European Union

EU Referendum: Welby asks the fairest questions of all


The froth masks the urgency of the substance; the heat deflects from the dominant paradigms of light. The EU Referendum debate is being reduced to a Tory pantomime of whether the nation trusts Dave more than Boris; and whether our democracy and liberty are worth sacrificing for nebulous notions of EU ‘influence’, even though we appear not to be influencing very much at all. “There’s nothing more important than protecting people’s financial security,” says the Prime Minister. What? Nothing? Really?

Why Dave, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for financial security?

The interview given by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the House Magazine has been reduced in tabloid headlines essentially to a single issue: immigration, and the fear of immigrants, which, Justin Welby says, is a perfectly reasonable concern and a rational anxiety. “There is a tendency to say ‘those people are racist’, which is just outrageous, absolutely outrageous,” he says. “Fear is a valid emotion at a time of such colossal crisis. This is one of the greatest movements of people in human history. Just enormous. And to be anxious about that is very reasonable.” Quite so.

But his comments on the EU Referendum have been largely ignored. And those that didn’t ignore them, such as Politics Home, decided to spin them for the Remain camp, which was rather foolish, not say dishonest. Here’s what the Archbishop said on the matter:

“My hope and prayer is that we have a really visionary debate about what our country looks like. From those who want to leave; what would it look like? What would Britain look like, having left? What would be its attitude internationally? What would be its values? What are the points of excitement, of contributing to human flourishing? How does that liberate the best that is within us?

“And from those who want to stay, how would we change the European Union? How would we make it more effective if we remained in it? What’s our vision?”

Are these not the most incisive and germane of questions? Are they not wholly legitimate concerns and the fairest of considerations? There is no “hint” here of an Archbishop who wants to remain in the EU, though he may, of course, and most probably does. But you’d be straining at a gnat to derive any such “hint” from these words. They blow away the froth and demand the conversion of dissipated heat to laser beams of light. What would Britain look like if we left? Where is the plan? What is the strategy? How will we function differently on the world stage?

There is, of course, a plan, but it has been largely ignored. The Institute of Economic Affairs held a drum-and-trumpet Brexit competition a few years ago, the objective of which was to find the definitive model and exemplary strategy for extricating the UK from 40 years of “ever closer union”. The winner was Iain Mansfield, with A Blueprint for Britain – Openness not Isolation. But it appears to have sunk without a trace. Nobody seems to know about it. Even fewer are talking about it. Why? What was the point of awarding €100,000 to the winner and then not proclaiming that we have found the answers to all questions about our post-EU existence, including a thorough examination of the implications for employment law, agriculture, the environment, financial services and the crucial business of trade in goods and services? Why doesn’t the Archbishop of Canterbury know about this? Is the blueprint somehow deficient? Is it lacking economic rigour and political credibility? Did the wrong plan win?

If you read Justin Welby’s interview carefully – very carefully – it is impossible to detect a “hint” that he supports the Remain camp (though he may and most probably does). But even if he earnestly desires ‘Europe’, it is manifestly not the one we’ve got: “And from those who want to stay, how would we change the European Union?” he asks, a little too directly for most Remain-ers. The candid response is quite simply that we can’t. We’ve tried, and failed, and tried and failed again and again. The EU is, in the final analysis, un-reformable. “How would we make it more effective if we remained in it?” he further probes. Again, we can’t. We’ve tried, and failed, and tried and failed again. The EU is mired in bureaucratic obfuscation and darkened by political opacity. It was designed to be that way.

And the most important question – “What’s our vision?” – the Archbishop answers himself:

“..This country has this extraordinary history, going back hundreds of years, of outward-looking, confident, often wonderful work around the world.

“At the moment we’re one of the most effective people on international development, we’re one of the most effective people on international trade, we lead the world on tackling modern slavery, and we have huge skills and gifts to bring.

..Britain is “leading the world,” he says, when it comes to offering humanitarian support in the region. “But it’s got to be both, not either/or. What the government is doing in the refugee camps and at the origin of the issue is really excellent. We’re taking an extraordinary lead there. It shows what we can do. Can we not show the same capacity and strength here, as we do there?”

..But in order to be fully successful, he says, the struggle against religious violence and extremism must involve a domestic component too. He offers a staunch defence of the UK’s own “Judeo-Christian tradition”, and warns against attempts to dilute those values out of a misplaced fear of causing offence.

“I think you’ve got to be very clear about rights and wrongs,” he says. “You can’t turn a blind eye, in any way at all.”

This is where secularism, Welby says, too often goes wrong: a successful multi-faith society, he believes, should not view faith as a threat to be pushed to the margins, nor identity as a zero-sum game of exchange, where different groups deny their values to avoid alienating others. Instead he says society must make room for people of different faiths to take pride in their traditions, and regard diversity as a blessing and an opportunity for hospitality.

“We need to be confident about our own heritage, our Judeo-Christian heritage, whether we’re believers or not,” he says. “That is what has shaped our own values, and we need to be confident in that.

“But within that confidence there needs to be a hospitality, a clear sense of what we believe to be right or wrong, not based on temporary values of one kind of another that come and go, but on the eternal values that spring from the very roots of our culture.”

..”I think the idea that you can separate secular life from religious life like separating from potatoes from peas on your plate, is just cloud cuckoo land. It’s not how human beings work. It denies the genuine inner sense of what a human being is.

“If someone is genuinely committed to a faith tradition, whether you agree with it or not, that faith will guide and inspire everything they do. Everything. You can’t separate it. It doesn’t make any sense at all.

“We’ve seen that in parts of Europe where they’ve tried to introduce very clear secularism, and it really doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked there, it won’t work here.”

And there’s the stark choice. It is between a sovereign, independent, prosperous, free, organic, diverse, democratic and confident United Kingdom based soundly upon historic Judaeo-Christian values; or an unaccountable, anti-democratic, sclerotic, bureaucratic, inefficient European Union superstate based on dogmatic Enlightenment secularism and coercive political uniformity. If you want to detect a “hint” of anything, it is there – for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.