Fools Rush In—Brexit

On Facebook I decided to repost an article which reported on the Liberal Democrats’ extreme, and highly odious, policies on abortion. Therefore I advocated against voting for the LibDems. In response some have been enquiring as to whether I now support Brexit. It is something of a non-sequitur but not totally illogical, since the LibDems are explicitly committed to reversing Brexit.

However, responsible voting must allow for the fact that there is more than one issue involved in general elections; they are not single-issue referendums. That so many elections often revolve around single issues is another matter. That the LibDems advocate abortion with the barest of limits, and desire to export their anti-life advocacy overseas, represents a single issue which acts as an effective veto on their desirability. What good is it staying in Europe if we condemn our unborn, and therefore powerless, fellow human beings to arbitrary death? To vote for a single issue is usually unwise; the foregoing notwithstanding, to vote against a single issue is sometimes morally necessary.

Labour is no pro-life party either but Labour’s current advocacy of a second referendum should not be allowed to entice Remainers into its camp. The first referendum was a grotesque mistake; another wrong will not make it right.

The problem is the mechanism of the referendum in the British system. It is a glorified, and vastly expensive, opinion poll of those who can be bothered to give their opinion. It requires only a simple majority across the entire United Kingdom. A referendum is not legally binding and there is no mechanism to balance regional variation. Such a referendum is a recipe for discord.

In Australia, also governed on the Westminster system, referendums are required to change its written constitution. Ordinarily the proposal must pass both houses of Parliament (and always at least one) before it can be put to the people. To pass, the question posed at the referendum must be supported by a majority of people in a majority of the six states; that is, there must be a majority of votes in at least four states as well as a majority nationally—a double majority. Moreover, if the proposal being voted on affects specifically the constitutional rights or status of a particular state, that state must return a majority vote for the proposal to pass. Voting is compulsory in Australia. Thus the result will authentically reflect the opinions of the entire nation.

Only eight out of 44 such referendums have succeeded in changing the constitution. There is a high threshold to surpass, and this acts as a brake on ephemeral, or merely regional, enthusiasm. But when a proposal does pass, it has the secure support of the majority of the nation. It is not a perfect system, but it superior to what transpired in 2016 in the UK.

By contrast the Brexit referendum of 2016 required a simple majority among voluntary voters taken as a whole across the Kingdom. 51.9% against 48.1% does not represent a sufficiently wide margin to ensure widespread acquiescence to the result. In total 33.6 million people voted out of a registered electorate of 46.5 million. Thus the referendum result can only be said to have reflected with certainty the opinions of 72.2% of the registered electorate across the Kingdom. Moreover there is no mechanism to take account of significant regional variation. That is why Ms Sturgeon cries foul on behalf of Scotland, that its No vote was disregarded, as in one sense it was since a simultaneous majority of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom was not required in addition to the overall simple majority.

Another referendum will duplicate this situation, and no doubt exacerbate it. Having had the referendum, and the government of the day having pledged—unnecessarily—to act on its result, that referendum needs to be respected.

A further tragedy is that, absent a referendum system fit for purpose, it is not fair to dump all the blame on Parliament for the failure to enact, as yet, the referendum result. Parliament was not legally bound to do so. It is unlikely that MPs were elected solely on their opinion about EU membership. They were elected not to conform to the latest opinion polls but to act and vote in accordance with the principles and policies on which they campaigned to be elected, and also according to their conscience (St Thomas More could teach us much on this point). That is representative democracy. The referendum has set up a rival authority to Parliament, and one that is not countenanced in the British constitution.

In all this can we surely find the roots of the current debacle.

I am not pro-Brexit, but neither am I do-or-die Remain. Another referendum would be pure and destructive folly. The bitterness that has been injected into the British body politic is appalling. The sooner Brexit is done and dusted the better. Then we get on with trying to make the best of it.

No more politics hereafter, but it does at least save me writing at length to all those who suspect a change of opinion on Brexit. And it took my mind off the Church for a while…

Brexit: The Disconnect

As the dust settles after last week’s UK referendum in which England and to a lesser extent Wales voted the UK out of the European Union, some things are becoming clearer.

The first is that the Leave campaign had no real blueprint for how Brexit would be effected. It is hard to imagine another context in which voting for an option so vaguely and inadequately outlined would even have been countenanced. It is as if most of the leaders of the Leave campaign only began to believe that they might win in the dying days of the campaign. Certainly we are hearing in the media that numbers of those who voted Leave did so thinking their vote would not count, and “Regrexit” has now been coined to cover those who repent of their vote to leave. Continue reading “Brexit: The Disconnect”

Everything has changed: John the Baptist and Brexit

[What follows is purely personal and does not necessarily reflect the views of my Benedictine brethren.]

The name was crucial. St Luke’s gospel makes that clear. The expectation was that the son born of the aged Elizabeth and Zechariah would be named after his father, or at least a close kinsman. Yet the decision was for John, a novel name in his family and one that clearly stupefied the family and friends who had gathered for the baby’s circumcision.

Why does St Luke labour this trivial point so? The name John in itself means nothing special per se. Its significance lies in its symbolism. That the baby would not take his father’s name is a sign that this boy would not follow in the footsteps of his father; he would not be a temple priest, but a prophet. His vocation would not be to serve the old covenant but to herald the New Covenant. He was to be a voice crying in the wilderness of Israel pointing to the Lamb of God, who will be a light not only for Israel, but to enlighten also the Gentiles. The novel name is a symbol that Israel is about to embark on a novel course, to become the new Israel, the Church, the Body of Christ. Continue reading “Everything has changed: John the Baptist and Brexit”

Reluctant Referendum Reflections

Tomorrow’s British referendum will be best quickly done and dusted, one way or the other. Election campaigns tend to stoop occasionally to the gutter but it is not encouraged and usually quickly decried. I think the British like to the think of themselves as moderate, balanced and well-mannered when it comes to politics. Alas, the referendum has exposed deep veins of nastiness in British society. Maybe this exposure is a good thing in the long run, but for now it makes uncomfortable viewing. One of my cyber-interlocutors has suggested very politely that I have been hinting at my opinion without clearly stating it, suggesting that there is a certain duplicity in this. A fair call, so despite my love for the Australian practice of a 24-hour moratorium on political debate the media before a vote, here is an answer of sorts. Some will resent clergy giving their opinion, being “lectured to”, but why should we have less right than others to state our opinions and why we hold them?

Personally, the decision which way to vote has been a long time settling. Continue reading “Reluctant Referendum Reflections”

In hindsight, foresight: Brexit & Australian history

The whirlpools of the Brexit debate that will come to its climax in the 23 June referendum are not for monks to be dipping anything more than their toes into, and even then only with the loins securely tethered to the shoreline. There are significant arguments in both directions, and significant appeals to sentiment.

Continue reading “In hindsight, foresight: Brexit & Australian history”