance to challenge for themselves. Comprehensive treatment of all sides of the debate at every stage is the exception rather than the norm though.
The ‘European dimension’ in education dates back to a May 24th 1988 resolution of the European Council, which requires schools to make young people ‘aware of’ the ‘advantages’ of the European Union [Community]. It required countries, and this is a direct quote, “to include the European dimension explicitly in their school curricula in all appropriate disciplines, for example literature, languages, history, geography, social sciences, economics and the arts” – and “to make arrangements so that teaching material takes account of the common objective of promoting the European dimension”. Examples such as schools celebrating ‘Europe Day’, and a European dimension in teacher training, push the same agenda. But doesn’t that breach the 1996 Education Act, I hear you ask? Well, yes and no. It’s an established principle that EU law overrides UK law. British law might well require teaching to be impartial – but if EU law insists upon bias, then bias it must be.
Don’t get me wrong, this is all quite understated in schools on a day-to-day basis. If I claimed that schools were force-feeding our children pro-EU propaganda every single day of their lives until they come out totally brainwashed, I’d be ruining my case by exaggeration. It’s more of a gentle drip-drip-drip, with pro-EU cases being made whilst there’s very little if any space for anti-EU ones. If anything, any bias within schooling is substantially smaller than that which exists at our universities: the European Union pays 1,500 ‘Monnet Professor’ academics to promote the EU. If I say something critical of the EU on Twitter, a Monnet Professor will often pop up to disagree. I’d be astonished if, within a few days of this article’s publication, a taxpayer-funded reply doesn’t appear in the letters page.
Is it really experience alone that explains why older people tend to be more eurosceptic, or is it the education system gently nudging younger people towards a pro-EU stance which takes years to erode?
A real golden oldie popped into my head today: “And now, the end is near; and so I face the final curtain”. Maybe it doesn’t quite show my age, because I remember my grandparents rather than my parents talking about Frank Sinatra. I’m in Strasbourg this week, clearing out my office. It’s a beautiful city, in contrast to the politics which happens there. This should be the last time I’m here, but who knows? By the time you read this, a Minister of the Crown will have laid regulations before Parliament to delay Brexit until April 12th. The British government – whether May is still Prime Minister or not – will doubtless request another extension. May 22nd? June 30th? Even longer?
Meanwhile, the European Parliament continues passing legislation: this week it has sadly approved the Copyright Directive (far worse than ‘banning memes’ as the media suggests, it’ll seriously interfere with the internet), adding a clock change at the Irish border from 2022, and fitting new cars with all kinds of price-increasing modifications – also by 2022. The EU claims to respect the ‘subsidiarity’ principle, which means decisions should be taken closer to the citizen, then ignores it and harmonises anything it can across an entire continent. Having voted 38 times this week on ‘the labelling of tyres with respect to fuel efficiency and other essential parameters’, I’m hardly eager to come back – but if Brexit is delayed, there will doubtless be ‘vital’ legislation on axles next month that won’t oppose itself. Given the current mess in Westminster, we face the ridiculous spectre of European Parliamentary elections three years after the referendum.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: if the British people could not – through European elections, a referendum, and two General Elections – achieve Brexit, then millions will lose faith in democracy altogether. I’ve been bombarded by such messages on social media, from people so despairing because they no longer believe that they live in a democracy. If Brexit delayed from March 29th caused that, what will further delay or betrayal cause?
Regrets? I’ve had a few. I’ve had my fill, my share of losing. I can cope with losing. Losing happens sometimes in life. Nothing ever quite prepared me for the pain of winning, then watching a hapless Prime Minister systematically fail to deliver. Millions may never vote ever again, and I’ve seen cynical left-wingers online praise that very fact. They actively want huge numbers of people to feel so disenfranchised that they’ll never vote again. That way, they hope, they might then deliver a majority for their own plans.
The words I see from the general public are far stronger than mine: “this week we officially became a banana republic”, “I have cast my last vote”, “I’m done with this sham system”, “utter contempt from the British people”, and so on – they’re the tame remarks. Most are simply unprintable. The levels of anger within working-class communities are stronger than anything I’ve ever known. Not directed at Labour, or Conservatives, or Liberal Democrats individually – but aimed at the whole lot, the whole system. If your preferred measure of outrage is statistics, it’s worth noting that Theresa May’s approval rating is -39% and Corbyn’s is -53%. There’s something fundamentally broken when those numbers are comparable to Putin’s.
We’ve got a feedback loop of anger: the more that those people are insulted, the angrier they become. Those who first ignore and then insult, berate, and name-call the electorate repeatedly over years should not be surprised when they push people into the arms of extremists.
The sad fact is that only Westminster can make the difference we need. Being stuck in the European Parliament voting on tyres won’t deliver Brexit. Yet our Westminster politicians have punctured the tyres; they’re the ones who need changing most desperately of all. If we end up forced into more European elections, I won’t be standing again. I suspect the single-issue Brexit Party would do incredibly well.
At the end of it all, I shouldn’t be able to say, Sinatra-like, that I did it my way. Politicians shouldn’t say that they did it their way. No! We should have done it the way that the people elected us to. We should say that we did what we had to do, that we saw it through without exemption. That’s all we can do.
In medieval times, so the mythology goes, Princes and other noble young boys would not be subject to the same beatings or other corporal punishments as commoners: too undignified for a future King, soon-to-be ruler of the nation. Instead, an identical punishment would be inflicted upon a commoner. The notion seems somewhat ill-conceived. Teaching future leaders that they themselves have impunity, and others bear the consequences, seems a little odd even for the Middle Ages.
Whether it’s true, or a story embellished by John Donne, Mark Twain and others, I don’t know. But the phrase ‘whipping-boy’ came to enter the English language to describe some unfortunate person or idea, punished for the misdeeds of another. It was a tough call whether to use ‘whipping-boy’ or ‘scapegoat’ for this article; the etymology of the goat in Leviticus would have been of similar interest.
No whipping-boy has ever been flogged quite so mercilessly as Brexit. Pound goes up? The economy’s going well. Pound goes down? Send for the whipping-boy. Someone makes a racist comment? Where has that whipping-boy gone? Jobs created? That’s the industry and hard work of business. When jobs are lost, would any business in the history of the planet admit it’s their own fault? No – they’ll blame Brexit. It has become the ready-made, catch-all excuse.
More than that, even when a business doesn’t make that excuse because it’s self-evident arrant nonsense and they have sufficient professional integrity not to do so, it seems that politicians default back to the whipping-boy anyway.
The EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement recently came into force. Japanese car manufacturers used to have to pay a 10% tariff if they built cars in Japan, so they built them in Europe to avoid the tax. Cancel the tax, cancel the incentive to build in Europe, it becomes cheaper to build in Japan.
Labour voted for that Agreement. Conservatives voted for that Agreement. The natural consequence of that is that jobs in the car industry, which faces high tariffs, are going to be lost because they’ve just made it cheaper for Japan to produce cars in Japan. As Honda says, that would have happened anyway. It’s the same reason they’re also shifting production from Turkey to Japan.
The honest sales pitch for Labour and Tories would be to say ‘this trade deal will create more jobs than it costs, and cuts prices for consumers’. They can’t do that though: they’d tacitly be accepting that they voted for job losses. Fetch the whipping-boy!
When EU emissions targets make diesel less competitive, reducing the demand for diesel cars do those same politicians have the courage of their convictions and say ‘we don’t mind Nissan job losses to fight climate change’? That’s a tough sell. There must be an easier way; this time (as they’ve consistently done since the UK didn’t join the euro), Nissan joined the politicians in calling for the whipping-boy!
With all the media coverage, you’d be forgiven for thinking that unemployment has skyrocketed since the referendum. It hasn’t. Britain has record numbers of people in work. When Rolls Royce gained a contract last week to make billions of pounds worth of aeroplane engines, news outlets barely noticed.
Every scare story about Brexit is great news for big business profit margins. A Labour politician brought out the whipping-boy to claim food prices would go up after Brexit. Up? When we could remove tariffs from imports of things we can’t grow or make ourselves? Seriously? Suddenly, the big companies think they can get away with price increases.
Those politicians who backed Remain in the referendum pledged on June 24th 2016 to accept the Leave vote. My respect for them grew; they respected democracy. Then I saw them deny their own words by working tirelessly to frustrate and undermine Brexit. My respect evaporated.
The culmination of that was Corbyn’s betrayal this week of the Manifesto upon which Labour MPs were elected. If you’ve bought defective goods in a shop, you’re entitled to a refund. But if you bought Labour’s General Election claim that they’d respect the referendum result, you’re stuck with a broken product and broken promises.
This isn’t politics. It’s a three-year temper tantrum, cynical and brutal to democracy. They continue to mercilessly flog the whipping-boy for invented slights and fake misdemeanours, hoping that if they whip hard enough they might yet kill him completely. Make no mistake about it: if they kill him, they will also kill off a nation’s waning faith in our democratic process.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people claim that old people are the cause of Brexit. It’s become a favourite mantra of those who would like to re-introduce ageism into our society and consign anyone over the age of 60 to the scrapheap.
I believe in equality. I believe that an 18-year-old’s voice is neither more nor less important than an 81-year-old’s voice. It is the nature of democracy that we don’t suggest that different people have different worth: all have an equal say. Totalitarianism, on the other hand, posits that one person’s view is more important than another’s. Look back at any social ill from centuries ago – government by the aristocracy, the denial of suffrage to women, even slavery – and they all have one thing in common: they abandoned a class or group of people in society.
When I see the most appalling, horrible, remarks being made about older people in society, suggesting that they shouldn’t be allowed to vote, I shudder. When I see adverts by Remain campaigners on social media talking about older people dying as though it were an argument against Brexit, I despair about what our world has become.
Being in my mid-to-late 30s myself, and a former schoolteacher, I believe that the voices of our young people are important. Far too often, young people’s views are forgotten or marginalised. I believe that any adult’s voice should be just as powerful as anybody else’s. The recourse to that is to encourage young people to get more involved, not to treat older people as social pariahs.
If you must blame older people for Brexit, why not try to imagine things from the perspective of an older person who voted for Brexit?
Those over the age of 60 have a memory that the rest of us lack: they recall the referendum in 1975 on Britain remaining part of a Common Market. They remember the promises that it would be nothing more than a trading organisation, to permit the UK to trade freely with its European neighbours.
Young people in 1975 voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the Common Market. They believed in friendship, neighbourliness and co-operation with those in countries near our own. They trusted their government and their politicians.
My dad was one of those. Fast-forward a couple of decades. Suddenly, under the Maastricht Treaty, he had – without his knowledge or consent – become a ‘citizen of the European Union’ and ‘subject to the duties imposed thereby’. The country had been pushed into an Exchange Rate Mechanism with the intention of changing our currency to the proposed euro. Leading business organisations recommended the change. It proved a disaster; more businesses went bankrupt within a two-year period than at any time in history. He saw businesses claim they’d leave the UK if we didn’t join the euro. We didn’t join the euro, and those same businesses expanded.
My family come from an agricultural background pre-World War 2, and watched in horror as our agricultural and fisheries were ravaged because of our EU membership. He saw us lose control of our immigration policy, business policy, even some taxation policy, and wondered how the government could possibly have lied to him so brazenly about the Common Market he voted for. When I speak to pro-Brexit campaigners, it’s remarkable just how many of them were pro-Remain in 1975. Experience has changed their minds.
Do I blame them for their Remain vote in 1975? No, because they didn’t have the full information: they couldn’t know what the European Union would become. They didn’t know then what they know now. They believed, naively, that their government was being honest about the intentions of the organisation they were voting on.
That journey from Remain to Leave has been a consistent one, gradual yet inexorable. Far too often, the characterisation of older people is one which imputes negative motives: after all, they’re no longer in the workforce. The truth, though, is very different. Opposition to the European Union has been built over decades of watching the European Union develop, and seeing how people’s daily lives have been inhibited.
They hold their hands up about the mistake they made in 1975; at the 2016 referendum, they were determined to put that mistake right.
For the last three years, one thing has dominated the news. Many people, whichever way they voted, are sick of hearing the word Brexit. They’re bored. They want to move on. And here I am, writing another article about it. Whenever I write on important issues from sexual abuse to charity, from religious freedom to antisemitism, the number one comment I get back from people (even editors) is ‘I expected an article on Brexit’. Well, I am a member of the European Parliament, so that’s not too surprising. It’s my job.
We had a referendum in June 2016; at the time the government had promised to trigger Article 50 immediately, which would mean we’d have been out in June 2018 and back to the business of our daily lives already.
Instead, we had 9 months of waiting for Article 50 to be triggered. Then incompetence on the UK’s part and intransigence on the EU’s conspired to cause delays. We’re now 92 days from Brexit, and still neither the Westminster Parliament nor the EU Parliament has approved this shambles of a deal which doesn’t even try to deliver on anything (other than immigration) that Brexit voters wanted, whilst simultaneously annoying Remainers. This Brexit deal is the ‘best deal possible’ according to European Union negotiators; they mean it’s the best deal possible for them.
We won’t get our money’s worth for the £39 billion divorce bill. Theresa May used to tell us that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. She’s delivered on a bad deal…and gambles on three things to ramrod her deal through Parliament. Firstly, she’s relying on your boredom. She’s assuming that the public are so sick of hearing about Brexit that we’ll all say ‘yeah it’s a bad deal, but the EU won’t let us have anything better and at least we’ll be able to finally talk about something else’. Secondly, by holding the first Parliamentary vote in mid-January, two months before Brexit, she hopes to run down the clock to bounce Parliament into approving it. Thirdly, she’s relying upon Opposition incompetence. Their “will they, won’t they?” motion of no confidence, followed by the “did Jeremy Corbyn call Theresa May a ‘stupid woman’ or ‘stupid people’?” distraction, added to their confusion over Brexit, hardly inspires confidence.
Remember the Trump – Clinton election (the most unpopular candidate in American Presidential history versus the second-most unpopular candidate ever)? Both May and Corbyn would be 15 points behind in the opinion polls if they were facing someone competent on the other side. They’re not; they’re facing each other.
A consequence of Theresa May’s running down the clock is that the UK’s best option – to agree a simple Canada-style free trade deal with the European Union (as the EU itself said was on the table when Council President Donald Tusk proposed it) – is looking less feasible.
Many Brexiteers think May’s deal is even worse than Remain, fearing that we could be trapped indefinitely. We’re down to three choices: Remain (with all the attendant civil strife that would cause), May’s deal (which offends both sides in equal measure), or No Deal (short-term pain for long-term gain).
The European Commission has (as predicted) produced contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit which include areas such as aviation, financial services, customs checks, emissions trading schemes and the legal status of Brits living in the EU. This isn’t what I want, but what else can I back? I can’t support May’s deal, and I certainly can’t support Remain: millions of people voted four times (2014 European elections, 2015 General Election, 2016 referendum, 2017 General Election) to cause Brexit.
As a democracy, if the nation votes for the same thing four times and then it’s not delivered, or actively torpedoed, those people will believe that democracy is dead. I’ll just say this: of the 17.4 million Leave voters, I’d guess between 4 and 8 million of them aren’t bored; the ones who’d feel utterly and irrevocably betrayed. If between 10% and 20% of the adult population of our nation were to lose trust in our democracy to such an extent, the social breakdown would still be felt two generations from now.
I hate to say it, but No Deal now seems the least-worst option; perhaps from that starting point, we’ll finally be able to negotiate a reasonable trading relationship with the EU.
It’s time we had an open, frank and honest discussion in society about sexual abuse. We see chasms in British politics, in global politics, as though abuse were a Left/Right issue not a humanity issue. Not so long ago, I’d have been able to say things like ‘all sexual abuse is bad’, ‘people are innocent until proven guilty’, ‘false accusations are bad’, ‘sex abusers should be locked away for the protection of the public’, ‘an oops-my-hand-slipped consent violation is very bad, though still lower on the scale of seriousness than a stranger raping someone at knifepoint’, ‘whether someone’s guilty doesn’t depend upon their political beliefs but their actions’ and so on, without batting an eyelid. To paraphrase the American Declaration of Independence, those truths really should be self-evident. Yet, in our increasingly-polarised society, they don’t seem to be.
This isn’t a theoretical discussion. This isn’t something rare, happening to people you’ve never met. In my (largely people from outside politics) circle of friends and acquaintances I know several
women and a couple of men who’ve been seriously sexually assaulted; others who’ve experienced harassment; people whose lives have been torn apart by false allegations, and situations where a manipulative thankfully-now-ex partner has threatened to make false reports of sexual abuse as a means of exerting control over the relationship. When I was teaching, I thankfully never personally knew a case of abuse – but friends of colleagues and colleagues of friends did. Many teachers live in constant fear of false accusations being made by someone not yet fully cognisant of the gravity of the accusation they’d be making. Careers ruined, families torn apart, yet child protection must rightly always be paramount.
We should all be on the same side. There cannot surely be more than one person in a thousand who could possibly disagree that we should render the innocent blameless and punish the guilty; society should be united. Yet it isn’t. Nor is everything quite black and white; take the Ched Evans case for example: found guilty of rape, but overturned and acquitted on appeal. His actions deeply immoral, but legally did not meet the requisite standard for a conviction on the offence of rape. Is the law wrong? Is it outdated?
Conviction rates for rape are appallingly and terrifyingly low; recent cases show the dangers of trying to artificially increase them. When documents demonstrating innocence fail to find their way into the hands of the defence, it shows something wrong with the system. Jimmy Saville never had to live with the consequences of his serial sexual offences; Cliff Richard must forever live with the consequences of false accusation and trial by media, reputation forever unfairly tarnished.
In America, battle lines were drawn on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. The Left condemned him guilty as charged; the Right claimed evidence exonerated him. Rewind 20 years for the converse: remember the Right condemning Bill Clinton; the Left defending him? Should your views on the behaviour of Trudeau or Trump really depend upon political allegiance rather than facts? Shouldn’t the outrage be proportionate to the offensive behaviour, not to the colour of the rosette? Power corrupts; positions of power create potential abuse of that power. They attract potential abusers. Genuine – serious – abuse by MPs and MEPs goes unpunished; yet, colleagues who’ve tried to dismiss an underperforming or disloyal staff member frequently find themselves instant subjects of retaliatory accusations.
What should be legal, and what should be illegal? How to react to those behaviours which aren’t illegal per se, but are socially unacceptable? For anyone who struggles with the concept of this immoral/illegal distinction, imagine a serial liar: immoral, but hardly a criminal. How can we balance protection against false accusations with condemnation of true ones? How do we deal with the fear of coming forward when convictions are so difficult, yet maintain our proud national tradition of innocence until proven guilty? How do we stop innocent people like Cliff Richard being condemned in the court of public opinion, whilst the guilty all too often fail to face a court of law?
Worse still, we can’t consider any of these questions in a vacuum. They’re all intertwined with each other. How do we cut the Gordian knot and make sure we only condemn the people who deserve it, without ruining innocent lives in the process? I don’t have all the answers but one thing I do know: this matters. A lot. And the way we’re going about it is only going to make matters worse, not better.
I’m sick of seeing people claiming that ‘Britain is a Christian country’ in order to excuse hatred and vitriol directed at Muslims. Yes, I’m a Christian, and yes, I stuff things up from time to time like we all do. I’d never claim otherwise.
Are Christians being persecuted in many Muslim countries at the moment? Yes. They’re also being persecuted in India (Hindu), China and North Korea (atheist) and many other countries too.
If you’re truly a Christian, what actually is your response to such persecution? Last night, I happened to watch a harrowing hour-long film about the life of Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian citizen who had dared to preach Christianity during Communist rule. His 14 years in prison included medieval-style torture and beatings, burning and branding, being locked in an ice box, years of solitary confinement and threats to his family; his wife suffered broken ribs when she was thrown into a freezing winter canal by prison guards. After his release from prison, he could never again walk normally due to the brutal beatings to his feet. Others were killed or died in prison. When testifying to the U.S. Senate, he lifted his shirt to show scars from his torture.
Yet throughout, he professed nothing but love for his Communist captors and torturers. Why? Because, as he said, he was “looking at men… not as they are, but as they will be…I could also see in our persecutors…a future Apostle Paul..the jailer in Philippi who became a convert.”
You see, his actions reflected what Christianity actually is: when the Bible says ‘bless those who persecute you’, it means something profound to those who’ve been tortured for their faith. It’s just words to those who wish to use the word ‘Christian’ tribally as though it were ‘us versus them’, the religious equivalent of a Newcastle-Sunderland football match.
Early this month, I happened to meet again with some Christian pastors from Algeria, a majority-Muslim country. I’ve done some work along these lines in the European Parliament, trying to raise awareness of how Christians in that country are being harassed by their government. Churches are being banned or de-registered; licences required to import Christian materials aren’t granted. Some are thrown in jail for daring to insist upon freedom to practice their faith. In Pakistan, Asia Bibi faces the death penalty for a trumped-up charge of insulting Islam.
These are the people actually facing persecution. If you’d expect anyone to be bitter or angry towards Muslims, it’d be them. Thing is, they’re not. I asked the Algerian pastors what more people in churches in the UK could do. Their answer was surprising: they said we should engage more with Muslims, to talk to them, to break down barriers and to show them by example that Christianity means something to us. Perhaps that’s why so many Muslims in Algeria are converting to Christianity; Christians there are so abundantly welcoming of them.
You’d think that Muslims converting to Christianity would be something that those seeking a ‘Christian country’ would applaud, but I’ll tell you now that it won’t be achieved through hatred.
Now, I’m not by any means blind to the serious issues we have as a society. You’ll find no greater advocate than me of serious punishments being handed down by courts to those who commit acts of terror or violence, to those evildoers in grooming gangs who abused our children. Whilst as individuals the hardest thing to do is to forgive, that task is made easier when we have justice and sentences which fit the crime. Far too often it doesn’t; that’s where society often breaks down. Hiding from tough questions (although the majority of child abusers are white British, a disproportionate number of grooming gangs are from mainly-Muslim backgrounds) won’t make matters any better either; society needs to act.
But whilst it’s fair and reasonable and right and true and just to demand that society protects us from injustice, it’s immoral and counterproductive to go in for hatred of a whole religion. If you’re not prepared to love your neighbour as yourself, whether your neighbour is white British or Muslim, then you’ve got no business describing yourself as Christian. Please stop culturally appropriating the word ‘Christianity’ for your own ends.
In our Alice-in-Wonderland, topsy-turvy world where those seeking to overturn the result of the biggest vote of the people in our history ironically brand themselves as ‘People’s Vote’, the traditional response of Brexit supporters has been incredulity. The actual proposal – for a second referendum on our EU membership – has escaped scrutiny. Let’s set the ball rolling.
Would a Remain vote in a second referendum even result in Remain? There’s a court case going to the European Court of Justice at present, asking it to rule whether it’s even legal for the UK to unilaterally change its mind about invoking Article 50 and leaving the EU. There’s certainly nothing in the Treaties authorising that. What if the EU didn’t allow the UK to change its mind? What if it sought to impose punitive conditions on the UK for doing so?
How do they propose that everything should be done in time? At present, pro-Remain campaigners are spending vast unregulated sums of money seeking to shift public opinion. The Electoral Commission requires 6 months between calling a referendum and it taking place, to ensure a semblance of balance. In a referendum, campaign rules regulate spending. TV airtime was required to cover both sides equally. (Remain and Leave each had minor quibbles about the other side’s spending and co-ordination, though the big picture was that Remain outspent Leave by 3 to 2; the minutae will be argued for years, each side claiming victories as appeals go to higher and higher courts). How could legislation possibly have time to go through Parliament and a referendum be held fairly long before March 29th giving time for the European Parliament to sign off on any deal.
Extending the Article 50 deadline doesn’t help much either. That requires all 27 EU countries to agree to an extension. There are European Parliament elections in May. Those elections are planned based upon the UK having left, with all the seats re-allocated. The EU won’t allow their own elections to be utterly ruined by Brexit uncertainty. They might agree to a 4-6 week extension, but that’s about all.
Let’s suppose that a vote were held, with inconclusive results. Suppose they overruled the Electoral Commission, ignored balance requirements, and secured a tiny Remain majority on a low turnout on a snowy day in February, with far fewer people voting than in 2016. Would that legitimately overturn the biggest vote in our history?
What is the position in the event that Leave wins a second referendum? Will the European Parliament vote for a deal in the run-up to a UK referendum? Knowing my MEP colleagues, I seriously doubt it. In all likelihood the European Parliament wouldn’t vote until after a UK referendum. What if a UK referendum approves the deal, but the European Parliament rejects it? Would campaigners then call for a third referendum? How? When?
What if the second referendum were not based upon a clear, agreed deal? In that case, we’d have a carbon copy of 2016. ‘We don’t know exactly what Brexit will look like’ was their argument last time. It didn’t work, but they’d re-hash the same. Indeed, the mere potential of a second referendum is already emboldening the EU to offer a poor deal.
Finally, what of the social consequences of their actions? People’s Vote campaigners claim the original referendum campaign was based upon lies (I should probably avoid churlishly pointing out that they should know, because they told most of them). If the referendum in 2016 was acrimonious, what do they suppose a further referendum now would be? Do they not think it would be far, far worse?
Would they accept the result if Leave won again? Many of them claimed during the last campaign that they would, then accepted it publicly, but have since reverse-ferreted. Even if they did somehow pull off a Remain victory, at what price? 10 million or more committed, unwavering, Brexit voters would never trust democracy again.
Those campaigning for a second referendum should think very carefully: they propose a recipe for constitutional chaos. In the meantime, they’re torpedoing negotiations. The more traction they gain, the stronger the EU’s side of negotiations, and the worse deal we’ll get. If the UK is browbeaten into a poor deal, they need only look in the mirror to find out why.