UK-EU: Caught in a Bad Romance

Is it better to stay in a broken relationship, or exit as soon as possible?

Guy Brandon, 20 April 2016

divorce-619195_640Anyone who has kept up to date on the EU referendum campaigns will recognise there are plenty of reasons to stay in, and plenty to leave. The problem is knowing which is which, since information can be spun and interpreted to make the case each way. There is also more than enough misinformation to go round. FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) appears to be a favourite weapon of the Remain campaign, who offer apocalyptic forecasts of what will happen to our economy if we leave. But the Leave campaign are similarly promising safety and prosperity where there are no guarantees; how, after all, can you know that the grass is greener until you see it?

From a biblical perspective, there are principles that can help inform the debate, but no obvious knock-down argument that indicates whether we should vote to stay or go. Empirical data is hard to come by; reliable interpretation of that data might as well be hens’ teeth. Hence most of us don’t vote on the facts at all. Even more than a typical General Election, we vote on gut instinct. Stay or Leave might as well be a coin toss – and the latest polls suggest the odds aren’t far off that either.

What makes it worse is that few people seem prepared to change their minds. We are tribal and, in the worst way, Fundamental about EU membership, with all the rigidity and closed-mindedness that implies. Fundamentalists are simultaneously dangerous and, in the words of Peppa Pig, ‘A Bit Boring’. If you’re not open to a valid counter-argument, what discussion can be had? Hence playing devil’s advocate (or employing the Socratic Method) can often be a worthwhile exercise.

Technicals vs fundamentals

To use the same word to segue, we tend to treat the EU as if we’re trading on technicals, not fundamentals. Technical analysis, in the context of stock trading, looks at past performance and prices; there is an obsession with charts, which can be interpreted to suggest various different future outcomes. The correct one is only 100% clear with hindsight. It is typically a short-term endeavour that does not care about a company’s long-term viability.

Fundamental analysis, on the other hand, looks at the deeper underlying health of a company by examining its financial statements and other indications of its long-term prosperity. That can often give a very different picture to technical analysis. Value investors like Warren Buffett aim to pick up under-priced stocks that are trading below their intrinsic worth due to quirks of the market. They may then hold them for years or decades to reap the rewards.

The question such a comparison raises for us is, ‘Is the EU a buy-and-hold investment?’ Do we believe it is viable and worthwhile – not just over the next couple of years, but for the long-term? Do we like the fundamentals, the personnel, the leadership of EU PLC? Whilst this is couched in financial language (as is much of the Stay/Leave argument) it goes far beyond the narrowly economic and into the political and ideological.

A failed project

Unfortunately, there is a good case for claiming that the EU is not a good long-term investment for the UK. The Euro is flawed, quite possibly fatally so. Monetary union without fiscal and political union has proven disastrous, since Eurozone members with strikingly different economies, demographics and productivity, but the independence to set their own tax and spending, are forced to share the same currency and interest rates. The Euro is half-cooked: either much greater integration is required, or much less. As things stand it is badly misconceived and significant injustices have resulted and will continue to result. Moreover the Eurozone is in serious trouble, with persistently low inflation and now negative interest rates – which are not helping the problem, and by some analyses may make it worse. The ECB is doing things no one seriously contemplated a couple of years ago, and it doesn’t look like things are going to get any better any time soon.

Britain is, of course, not a member of the Euro – and there will be few who would now claim Gordon Brown made a mistake in preventing us signing up to the single currency. However, our continued membership of the EU would mean we were still tying our fortunes to an institution that we believe will ultimately fail, at worst, or is profoundly flawed and unjust, at best. St Paul warns us not to be ‘unequally yoked with unbelievers’ (2 Corinthians 6:14). Although this is referring to marriage between Christians and non-believers, it raises the same question: what are we doing, remaining in a partnership to someone with whom we simply have irreconcilable differences? Both economically and ideologically, there’s an argument for saying if divorce is inevitable, better get on and rip the sticking plaster off sooner rather than later.

Hesed

We are, to quote Lady Gaga, Caught In A Bad Romance. We have found ourselves unequally yoked, landed in a relationship that wasn’t what we thought it would be. Or, rather, in a marriage that has changed over its decades-long course. As The Clash asked almost 30 years before Lady Gaga, ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go?’

And here is where we butt up against an uncomfortable biblical truth. Faithfulness is a fundamental (that word again) good. The Hebrew word hesed is often translated as Mercy in English versions of the Bible, but it means something far more profound than that: it is Loving-Kindness, Covenant Love, unconditional loyalty. Hesed is a core aspect of God’s character and a constant in his dealings with humanity. ‘And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.’ (Exodus 34:6-7)

Since we are made in God’s image, we should reflect this in our own dealings with him and with each other. To continue the marriage theme, Israel was repeatedly compared to an unfaithful bride in the Old Testament. Hosea, Ezekiel and Jeremiah make this analogy, and the point that God displays endless patience. The UK is not literally married to the EU, and all analogies have their limits. God sticks with us even though we are fatally flawed, and we should not be so quick to display different behaviour ourselves.

‘Do not be yoked with unbelievers,’ argues Paul, and if we were outside the EU we might decide not to join. But it’s too late for that. A more relevant passage for us might be 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 – to summarise, unless there’s a very good reason, do not leave an existing marriage with an unbeliever. Faithfulness matters.

And, like any marriage, it’s not just about us. The EU debate has been framed in terms of narrow national self-interest: what is best for the UK? As Christians, we cannot accept that without question. Relationally, we have a duty to our partners and dependents. If remaining in the EU is the best way to secure justice, peace, solidarity, religious freedoms, environmental safeguards and more, both for us and for the other members, then we should.

Even if it is with gritted teeth.

 

 

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Category: Blogs

April, 2016

Comments (7)

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  1. Samuel Fisher says:

    Guy – I appreciate you are being as balanced as you can in this debate but you start by saying there are no obvious knock-down arguments and end by claiming the EU “is the best way to secure justice, peace, solidarity, religious freedoms, environmental safeguards and more, both for us and for the other members.”(!) You certainly appear to have bought into a knock down argument yourself, so why pretend otherwise?

    However, my main comment is that I am uncomfortable with the marriage analogy. Yes, we are in a relationship with the EU but I would not say it is covenantal nor consensual from the perspective of the British public. What sort of marriage is that?! If we must stick to the analogy, perhaps we can consider the referendum as a marriage proposal from the Union? In this case there is no biblical mandate to accept and as you point out in the article it is conceivably better for both the UK and the EU that we do not tie the knot.

    • JubileeCentre says:

      Hi Samuel,
      The full quote is ‘If remaining in the EU is the best way…’ I’m open-minded: convince me it’s not and I’ll switch sides.
      The purpose of the article is to introduce the idea of responsibility as well as self-interest, which has been the overwhelming criterion in the offical material to date. Like all analogies, the one of marriage here is limited. However, we are already in the relationship, so it can hardly be considered a proposal. If we were already outside the EU and the question was whether to join it, then it would be a different matter. But we’re not, and it’s not. ‘If you want to get there, you don’t want to start from here’, as the old joke goes.
      Lastly, the ‘marriage’ is consensual inasmuch as representative democracy is consensual. Power wasn’t taken away from us: we (our politicians, on behalf of us) gave it away in return for other benefits.
      This seems to me to be one of the problems with a referendum. Direct democracy on a single issue is very different to a General Election where voters choose a party on many different issues and overall vision. It reduces politics to a fault line, instead of seeking broad consensus.

      • Samuel Fisher says:

        Hi Guy, thank you for your reply.

        I would be reluctant to attempt to persuade you of the case for Leave, I suspect only an act of God could achieve that…

        Upon reflection I am increasingly sceptical of the marriage analogy and regret my suggestion the referendum could be seen as a marriage proposal. Biblically, marriage is exclusively defined as a covenant between Yahweh and Israel or a man and woman both of which point to the covenant between Christ and the Church. I don’t think the marriage analogy should be used at all. Any party is free to to leave a political relationship under reasonable conditions at any time without being unfaithful to God or facing the accusation of causing a divorce but this is not what your article implies. Not only does the use of the analogy of marriage elevate political relations to a biblically unsubstantiated position it also weakens the original biblical meaning of marriage itself.

        Secondly. implying Christians who vote to Remain are invoking something like a divorce is wholly unjustified as it implies they are committing something unholy.

        The UK-EU relationship has been initiated and extensively developed through our political representatives but this does not mean successive British governments have acted in the best interests of the British people. Nor does it mean that parliamentary elections have been a sufficient mechanism for allowing the British people to explicitly state their position on this specific issue. It appears sensible to have the occasional check upon representative democracy through referenda especially on issues of the broadest and utmost significance.

        I agree that wider issues beyond national self interest should be considered and that Christians have a responsibility to stimulate this aspect of the debate. However, there are also biblical arguments that a vote to Leave is also a vote for Europe. If the JC is neutral is there still space for such arguments to be presented with equal vigour within JC’s EU referendum series?

  2. D. Singh says:

    Sir

    Given that the Government of the EU is the Commission; and the Commission is unelected and therefore unaccountable; in principle then, it is a tyranny.

    Could you point out to me, when in the past Christians have voted for a tyranny?

    • JubileeCentre says:

      The EA has a useful infographic of how EU government works: https://www.eauk.org/idea/how-does-the-european-union-work.cfm Whilst it may fall short of full and direct democracy, it’s categorically not as straightforward as The Government is the Commission.

      The last time we had a referendum on Europe was in 1975, when more than two-thirds of voters (not sure about proportions of Christians) were in favour of continued membership of the EEC.

      • Chris says:

        Have we ever had a referendum on the EU – closer political union, a common currency. Blair and Brown never offered a referendum on Lisbon and DC under pressure from the coalition partners was unable to retrospectively. Personally I hope we take the risk and vote out, It will be but would I vote to join the EU if the referendum was the other way round?

  3. J.D.I. Baker says:

    I regret that I too am unhappy with the marriage / divorce analogy suggested in this article. I accept that it was invoked in good faith, to illustrate the important issues involved in a British “split” from the rest of the EU, but quite simply I find no parallel in the Treaty on European Union to the promises of lifelong, exclusive union “till death us do part” which acknowledge (not actually form) the basis of the marriage covenant/status. No serious UK politician – even on the Remain side – argues that we have given up our right to leave the EU if the British people/Parliament so decide; anyone so arguing would be admitting that he/she had signed away our independence forever, without the people’s consent to such a “marriage”. Moreover, and crucially, the EU’s Lisbon Treaty specifically allows (and provides a mechanism for) Member States of the EU to give notice to leave “in accordance with their own constitutional requirements”. Therefore any analogy with even a secular divorce (which must be sought from a court on the basis of evidence of adultery or unreasonable behaviour) is false, since the EU participants are specifically free to leave the EU. I might venture to suggest that a better analogy is a dating couple, exploring the possibility of closer relations but each retaining the right to break off their meetings if they do not feel led in the same direction.

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