A50 day is finally here.
The triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, gives the UK a two-year window to negotiate a new relationship with the EU. In the aftermath of the referendum vote last year, there has been the political equivalent of musical chairs, penitent pollsters, and of course analysis overload. And, we have observed hysteria and what can only be described as ‘liberal trauma’. As the myth of progress took yet another battering from human nature and history, this angst, expressed most notably via the meltdown of the Islington chatterati and Guardianista twitterati was experienced like a death in the family. Loosely, following the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief, we have witnessed the ‘remoaners’ go through: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance (by some).
Against a backdrop of the Trump-quake in the US, and accelerating social and political discontent in Europe, this emotional convulsion to our impending divorce from the EU has taken many forms. We saw protests. We saw legal challenges to the government plans for Brexit. We had the mass delusion of ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit. We saw parliamentary plotting to obfuscate the process, with opposition in the House of Lords no doubt precipitating significant reform of the chamber. Most notably, we have seen calls for a second referendum, with liberal elites such as Tony Blair and A. C. Grayling asserting that the voters lacked the necessary knowledge needed to make an informed decision. While across the channel, fearful of setting a dangerous democratic precedent, some EU leaders have felt it necessary to threaten the UK with sanctions and a ‘hefty bill’. All of which suggests that the divorce is unlikely to be neither quick, clean nor amicable.
Critically, if Marine Le Pen wins the next French general election, there’s a possibility that the triggering of A50 may become irrelevant. With the Franco-German foundation for the federal project broken in two, by the time A50 takes effect, there may not be an EU to leave. This is an existential threat. How did the EU get into to this pickle? It’s certainly complex, but two key reasons are apparent to me.
The first reason relates to democracy, and how precious and precarious it is. With regaining control our affairs being cited as the primary driver for Brexit, it seems that it is the detached decisions of political elites that are being rejected. Both socially and economically, the EU has governed on the basis of progressive assumptions relating to liberalism, secularisation and globalisation, and the decisions based on these assumptions have been increasingly experienced as being imposed rather than agreed. Indeed, the political project of the EU itself is a far cry from the EEC and the EC that citizens of most member states originally signed up to. So much so that it could be said the UK may well be leaving a club that it never actually joined. The lesson here is clear. When politics is done to people rather than for people, there’ll be a reckoning.
The second reason relates to the essence or identity of the EU project – or lack thereof. In 1992, the then President of the European Commission Jacques Delors stated: “If in the next ten years we haven’t managed to give a soul to Europe, to give it spirituality and meaning, the game will be up.” By this he meant religion (from religare, a verb meaning to fasten or bind). Something was needed to bind people spiritually in a way that transcends national and cultural boundaries.
In the years that followed Delors’ speech, there was a notable lack of appetite among the eurocrats for Schuman’s original Christian vision for Europe as a ‘community of communities’, and the EU developed as a distinctly secular humanist project. A good example of this could be seen with the failed attempt to introduce a constitution in 2004 in which the preamble sought to airbrush the role of God and Christianity out of a European identity, instead referring to the “cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe”. Without a clear acknowledgement of the Christian narrative informing what it means to be European, the EU simply began to follow a lowest common denominator approach to European identity by promoting human rights and ‘democratic values’ as the basis for gluing us together – the first being subjective and the second being a (abused and neglected) system for government – both being insufficient to inspire allegiance and solidarity.
Adrift from democracy and absent of a soul, the federal project is now not only defenceless against the forces of globalisation, it may also be defenceless against the reactions to the forces of globalisation. Either way, the game is well and truly up for the EU. While for some in the UK the triggering of A50 signifies a tyranny of the majority. For the majority it represents vox populi – a confirmation of faith in democracy. For Christians, the challenges in these turbulent times are to keep calm and carry on, and to seek and affirm vox dei – for the future of the UK and for Europe.
About the author
Dave Landrum is the Director of Advocacy at the UK Evangelical Alliance where his work involves public policy, theology, research and media. He is a frequent contributor on Christian and secular media debates on a range of social issues. He previously worked in parliament for 10 years and has a PhD in policy sociology with a focus on citizenship and national identity. Dave has an interest in Christian social and political engagement, public leadership, religious liberty, identity in plural society, post-secularism and post-liberalism. Most recently he published ‘The Problems of Progress’, in Geary, I & Pabst, A (Eds) (2015) Blue Labour: Forging a New Politics. Being from Liverpool, he naturally supports Everton.