Last Thursday, the People of Britain voted (51.9% to 48.1%) to leave the European Union. I wrote why I believe we should leave here. In the aftermath of the results, we saw just as much anger and division as during the campaign, and possibly even more. The name-calling was genuinely astounding. If there’s one thing to take from this referendum, it’s that Britain is more deeply divided than it has been for a very, very long time.
A YouGov survey (which I’m afraid I can’t find) showed that on the subject of the EU referendum, for every influential voice (from economists and world leaders to actors and sportspeople), Leave voters strongly distrusted them. Which shouldn’t really surprise us, since the majority in practically every field agreed that we should remain.
Leave voters were not just rejecting the European Union, they were rejecting the entire modern establishment, of which it is just another embodiment. Everyone with influence is, by that fact, just another part of the establishment. It’s little more than a matter of us versus them, where, contrary to the narrative that the Leave campaign was mere xenophobia (though there was definitely a good deal of that), they are the “powers that be” in our world. And we are the people of Britain, excluding our elites, because they have already betrayed us, supposedly to serve the foreign devils. When Leavers spoke about freedom, they meant the freedom of the British people, and not the freedom of the British establishment, and as the debate wore on, it became more and more evident these were not the same thing.
If we look now back to the Remain camp, you’ll see just the same division defining them. These are the people who identify themselves as educated, enlightened, freethinkers, on the side of “progress”. They trust our elites. Or at least they trust a portion of our elites, and in trusting them, they reveal their trust in the systems and institutions they work in. In their campaigning, they quoted economists, politicians, and experts of every kind. They spoke about what’s best for Britain, but were always referring to the Britain of the establishment, of the rich and powerful, because to them, that just is Britain. They weren’t even aware that to much of the population, the British establishment has betrayed the British people. Because they didn’t see this alienation, they could only understand leaving as stupidity and hardheadedness against the obvious good of the nation. In retrospect, their campaign was not tailored towards Leave voters at all.
Basically, those who have become part of the establishment trust and support it, and those who feel left out, with no power and no hope, do not.
The EU has, for a long time, been made a scapegoat for the failures of the establishment as a whole, by the media and our government. Any degree of perceived euroscepticism was an easy way for our media and politicians to pretend at being anti-establishment, and pro the people. But ultimately, it is genuine disillusionment from our modern world as a whole, as shown by the general distrust, that fuelled the exit.
In working up these feelings of disillusionment for the sake of their own manoeuvring within the British establishment, those who headed up the leave campaign, in politics and the media, have played a very dangerous game. It won’t be long before people realise that nothing has fundamentally changed, and they are no more free than before. At this point, either we’ll be stuck blaming ourselves (or the “idiots”) for leaving the EU, or we’ll see that the EU was just one manifestation of the worldwide establishment that has failed and excluded the people.
We have to commit ourselves here and now, to fighting for the people. And not just the people of Britain, but the people of the whole world, who are today being oppressed as one man.
That’s not to say that we should ignore everything our established experts have to say. Not by a long shot. There’s no true knowledge or expertise that we should reject, and everyone that works in the establishment, but not for the establishment, must be encouraged. We must bring all knowledge and all expertise to truly serve the people. The people must be heard, and the people must listen.
Britain, and the whole world, is split in two, and we must make it one.
Peace and love, and may God’s blessing go with you
Postscript on the Church’s role in this
In this work of bringing true unity to the country and to the world, the Church should be at the forefront. The Church’s rich tradition embraces all of humanity, and listens to the voice of the poor as much as the expert. The individualist ideology of the modern world could never unite a people, and when people turn to national, ethnic, or religious identity for meaning and community, they only get the unity of a common separation; but true religion offers true meaning and true unity, that reaches out to all in love and service.
We might think Britain is too rich to hear the gospel. The truth is, Britain and the modern world suffer from extreme poverty. As Bl. Mother Teresa said,
‘There is much suffering in the world — very much. And this material suffering is suffering from hunger, suffering from homelessness, from all kinds of diseases, but I still think the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, just having no one.’
Britain is desperate for the gospel. We are desperate to be a people, each turned towards God in our neighbour.
Catholics need to realise, above all others, it is our duty to work for love, justice, and the common good. Jesus, the light of the world (Jn 8:12), told us we are the light of the world (Mt 5:14), and we must realise this.
The sad thing is, to many people, the Church is part of the establishment. We must lower ourselves, identify with all those in need and on the margins of society, and become in practice Pope Francis’ “poor Church for the poor”.
God bless you!
‘I prefer a church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out in the streets rather that a church that is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security.’
‘Mercy is the prophecy of a new world, in which the goods of the earth and of work are equally distributed and no one lacks the necessary, because solidarity and sharing are the concrete result of fraternity.’