In ancient times, natural phenomena were often taken for omens signifying a change of fortune - for good or for ill. In March 1066, Halley’s comet appeared over England and was taken as an omen. Later that year, the Normans invaded England, King Harold was killed in the Battle of Hastings and England was changed forever. The night before last week’s EU
referendum, violent thunderstorms lashed the capital and caused flooding; even some polling stations were put out of action. In times gone by, this might have been seen as an omen and a prelude to stormy times ahead. For once, the weather was in tune with events, for as the British people awoke on the morning of 24th June, they found themselves engulfed in the deepest and most serious political storm most of us have ever experienced.
|Photo: John Fowler|
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The vote to leave the European Union came as a huge shock to many. Despite the momentum on the Leave side during the referendum, the British political classes, European leaders, the financial markets and many in the British population as a whole did not expect the seismic shock of a vote for Britain to leave the European Union.
The shockwaves from Brexit have been reverberating ever since the early hours of Friday morning. We woke up on Friday morning, not only to learn that Britain had voted out, but also to the news that we are a deeply divided nation. In fact, given the closeness of the vote and the subsequent political fallout, perhaps we should call ourselves the Disunited Kingdom. London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU but England and Wales voted to leave. Industrial working class areas and the English shires voted out whereas most of the large metropolitan cities voted in. Younger voters tended to vote to remain but older voters tended to vote to leave. And while the Leave campaign won the referendum they only won by a tiny margin - just 4%. Roughly speaking it’s one half of the electorate on one side, the other half on the other.
What is worrying is that after a divisive and ugly campaign we’re seeing a hardening in division across the country. Brexit will more than likely spell the end of the United Kingdom itself. It is highly likely that there will now be a second referendum in Scotland and I’m fairly sure that given the divisions now between Scotland and England, this time we will see Scotland break away. The Labour Party is beginning to fracture at the seams as virtually all
of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet have resigned since Sunday. Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced his intention to resign following his defeat in the referendum so plunging the Conservative Party into what could be a bitter leadership election. People across the country are anxious and deeply troubled by the unknown implications of Thursday’s result. But most worryingly there has been a spate of racist incidents across the country linked to the decision to leave the EU.
|David Cameron resigns|
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There have been financial implications as well. The pound dropped to its lowest level against the dollar since 1985. Billions have been wiped off the value of stocks and shares across the world. People are worried about their jobs, the economy and what this means for Britain’s place in the world.
What we are seeing is an unprecedented political, economic, constitutional and social crisis being played out. Britain has entered stormy and uncharted territory, and no-one knows where it will lead. But what is even more worrying is that we have a political vacuum: the Prime Minister is leaving but we don’t know who his successor will be, and the Labour Party is in complete chaos. It does feel as though there is no-one really in charge of the country at a time when we need desperately need it.
I believe that the vote to leave the European Union was the wrong decision. However, what we all need to do now is accept what has happened and come together to rebuilt our divided nation. Each of us has a responsibility to reach out in love and with respect to those who voted differently to us, to tone down the divisive rhetoric, to stand up against racism and xenophobia, and to support our elected representatives as they seek to build a consensus for the negotiations to leave. What we also need to do is listen to the voices of the marginalised and forgotten who voted for Brexit. Large swathes of the country feel disenfranchised and that they have been left behind by modern Britain. Finally, for Christians, we also have the added responsibility to pray for our nation and our leaders, and to be a force for good and to foster reconciliation amid a divided nation. In a joint statement the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have called for us to ‘unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world. We must remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers.’
It is easy to feel a sense of panic or despair at a time of national crisis. It feels as though Pandora’s Box has been opened. There will be people hurting on both sides of the argument. Remainers who feel deeply disappointed and angry. EU nationals who no longer feel welcome in the United Kingdom. Leavers who have been subjected to appalling vitriol, especially on social media. A storm of this magnitude means that events will be out of our control. The British have a saying which was printed on posters in World War II in case of invasion but never used: Keep Calm and Carry On.
Yes, we keep calm and carry on, but as Christians we do so because of a different reality to the one we see played out in our nation. On Friday morning as I looked on Facebook I saw posts from despondent Remainders and posts by hurt Leavers, but one post caught my eye. It said this:
‘There is absolutely nothing to be worried about this morning because Jesus is on the Throne!
Amen to that.