I watched with disgust and impending fear the news from Marseille, where scenes of fighting, mob violence and a disregard for any respect for the rule of law is evidenced on the streets of the city. I am ashamed and disgusted by the incendiary behaviour of a small group of thugs from Britain and well orchestrated, armed gangs from Russia, egged on by provoked local French youths. Questions will be asked about how the French police authorities have responded but the crowds of English fans, caught on camera singing anti-German songs and chanting “sit down if you hate the French“, “Fuck off Europe, were all voting out” and “Isis, Isis, where are you?” reveal abhorrent violent behaviour undergirded by ignorance and racism.
My fear is not because of an isolated incident connected to football hooligans but by the rise of nationalism, extremist policies and the growth of far right and far left groups, all of whom are working towards breaking up Europe. Nigel Farage, gloating at the prospects of a Brexit victory, declared triumphantly this morning that “the European union is breaking apart”. It is Nigel and the future politically belongs to people like you and other extremist groups across the Continent. You have masterminded a superb campaign that has exposed and exploited the fault line in the Conservative party and appealed to those former Labour supporters who have felt the impact of the Government’s austerity measures, and by your clever rhetoric, have decided that the problem lies with too many immigrants.
The reason why I’ve spent much time recently praying and thinking and latterly speaking and writing on the European referendum is because I believe that it is the single most important political decision that our country has made in my lifetime.
The decision that Britain will take on June 23rd will impact the lives of millions of people, not only in this country but across Europe and the wider world. I have campaigned not for myself but in the interests of my family, friends and people across this great continent. I will be voting in the referendum, very mindful of the legacy that will be left from this referendum for my children and grandchildren. If, as I fear, Britain will vote to leave the European Union, I want my children and grandchildren, my many friends here and across Europe to know that I voted to remain in the EU and I did so, not because I am uncritical of what it has become but because I did not want to trigger a movement that would see the collapse of something that has held the continent together in peace for over 60 years.
We have experienced the longest period of peace in Europe since the Roman Empire and I cannot believe that Britain, which at its best, exhibits tolerance, moderation, respect and decency and has used its immeasurable powers to influence for good the wider world in many ways, is now on the brink of being the nation that triggers the breakup that I believe will cause untold damage to Europe and the wider world. I listened to the Queen on Sunday, who, in her short speech at The Patrons Lunch said, I hope these happy celebrations will remind us of the many benefits that can flow when people come together for the common purpose, as family friends and neighbours. If only that could be rediscovered as we think of our relationship with our European neighbours.
I have argued previously about my distaste for referendums. This one was not called in the spirit of honest democratic engagement but as an attempt to placate anti-European wings of the Conservative party and win back those who were leaving the party and joining UKIP. As Matthew Parris said recently, David Cameron will rue the day he resorted to plebiscites to settle big issues. They’re a tool of demagogues and dictators. Hitler and Goebbels used this to influence public opinion back in the 1930s and I believe the same dynamic is at work today and will probably work for the Brexit campaign. Referendums are used to coerce and manipulate public opinion. They are seldom fought on facts and the naïve, if not stupid idea that it is easy to glean the facts from either side of the argument in this campaign is ludicrous. When I hear people say, “If they would just give us the facts” it reveals how lacking in understanding and at times how ignorant we are. The issue cannot be explained in a soundbite sentence. The referendum raises a whole host of complex issues that need careful and discerning consideration.
People also say they are sick of the soundbites but politicians know that those soundbites, those cliched headlines, even if they are exaggerated or are blatantly untrue, they work and they shape and influence public opinion. The Brexit campaign has been masterful, capturing public opinion, overwhelmingly supported by large sections of the media, playing on the fears, manipulating half-truths, distorting information and increasingly, blatantly lying.
Referendums are rarely fought on facts but on buzz phrases and soundbites. I heard on the radio this this week that the Sun’s front page headline read, BeLeave in Britain…The Sun says… Vote to Quit EU on June 23. It reminded me of that notorious headline that appeared on the Sun’s front page on the morning after 1992 general election, It’s The Sun Wot Won It. It is regularly cited in debates on the influence of the press over politicians and election results and has since become a political catch catch phrase in the UK.
Those who are leading the Remain campaign are accused of fear mongering. They are guilty of exaggeration. But the scurrilous claims and at times blatant lying of the Brexit campaign is quite extraordinary. Despite every verifiable independent evidence to the contrary, their battle bus and their strap line remains, The UK sends over £350 million to the EU every week. By any stretch of the imagination, this simply isn’t true. It is a lie but it will remain on the bus and in the campaign because it is working. When you start to talk about such huge sums of money it’s a clever way of manipulating uninformed public opinion.
Break the actual figures down and you discover that the amount of money that Britain pays into the EU equates to £4.40 per week per person, the equivalent of a cup of coffee and a cake. I was speaking in centre in Yorkshire last week and somebody came up to me and asked what, if anything did the EU do for the North of England. Well, for a start, the North East of England receives more money from the EU then it contributes to the EU. Why? Because we are poorer economic region. Our industries, the arts and things like the Angel of the North, the Sage, our national parks, universities and the very centre where I was speaking, have all received funding from the EU. It’s the principle of the redistribution of wealth, to help the weaker and poorer parts of the continent to grow and develop. It’s a lifeline to the poorer countries of southern Europe. The idea but if we came out of Europe that the north-east would be better off could not be further from the truth. Levels of poverty will increase and with all the attendant pressures and problems that would ensue.
In percentage terms, the UK pays less than 1% of its national GDP to the European Union. They won’t tell you that in the media. You have to search for that in the Office for National Statistics. Such facts do not get told and an uninformed public is swayed by the headline figures, oblivious to the truth. The same is true on the issue of immigration. We are told that immigration is a drain on our economy when the truth is immigration brings more money into the country, by people working and paying taxes, than it takes from our national budget. Immigration is an incredibly challenging issue and its complexity means that there are no easy answers. Yet again, tabloid headlines will persuaded an uninformed public and the momentum is now so strong in Brexit’s favour that the likely outcome is as I fear a vote to leave the EU. Playing the immigration card, preying on people’s fears, fuelling their concerns, allied to ignorance, is clearly working, as current polls reveal.
Another card that is being played is that the EU is undemocratic. This is not true. We elect members to the European Parliament. Elected members, on our behalf, appoint committees to work on all aspects of European legislation that has to pass through the European Parliament, which has democratically elected members and each member state has the right to veto. The EU is based on the rule of law. Everything it does is founded on treaties, voluntarily and democratically agreed by its member states. It is governed by the principle of representative democracy, with citizens directly represented in the European Parliament and each member state is represented in the European Council. This council is composed of the heads of state or government of the European Union countries, the President of the European Commission, who was elected into office by those heads of state of each government, including our own Prime Minister. Then there is the Council of the EU, whose members are drawn from government ministers from each European country, according to the policy area that is being addressed. Each EU country holds the presidency on a six-month rotating basis. Of course, there is great need of reform within the EU but let’s not be hypocritical or tell lies that suggest that the European Union is totally undemocratic, with unelected members deciding on our future. They are elected members of the European Parliament. Let’s first, take the log out of our own eyes and remember that we have just under 800 unelected people in the House of Lords!
It’s claimed that this is our last chance to remove ourselves from the undemocratic Brussels machine . Well let’s just be reminded of some facts; only 13% of the laws that were passed in Britain in 2014 came from Brussels and those decisions were made within the European Parliament, where Britain was represented. The United Kingdom has 73 elected members of the European Parliament, (9%, which is not an unsubstantial number. Germany has 96 MEPs and France 74). How tragic that UKIP, avowedly anti-EU is representing Britain because it is a substantial part of the UK democratically elected group of members within the European Parliament. Acting as an irritant, blocking progress in negotiations on policy-making, we are less able to shape and influence for good the European Union and play our part in reforming it and calling it back to its original vision and purpose, with renegades and opponents of the EU, elected allegedly to serve but in reality, acting as stumbling blocks and the disturbers and disrupters of progress. UKIP has failed in previous years to gain any real ground within British politics but a pincer movement has engineered them from being a small but significant voice representing the UK in the European Parliament to a movement that is now about to gain significant ground in British politics, not through a General Election, (where they gained one seat!) but through the misguided opportunity that the Referendum has provided.
I believe history will look back on the decision that we are about to take and that my children and children’s children will suffer the consequences of giving power to people like Nigel Farage whose purpose in politics has been to break up the European Union. He will rejoice, as will Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and other Brexit leaders and they will be joined in their celebrations by Marine Le Pen and her National Front Party in France, Geert Wilders and his PVV Party in Holland and President Putin who will be getting the champagne ready for when we vote to come out of the European Union and signal the domino effect that will see its collapse in the coming years.
Latest intelligence reports confirm the fact that Putin is building a ‘super army’ in preparing for ‘large scale” conflict as NATO struggles to curtail his plans. Putin wants to bring the former Soviet States back into the fold to create and leave a legacy of a ‘Greater Russia‘. Despite the poor state of the Russian economy Putin is upgrading Russia’s conventional military and is mobilising the army, navy and air force for war. No wonder Britain has been asked to provide more troops for the 4000 strong NATO defence force based in Poland.
It might be considered scaremongering to say that Britain and Europe will be stronger together than alone but I believe but it is very true and any fragmentation across the continent will only encourage Putin in his ambitious, totally undemocratic plans.
His control over Russia is extraordinary and he, like Hitler and his Russian predecessors, manipulate and control public opinion, not least by controlling the media. As is true in Russia today, so there are aspects of the referendum debate here where telling the truth has disappeared and people have succumbed like those that the Apostle Paul warned about in his letter to Timothy, imposters who will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. For example, it doesn’t matter that the overwhelming evidence, from all quarters, from independent financial institutions, leading experts in the field of economics, world leaders, leading academics, and, in an unusual stance, church leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Bishop of Durham, all come out in favour of the Remain campaign. Justin Welby said that he would be voting to remain within the European Union, saying that Britain should be a country for the world.
Warning against succumbing to our worst instincts” over immigration, he clashed publicly with Nigel Farage over what he says are UKIP’s attempts to stir up racism. Welby said he would vote to stay in to avert economic damage that could harm the poorest. He said that “a vision of peace and reconciliation, of being “builders of bridges, not barriers” was one of the principles at the heart of the country’s Christian heritage. The EU he said “needs renewed vision; major reforms”, but remained in part responsible for the maintenance of peace on the continent since 1945, which was “the greatest cause for thankfulness that we can imagine”.
Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury said, ‘My fear is that if Britain steps back from Europe it will be stepping back from its own heritage. In Britain we have not done too badly in sharing with and learning from others. In talking in isolationist terms we run the risk of nailing our colours to a myth.’
I believe that we are about to trigger a movement that could see the breakup of the EU and with it the consequences of conflict, a widening gap between rich and poor and an inevitable outbreak of war in some part of Europe in the ensuing years.
I am fearful by what I see played out in the Referendum and the consequences of us leaving the EU.
For an insightful comment on the subject of religious liberty and the Referendum see Steve Holmes blog: http://steverholmes.org.uk/blog/?p=7622
Lord have mercy upon us.