EU referendum: Why we should remain for hope

By Simon Barrow
June 23, 2016

As the UK referendum on the EU takes place today (23 June 2016), I find myself thousands of miles away. It's a strange and emotionally tangled feeling. I have been engaging from afar, but the distance has made me feel more rather than less passionate about what is taking place.

Scotland (where I live), the nations and regions of Britain, and an interdependent world... all need a plural, peaceful and just Europe. The instruments of the EU by which we can help to achieve that may be flawed in many ways, but they are also vessels of protection, purpose and possibility for millions upon millions of people. 

There is a huge amount at stake here. What has been achieved on our continent since 1945, given the history of the past 500 years, is a minor miracle. So I shall be voting positively to continue the journey, the struggle and the collaboration that this sort of fragile hope requires. That is a spiritual as well as a political task: it involves personal and social commitment, not just an 'x' in a box.

I am also very conscious right now of the immense and terrible threat from the forces of xenophobia, fear and hate across Europe and in parts of Britain.

This is coming from those scapegoating 'foreigners', 'strangers' and 'aliens' (all these terms have been used to designate migrants and refugees) on account of the failure of wealthy nations to provide work, housing, education, healthcare and security for all.

But the real crisis we face is not caused by  people who are forced to move or flee. It is caused by injustice, conflict, militarism, poverty, inequality, denial of human dignity and environmental destruction.  These problems can only be tackled by national, continental and international action and investment. 

By contrast with this vision of inclusion and collaboration, UKIP's infamous anti-refugee 'breaking point' poster, reminscent of propaganda from the 1930s, was nothing short of wicked. Brexit undoubtedly risks emboldening and entrenching a toxic, racist, anti-immigant far-right across Europe. These forces must not be allowed to succeeed.

As I have noted elsewhere, many people in working class communities (in England, especially) have been tempted by the lure of Leave out of despair at a UK political and economic system which has undoubtedly let them down.

I have immense sympathy for those abandoned by the dominance of the City of London and the failings of Westminster. But Brexit is a false prospectus promoted by another branch of the elite that pretends to be 'of the people' – while actually wishing further to destroy workers' protection, to slash social security, to junk human rights and to deepen the grip of their own corporate interests.  

So given the actual balance of forces internationally and the spectre of intolerance haunting Europe at present, the 'left exit' notion is a dangerous piece of escapism. Sorry. Neoliberal capitalism neither begins nor ends with the EU. To think otherwise is to exist in an ideological bubble. 

In spite of immense challenges, another Europe (a democratised confederation of social and environmental hope) and another Britain (a family of nations and regions, not a colonial UK) is possible – but only through solidarity from the ground-up, combined with internal and external pressure on the levers of political and economic power.  

Voting to abandon those levers in favour of free floating in a rigged global market negotiated by a reactionary government is no way to achieve that.

Some who support Brexit say they want to remove borders altogether. But by voting Leave they will be handing power to the very people who want to consolidate barriers, construct more walls, and abandon entirely the principle of free movement.

Likewise, so much of the Brexit campaign has been about presenting people of a different ethnicity, culture, religion or belief as a problem and a threat. In contrast, the cooperation of independent European nations and communities with each other, and internationally, is about building bridges of engagement and understanding.

This, together with challenging poverty, advocating nonviolence, strngthening civil society and upholding free expression, is a task that churches and other communities of conviction (religious or otherwise) should have at the heart of their mission within and beyond the present European Union. That is, you could say, the new ecumenical task in a fractured world. 

So in this referendum, through my proxy (thanks, Katie Crumlish), I shall be voting for, and committing myself to:

Remain for the environment
Remain for human rights
Remain for disabled people
Remain for gender justice
Remain for workers' rights
Remain for free movement
Remain for the working time directive
Remain for peace
Remain for internationalism
Remain for cooperation
Remain for equality
Remain for inclusion
Remain for subsidiarity
Remain for confederalism
Remain to take on TTIP
Remain to welcome refugees
Remain to pool resources
Remain to make trade fairer
Remain to tackle austerity
Remain to combat xenophobia
Remain to challenge neoliberalism
Remain to socialise the economy
Remain to defy the far right
Remain to create coalitions for change
Remain to mobilise for democracy
Remain to build solidarity...

Remain for hope.


© Simon Barrow is Director of Ekklesia, and author of the papers listed below. 

*What kind of European future? (Ekklesia, 13 June 2016) –

* Assessing Christian contributions to the EU referendum debate (Ekklesia, 20 June 2016) –

Ten principles to guide voting in the EU referendum and beyond (Ekklesia, 21 June 2016) -

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