The European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt summed up the mood following the vote on Wednesday to approve the withdrawal treaty by remarking that “it’s sad to see a country leaving that twice liberated us”. For many of us on both sides of the Channel it is difficult to accept that the UK is turning its back on an institution that has guaranteed the peace and stability of our oft-divided continent since the truce that emerged in 1945. Despite the passage of time, this is perhaps felt more keenly in places like Coventry which have witnessed war’s destruction first-hand. For some people though, the European institutions are perceived to be an unloved and distant arbiter, unsurprisingly perhaps after decades of lies in the British press about so much, from the curvature of bananas or the colour of passports to how decisions are made.
Looking back, we must be grateful. Grateful that we had 45 years of close economic and political collaboration with countries with which 75 years ago we were at war. Grateful that we have been instrumental in drawing back the Iron Curtain such that it is little more than a nostalgic road sign to welcome the visitor. Grateful that social and cultural minorities across our continent have had their rights recognised, protected, enhanced, and enshrined in law. Grateful that we now enjoy much better food standards, animal welfare, workers’ rights, and environmental protection, even though there is much more that we still need to do. Grateful that we have contributed to worldwide development and democratisation. Grateful that we have been able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the world stage, as equal partners with other nations which share the values we claim to uphold.
The European institutions are not flawless, of course; no institution is. But since it became an integral part of these institutions, the UK has contributed to that for which we are grateful, and indeed to that which some find irritating about the EU; we share both credit and responsibility. Having worked in the European Parliament and the European Commission, I have witnessed first-hand the UK’s usually constructive, moderate and sensible voice in decision-making processes, and how much that voice has been valued by the other nations of the EU. By leaving the table and ceding its influence, the UK loses its voice – though this is the least tragic of the ironies embedded in the arguments for Brexit – and there will be grief across the continent tonight, not only on these islands.
In daily and weekly intercessions across the Anglican Communion, we pray that we and our leaders would seek the common good. Yet in our body politic and our public discourse there is a worrying suggestion that common good only extends as far as the water’s edge, or only as far as the UK’s internal national borders. We should guard against these ever-decreasing circles of interest.
At the heart of the Coventry story which inspires the Community of the Cross of Nails is a recognition of what we share; not only our shared need for forgiveness but also our need to break down barriers of ‘us’ and ‘them’ towards a shared responsibility for how we treat each other and our world. Our Dean calls this “journeying from a fractured past towards a shared future”. In a post-Brexit world we must seize the opportunity to redouble our efforts to build this shared future.
In years to come, people may ask where we were when the UK left the EU. I for one will be marking the occasion with two minutes’ silence, in remembrance of what has been and in prayer for what will be.
Chair, CCN UK & Ireland
Let us pray to God the Father,
who has reconciled all things to himself in Christ:
For peace among the nations,
that God may rid the world of violence
and let peoples grow in justice and harmony;
For those who serve in public office,
that they may work for the common good;
For Christian people everywhere,
that we may joyfully proclaim and live our faith in Jesus Christ;
For those who suffer from hunger, sickness or loneliness,
that the presence of Christ may bring them health and wholeness;
Let us commend ourselves, and all for whom we pray,
to the mercy and protection of God.