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Article of faith

A50 day is finally here.

Dave Landrum – Director of Advocacy at the UK Evangelical Alliance

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.

6 Responses on “Article of faith

  1. ” 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”

    Inaccurate history – the EC/EU was from the beginning a political project which used economic means to draw previously warring countries closer together.

    “the game is well and truly up for the EU”

    A premature and unfounded prediction. The EU has many challenges, not all of its own making, but it has survived many others in the past. The Economist inaccurately reported its demise in 1982 and much life and many achievements have taken place since then.

    1. Jonathan Chaplin says:

      Dave Landrum is a valued friend and esteemed colleague but, while I share some of his concerns, I must disagree with him on seven points (in addition to those raised by Carole Ludlow).

      First, the legal challenge to the government’s plan to invoke article 50 without the permission of parliament was not the result of an ‘emotional convulsion’ but of a brave attempt by a public-spirited lawyer (at high personal cost) to uphold the rule of law – the most fundamental of constitutional principles, one deriving in large part from the Christian heritage of Britain that Dave (rightly) wants to see maintained.

      Second, what he calls ‘parliamentary plotting to obfuscate the process’ in fact amounted to parliamentarians seeking to express the supposed objective of the Leave campaign which was a restoration of the sovereignty of parliament. It is the executive which has sought, from the beginning, to shut down effective parliamentary accountability and has only been forced to do so by concerted effort by MPs and Peers. Shouldn’t we be saluting them as guardians of democracy?

      Third, to suggest that EU leaders, ‘fearful of setting a dangerous democratic precedent’ have sought to ‘threaten the UK with sanctions and a “hefty bill”’ is very wide of the mark. There has been no threat of ‘sanctions’, and the proposal that the UK will have to pay a significant ‘divorce settlement’ is wholly legitimate. This is merely the political analogue of alimony – you don’t walk away from a marriage leaving all the future costs to be borne by your former spouse. As a member state the UK is fully implicated in long-term EU spending commitments and it is entirely right (even if not legally enforceable – that remains to be seen) that a reasonable settling of accounts should take place. Leave leaders either didn’t know this (in which they are inexcusably ignorant) or didn’t admit it (in which case they are inexcusably deceptive).

      Fourth, while I agree that a dangerous democratic deficit in the EU has opened up since the 1990s, from which the EU is now reaping the damaging consequences, this is not only or mainly the result of some imposed elitist managerial plot at the EU level. Every extension of EU competencies has been approved by member states, which, moreover, have often resisted attempts to increase the countervailing democratic powers of the European Parliament. The fault lies much more with member state governments themselves, not least the UK’s, which have jealously guarded their own control of EU decisions via the Council, and have frequently, and in the UK often wilfully and perversely, failed to effectively and truthfully communicate EU affairs, especially its successes, to their own citizens. The democratic deficit as much home grown as Brussels-made.

      Fifth, if it is the case that, since the 1990s, the EU has increasingly ‘governed on the basis of progressive assumptions relating to liberalism, secularisation and globalisation’, this merely reflects the assumptions increasingly guiding member state governments themselves, not least the UK. These larger cultural forces have not been ‘imposed’ on member states but are largely caused by what is happening in member states. Leaving the EU will, absent a concerted movement in the opposite direction, thus result merely in ‘liberalism, secularism and globalisation in one country’. How exactly is that an advance?

      Sixth, to characterise the debate over whether God or Christianity should be included in the proposed EU constitution as an attempt to ‘airbrush the role of God and Christianity out of a European identity’ is far from the whole story. I agree with him that it would have been fully legitimate for a preamble to name ‘Christianity’ as the chief cultural influence in the historical development of Europe, and it’s true that secularists, notably French ones, blocked that proposal. That was a missed opportunity. But it is far from clear that any constitution, the purpose of which is only to establish a legal framework for a structure of government, actually needs to specify its cultural roots at all. It is even less clear that it is proper for legal documents like constitutions to invoke religious beliefs as their foundation (though several do); or, as Dave puts it, to include a ‘clear acknowledgement of the Christian narrative informing what it means to be European’. That is a case that is much better made by Christians to wider society from the platform of open debates in civil society. For a full analysis of the EU constitution debate, see the article ‘God and the Constitution’ by Guy Milton, a senior Council official who had a ring-side seat throughout the whole process (in God and the EU: Faith in the European Project (Routledge, 2016), edited by me and Gary Wilton).

      Seventh, it is very misleading to suggest baldly that the EU has become a ‘distinctly secular humanist project’. As just noted, the EU is more a reflection of the collective priorities of member states than some overweening behemoth bearing down on reluctant and powerless victims. Insofar as member states are governed by ‘secular humanism’, so will the EU be. That is what chiefly explains the evidently ‘secular’ tone of much EU discourse. What is more, from the beginning European institutions agreed not to exercise direct competence over the state-religion relationships existing in member states. Thus, the EU tampers neither with French laïcité nor with Greek or English Establishment. Finally, the Treaty of Lisbon established for the first time formal procedures by which faith communities could dialogue regularly with EU institutions – Dave’s counterparts in the European Evangelical Alliance regularly make use of these channels, as he knows. It’s down to Christians across the EU to better avail themselves of these and other channels, and more broadly to work in many other ways to restore the Christian inspirations of the Founders which Dave rightly affirms.

      Dr Jonathan Chaplin
      Director, Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics
      01223 566625 (Director’s office)
      01223 566619 (KLICE office)
      07851 776609 (m)
      jc538@cam.ac.uk
      http://www.klice.co.uk

      KLICE is the ethics division of Tyndale House

      TYNDALE HOUSE
      CAMBRIDGE
      Biblical Scholarship for the World Church 36 Selwyn Gardens
      Cambridge, CB3 9BA, UK
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  2. Dave Landrum says:

    Jonathan, thanks for this feedback – which, being bigger than the article itself has helpfully addressed some points that the word count restricted me from making. As ever, your analysis is characteristically intelligent and courteous, and I thank you for it. I’ll try and address the points in order. And please do remember to read all stuff on this blog as my own views rather than an EA position on the EU or Brexit – which thankfully doesn’t exist.

    1. I just don’t see what you see. My perspective (and the governments’ – and the majority of the population) is that referendums are about big once-in-a-generation decisions (putting nationalism in Scotland to one side for a minute) and the outcomes need to be acted on asap. People voted to leave the EU, so in my opinion the government has a right and an obligation to facilitate this fast.

    2. See above – with the addition that the parliamentarians knew what the referendum was about when they sanctioned it in the first place.

    3. While I completely understand the negotiation poker presently being played by UK politicians, EU spokespeople such as Guy Verhostadt, Jean Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk (notably in Bild last week) have all communicated the need for the UK’s exit to be difficult and costly in order to deter other exits. Michel Barnier has also recently suggested that a bill could be levied. Francois Hollande has similarly echoed these statements about the need hurt Britain. Perhaps this isn’t surprising. As the second biggest net contributor to the EU budget, there’s no doubt that the UK funds will be sorely missed, but I don’t think this threatening approach is helpful. There’ll need to be an agreement that works best for the UK and the EU, and hopefully some grace will prevail. What’s sad is the refusal amongst the eurocrats to acknowledge the core problems of the EU that are driving exit campaigns. Maybe this is our media once again failing to report things, but the silence is deafening. I get your point about the divorce implications, and on reflection it’s probably not the best metaphor for what’s happening. After all, it’s not a divorce, it’s a sovereign state leaving a supranational entity on a democratic basis – and the fact that there are multiple players complicates things massively.

    4. I didn’t say or infer that the EU was an elitist ‘plot’. It’s simply a secular humanist hegemony that has organically developed as the nation states of Europe (especially the Western ones) have themselves incrementally secularised. You are dead right that the EU simply reflects this fact, but I would also contend that it reinforces the process on a continental level. I completely agree that many of the key decisions that have directed the EU down this path have been either ignored or played down by many member states over the years, and this has been a key factor in fueling the backlashes we are seeing. Even so, I’ve engaged with enough EU policy over the years, especially the equality directives, to be under no illusions about the institutional culture and the ideological agendas that have shaped it. If only there was hope for this to change. For me the core problem with the bureaucratic behemoth that has developed is that it did not appear to entertain the prospect of substantive reform, which logically means that disintegration will probably now precede the re-forming of a supranational body that is more fit for purpose.

    5. Agree. I have real concerns about the UK simply aping what it purports to want to change. Yet, at least now there is the prospect for a paradigm shift.

    6. Constitutions are more than legal frameworks. They define identity, order socio-cultural priorities and set a direction of travel for the state that forms them. Delors was spot on, and the furore over the failed constitution is testimony to the soullessness of the EU and how disturbing this attempted airbrushing was. If you remember it caused a lot of trouble at the time. I’m sure many in the EU now regret pursuing D’Estang’s proposals. The fact that they did seek to pursue them says it all

    7. Yes, this is a very complex historical and cultural situation. Yes, the EU is an aggregate of national sentiments and belief (or the lack thereof). However, to suggest that it didn’t assume a distinctly secularist agenda is not right. Despite its language of democracy and subsidiarity (which is in reverse in most places) the EU is not some sort of innocent construct that exists in a moral suspended animation. It has a fluid character, a personality, an ideology – and in the absence of any prospects for reform, it’s not hard to see why people in large numbers want to leave it. And this is without an analysis of the economic philosophy of the EU. Not enough space here for that!
    I accept your point about Christians needing to make the case for the roots of European identity ‘from the platform of open debates in civil society’. If only there was a level playing field for these debates. And as you note, if only Christians would avail themselves of the Christian roots of European identity and culture. My hope is that, despite (and possibly because of) the inevitable turbulence ahead both for the UK and EU, Christians will once again begin to provide inspiration for a re-formed European community of communities.

    As for the previous response that you agree with. Of course, there’s a political dimension to what the EU was originally about. It couldn’t function with that. The issue is about the degree to which the political eclipsed the economic rational of this network, and the degree to which people were given an explicit choice about this. I just can’t accept that the club we are leaving is the club we are joining. It’s not just the name that has changed. It’s clearly also the objectives – and all by increment. It’s mission creep writ large. On the basis that a fully federal project akin to a USE was never agreed on in any the member states, I would expect more countries to leave in the years ahead. As I said politics should be done for people, not to people.

    Thanks again for your response Jonathan. And – in love – I hope Everton hammer Man Utd next Tuesday.

  3. Ian Phillips says:

    Jonathan Chaplin’s response to Dave Landrum’s wide ranging statement, contains some major illogicalities and errors, particularly in his Third and Fourth points.

    In his ‘Third point”, in line with current journalese, he discusses Brexit in terms of a divorce, and alimony….that we should expect to make a payment as we exit. The laws of divorce are clear enough. But in the case of EU membership, Lawyers for Britain have pointed out that forward going financial commitments are “subordinate to the treaties”. I.e. when the treaty ends for the UK, in 2 years time, so do these commitments. Jonathan’s insistance that, whatever the legalities, compensating the EU as we leave is “entirely right” may be compared with other simple situations. E.g. are landlords entitled to compensation every time a tenant leaves or an employer to be compensated by an employee quitting a job, both having given the requisite notice? EU membership is not marriage and the rules are entirely different.
    Lawyers for Britain go on to make other relevant points.
    One involves funding of the EU staff pension scheme. But there is no legal support for balancing payments (or refunds) for states either when they join the EU or leave. So the UK will have no liability here either.
    The other is that we have made a large capital investment in the European Investment Bank, the EIB. After leaving, this money may be legally withdrawn from the bank…an amount of over £10Bn. In other words, it’s the only the EU which will have a debt, to us in two years time when we leave, according to Lawyers for Britain.

    In his ‘Fourth’ point’. Jonathan acknowledges the ‘dangerous democratic deficit in the EU’ from the 1990s but, in mitigation, claims that the ‘extension of EU competences’ (that is, of the EU’s superior lawmaking authority) are balanced by ‘the countervailing powers of the European Parliament’.
    Let’s be clear on this one. The EU, and its parliament, only came into being in the 1990s. Therefore, from Day1, the EU parliament, in complete contrast to our own HOC, has had zero power to stop the issuance of EU rules and regulations created by the EU Commission. It may only discuss, comment and vote in an advisory capacity. This is how it was set up and none of this ‘democratic deficit’ was never explained to the British public by our government. Jonathan is correct on this detail.
    On both counts, a ‘democratic deficit’ was built in from the start. It was part of the plan. And, for what it’s worth, I believe that a plan to gain advantage, which is carried out behind closed doors, may be described as a ‘plot’.

  4. What is this so called “democratic deficit” ? EU strategy is decided by 28 (soon to be 27) elected politicians, EU laws are made by the Council (Ministers from all the member states) and the elected European Parliament. The Commission suggests policy but does not issue EU rules and regulations and with the member states sees that it is carried out. There are many more voters behind this structure than behind just one member state parliament.
    If there is a deficit it has more to do with member state governments failing to be honest with their constituents about decisions they have made with their partners, and with people, sometimes wilfully, not bothering to find out how the system works.
    Here is a short video:

    https://tvnewsroom.consilium.europa.eu/permalink/92637

  5. Ian Phillips says:

    Firstly, I do not recall our British public being invited to vote on the setting up of the Council of Ministers (CofM) and the EU law-making system. And when were we invited to vote on the QMV system which replaced most of that veto promised by Ted Heath and others back prior to the 1975 referendum, when all we voted for was a Common Market trading system? We currently have only 8% of voting power in the CofM. And have we, the public, ever been invited to consider the content of all these EU directives and regulations which have poured over here by the thousand and advised our CofM representative how to vote? This lack is not a deficit of democracy, it’s a complete absence of it.

    The filmlet makes mention of ”Climate Change”….an “important issue” which the EU is dealing with. The image is of a polar bear, the traditional icon of this question. The problem is that, far from threatened with extinction, polar bears have been doing extremely well during the last 20-30 years when much careful research has been done. Their numbers have been increasing from around 23,000 in 2009 over the last decade, to around 28,500 currently…all despite the decrease in Arctic sea ice. Perhaps Ms. Ludlow would like to check this out for herself on Susan Crockford’s website, Polar Bear Science.

    On the question of “Overseas Aid”, the filmlet claims the EU to be the biggest donor. I find this as misleading as the polar bear image. EU aid is, in the end, only money provided by the individual member nations. For the record, on a global list, Britain gives by far the biggest cash sum in overseas aid, exceeded only by the US.

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