The Vicar writes...
By the time you read this the United Kingdom will have exited the European Union and entered the brave new world promised by our prime minister, Boris Johnson.
December’s election result was one of the most decisive in our nation’s recent history. The British electoral spoke and voted unequivocally to leave the European Union on the 31st January, come what may! Many in the traditional labour heartlands lent their support to Mr Johnson and his rallying call to ‘Get Brexit done!’ The political map of England and Wales is now a sea of Tory blue.
Getting Brexit done is likely to be the easiest part of what Mr Johnson hopes to achieve for the UK. Our future relationship with the EU has to be negotiated, along with new trade deals with our former European partners and nations around the world. There are also a host of promises to keep to his traditional and new supporters.
One of the greatest challenges for the government will be Scotland and the possible breakup of our historic union. The second largest of our family of nations voted to ‘remain’ in the 2016 referendum and gave the Scottish National Party a huge majority north of the border in December’s election. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, now claims a mandate for a second referendum on independence which will be difficult for the government in Westminster to deny.
There is also the very real issue of a deeply divided post brexit country. Though Mr Johnson now has a thumping majority in the House of Commons he has acknowledged that just under half of the electorate were opposed to our withdrawal from the European Union. Though his conciliatory words to them are to be welcomed it would be even more damaging to our national unity if they prove to be empty rhetoric.
There is, however, the sense that the December 2020 election has at least settled the Brexit impasse of the past three years. Though most remainers now accept the result they will look at our withdrawal from the EU with great disappointment and resignation. The pro European view of almost half of us is unlikely to go away, especially for the younger generation.
So the challenge for Mr Johnson is not just to promise to build a strong and more independent nation but to heal the deep divisions that continue to simmer over Brexit.
This is where the Church has a role, not in being party political, but by offering the people of the United Kingdom our experience of reconciliation and at-one-ment.
It’s true that the Church, like the nation, has also been divided on the issue of Europe and our place in it. There have been remainers and leavers in every congregation. Churchgoers who sing from the same hymn sheet have had to learn to agree to disagree over the issue. But, if we are about anything, we are a community of reconciliation. It’s at the heart of what we proclaim.
One of the sentences of scripture we hear when we share the peace at the Eucharist are words from the pen of St Paul, ‘God has, in Christ, reconciled the world to himself and has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation’ [2 Cor.5.19]. They remind us that though we are a diverse community, drawn from many different walks of life, we dare to proclaim that we are one in Christ. In recent decades we have had to practice what we preach when it has come to very real differences of opinion over a more inclusive ministry and issues of Christian morality. This vision of at-one-ment is what has always held us together and is what we offer to the world.
So, as we enter a new stage in our nation’s history we need to remember what unites us as the four nations who share these islands off continental Europe. Whatever we voted for in the referendum or general election we all share the hope for a prosperous future for all our citizens. Remembering this will be an important first step in a post brexit future.
The Church of England offers this prayer to us as we face what the future will bring; “God of hope, in these times of change, unite our nation and guide our leaders. Give us courage to overcome our fears, and help us to build a future in which all may prosper and share, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”