The EU Referendum: How Should We Decide?


EUbookletMaking Your Mind Up

As with much of the wider population, many Christians remain unclear as to how they will vote in the June referendum on EU membership.  Some are strongly committed to leave or to remain but most are probably still making their mind up.  Sadly much of the campaign is focussed simply on claims and counter-claims about the consequences – usually narrowly economic – of leaving or whether remaining is a denial of our national sovereignty.  How might Christians go about thinking through the deeper issues involved in deciding whether to stay or to go?

Returning to a Grove booklet I wrote nearly twenty years ago to revise it for the referendum campaign I was struck by how different the situation is today – the EU has almost twice as many countries in it, most of its members share a single currency which in recent years has teetered on the brink of collapse, the free movement of peoples is a much more contentious subject than it was in the 1990s.  And of course above all we now each have to decide whether or not we wish to continue participating in this unique, evolving political organisation that has helped bring 70 years of peace to Europe and which we have participated in for over 40 years.

Should I stay or should I go?

In deciding how to vote it is important that we recognise that we are answering a different sort of question from that at general elections but, as there, we also need to keep front and centre the test of what it means to love our neighbours and how our vote can serve the common good.  That means not deciding on the basis of what is best for me personally (usually understood in simple financial terms) or even for the UK alone but to look at our personal and national good in the context of international society and the importance of good relationships.  It also means trying to step back and take in the bigger picture both historically but also in terms of the present nature and likely future development of the EU.  At least three broad areas require serious Christian reflection and evaluation in discerning how to vote.

First, as regards its form, the EU is an international legal and political entity based on treaties between national governments.  This means considering a Christian attitude to the role and limits of nations and national identity and the dangers of empire as well as consideration of the principle of the free movement of peoples and how it relates to our sense of belonging and place of national borders.  Second, the EU also has motives and aims which shape its ethos.  Here Christians must evaluate how it has assisted in moving Europe from war to peace, whether and how it has enabled solidarity both within Europe and between Europe and the poorer parts of the world, and whether, particularly in relation to economic life, it is driven by our contemporary idols in the Western world and, through the Euro and austerity, serving or undermining human flourishing.  Finally, as the EU is best viewed as a political community it needs, from a Christian perspective, to be assessed in terms of how well it serves the pursuit of justice and whether its political structures are – or can be - representative of its 500 million people and whether they uphold the principle of subsidiarity which seeks to respect local and national governing structures and non-governmental forms of social life.

In the light of all these issues a number of arguments on both sides need to be rejected by Christians but, after exploring each of these areas, I believe it is possible to sketch out potential Christian arguments for each side of the debate focussing on these issues, often neglected in the wider political debate.

It Hurts To Go Away: A Christian Case To Remain

We should stay because the EU’s vision, shaped by Christianity, has led it to much good for its members and more widely.  The proper response to difficulties in relationships is not to walk out but to work at them and influence others for the good by being present.  The UK has modelled this through the EU after initially standing apart and we should persevere in that commitment.  EU membership recognises the value of international co-operation and the need for many political questions to be addressed at a trans-national level. The UK and other nations benefit from our involvement in institutions working for justice.  These bodies can never be as representative as local and national political structures but the EU ensures all nations are represented in its deliberations and respects their different histories and perspectives. Its commitment to subsidiarity gives a powerful basis for sustaining such distinctiveness.

To leave would diminish our input in conversations and decisions which will inevitably impact our lives and would isolate us from structures which bring us into regular political contact with our nearest neighbours.  It would give credence to erroneous views, especially that national sovereignty is inviolable, and risk fuelling nationalistic or xenophobic attitudes.  Voting to remain does not mean accepting the Euro or all other recent developments.  Rather, it means being committed to working with our neighbours to seek our shared common good.

It’s Impossible To Stay: A Christian Case To Leave

We should leave because the EU, despite Christian elements in its vision, and past successes for example in relation to peace, is now failing and damaging members and others.  It is increasingly captive to contemporary, particularly economic, idols as seen in the Euro, and is developing characteristics of an imperial project which do not adequately respect national integrity.  Given its history, the UK is well able to discern and to alert the EU to these trends but attempts at reform have largely failed.  Subsidiarity, for example, is honoured in word but not action as EU competences extend across so much of our lives.  Particularly since the EU’s expansion, the possibility of representative political authority structures has diminished.  There is even less - and far from sufficient - common identity uniting us and we should not seek to engineer or impose such an identity.

The principle of free movement of EU citizens denies the importance of our locatedness and does not do justice to distinct national identities.  It is no longer enabling solidarity but increasing tensions and, as with other policies, leads to an unjustifiable preferential option for the EU rather than other, poorer, parts of the world.  Brexit, though it will have costs, opens the possibility of  creatively rethinking and reconfiguring this negative dynamic to enable the creation of a better situation not just for the UK but for the EU and wider world.

Standing Calmly at the Crossroads?: Debating and Deciding

Over coming months, Christians need to find ways of bringing a distinctive contribution to the debate in terms of both substance and style and raising more fundamental questions about the sort of common life we seek in both the UK and the EU.  Above all, perhaps, they need, as the stakes are raised by politicians on both sides, to recognise that while of great significance, the decision on June 23rd concerns not an ultimate but a penultimate question. Whatever the outcome, as Ascension-tide reminds us, sovereignty ultimately lies in neither Westminster or Brussels but in the crucified and risen Christ.


Those interested in exploring the issues in more detail can find further discussion in my new Grove booklet which is supported with further information on the Grove website. It is available in electronic form (as a PDF) now, and print copies, which can be pre-ordered, will be despatched from 9th May.

7 thoughts on “The EU Referendum: How Should We Decide?”

  1. Whether the UK remains in the EU or leaves the EU, either way it is like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. God does not reveal to us the reasons why he orders the course of history in the way he does. But Europe would be wise to remember that
    ‘All the trees of the forest will know that I the LORD bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.’

    Phil Almond

    • I don’t really get the analogy in this instance Phil but I read it like this the earth is turning, global warming is a reality, we will be humbled by what tiny places can do for us and for other European nations. Can we Sunbathe on a sinking ship Yes we most definitely can for we will be in dry lands. The SON. Shall shine upon us even if we do bury ourselves.

  2. The way I read your questions rightly or wrongly Bacton is justified in parts, but like me you may make pa r alleles . On occasions that enable understanding of your point, but there is no real basis in it, for example the European building may indeed look like the tower of Babel and the multi languages may confirm the promise of God with reference to divided languages, however if you are a Christian the one voice many voices is the intention. The point was is that Christ wanted and showed how we could turn Evil acts into Good acts i.e. love thy neighbours o urban as thyself or build one another up. The strong shall look after the weak, seek God in all things, there are many. Although sometimes these v request are challenging to us and bc although sometimes we fail. God reassures us and guides us in a / way that brings peace not war contentment not disruption and doors are constantly opened to enable people to serve vBulletin one another. Economics is cc a part of the process, but a good economy in thwarting h ands with vBulletin the wrong intentions will not bear fruit . We see many times all over the world what can happen when people care for themselves and one another. I am not saying its easy because it is not. But my conscience tells me you BBC in you small corner and I in mine with the right intentions can help bhai if only for a short v while but if . You save a life in that short while then that becomes a lifelong honouring of God’s commandment all over the world.As individuals we can only do v what cc we can manage

  3. Can anyone say what the statistics are , on how many members corporate and individual are Christians. And how many others a ‘re of different religious persuasions. Also. Not just as Christians but also as humanitarians we have a responsibility to do our bit however large or. small. to care for others of all nationalities, but biblically this is alongside keeping ourselves safe, physically and spiritually. If we become a minority in this country we cannot do that. That does not neg a teacher the good works that other faiths do but it does diminish what Christians can do. It’s a bit o f a double whammy Christians are a minority even before we add in the factors of other religions.

    However I am aware th a decisions being made are not just about social cohesion , but has an economic foundation. Can economic foundations really be stable enough in a diverse religious environment where more than one God with different standards..Christianity could be quite brutal yet Christ taught us to change that, in religions where humanity is not one of the key ingredients is it possible to be cohesive.?

  4. But where are the concrete ideas for ‘creative rethinking’? If free movement of labour is an anathema to the writer, then how does he imagine a world that’s fair towards developing countries? Shall we just continue to let financial capital slosh around the world (causing asset bubbles, sudden stops and recessions) but not human capital? If the writer really cared about fixing the flaws, he’d offer at least one ‘creative’ solution, but the topic clearly hasn’t bothered him enough. Globalisation is not going away and removing democratic institutions (the EC is not a decision-maker) from the international level is not going to solve the problem.

  5. Sir

    It seems to me that the Judaeo-Christian case for leaving should begin with fundamental issues of comprehension and justice for the people.

    Why does Great Britain and Northern Ireland have three supreme courts? the Supreme Court of the UK & NI (the former House of Lords); the European court of Human Rights (not part of the EU) and the European Court of Justice?

    Does anyone know the capital city of the European Union? Is it Brussels as tour operators claim?

    Why is the Government (the Commission) of the EU unelected? is that not, in principle, tyranny that the Puritans (after the English Civil War) and the so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’ rejected?

    Why does the parliament of the EU (comprised of elected representatives) have the power of a 2v battery?

    Was it the European Union that kept the peace in Europe or the boots of NATO?

    Why is there a state of civil war in the Ukraine? Is it because of ‘ever closer union’ (to incorporate the Ukraine) and ignoring the insecurities of Russia (the need to have buffer states)? Is it in fact a neo-imperial power set to expand and thus cause war?

    Why did the EU raise the motor insurance rates of female drivers equal to men’s (when women are known to have fewer accidents)? Is it because the EU applies the Doctrine of Equality without Distinctions? The very doctrine embedded within the heart of the Equality Act 2010 in the UK)? Can anyone tell me now why Christians squeal when run over by the juggernaut of EU law?

    Why is the EU hostile to our Jewish and Israeli cousins (I speak as a Judaeo-Christian)?

    On the one-hand the evangelicals of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries (see the works of Sir Isaac Newton) predicted the rebirth of Israel and now Christians want to vote to stay inside a neo–mailed fist concealed within the velvet glove– empire inimical to the apple of God’s eye?

    Is it all about economics? If this once great nation votes to leave will Renault and BMW refuse to sell us cars by stacking them up at Calais a mile high? Will they force French and German workers join the lengthening dole queues across the European Union?

    Why do British workers emigrate to New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the USA rather than exercise ‘free movement’ (en masse) to lands where they are fond of singing operettas and slapping their thighs? Could it have something to do with speaking English and not French, Spanish, German and Italian? ‘Free movement’ de facto for whom?

    Why does our Government give £350 million pounds each week to Brussels; then have that money ‘washed’ and some (of our own) money returned with a list of instructions on how, where and what to spend it on?

    Does it ever strike your Christian conscience that the Greeks need to be free of the euro so that they can determine the value of the drachma (rather than the Franco-Germanic axis in the EU determining the value of the euro) so that they can at long last manage their own economy create jobs and reduce suicide rates?

    Can you not see even when you observe the EU’s parliament building that it is meant to resemble the Tower of Babel (is that not a sign for you Christians?). The eurocrats must’ve thought that it would represent a melting-pot of languages whilst the truth is that God divided languages and people at Babel.

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