Brexit: Can we think outside the box?

Like the surreal and almost psychedelic Christmas pantomime I see locally with my family each year, Brexit seems to have entered fresh flights of absurdity.

On Sunday, many thought things couldn't get any weirder after a friend of Boris Johnson compared him to CS Lewis's fictional lion, Aslan, who of course represents Christ. I think not.

PixabayBrittle Britain: we are not a country at ease with ourselves.

But then on Monday, Theresa May came to the Commons and announced she was postponing the crucial vote on her deal to leave the EU. It's not clear what this accomplishes, or indeed is intended to achieve. It seems likely she'll return to MPs with a few verbal garnishes from EU leaders but with little of substance in the draft agreement changed. It's a bit like a TV Bake Off competitor chucking their cake in the bin after being told it smells revolting – but then deciding that with a few extra dollops of pink butter-icing perhaps it might work after all.

Currently there seems no majority in the House of Commons for anything at all. If there was a simple solution to this tangled mess, then maybe someone would have come up with it by now. So perhaps we need to try something more imaginative – and start looking at options completely outside the box. What might some of them look like?

1. A government of national unity. There could be huge voter support for any politician (or politicians) who took courage in their hands and drove such a proposal forward – even made it happen. Unthinkable? Maybe – but remember, we're trying to think the unthinkable here.

There are many thoughtful politicians at Westminster. Watching the Commons debate after Theresa May's statement on Monday, I was struck by the contributions of people who spoke with measured maturity – Hilary Benn, Dominic Grieve, Yvette Cooper, Nigel Dodds, and others, to name but a few. Many in the country have had enough of politicians being unable to reach out, get together and compromise. And to work with enemies (political or otherwise) for reconciliation and healing is a profoundly Christian concept. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa was based on just such an approach. Thanks be to God, the situation the UK faces is not nearly as serious as that – and very different. But surely there must be things we could learn?

2. Admit as a nation we have failed. If we follow this flight of reasonable but unlikely fancy, our political leaders would simply come clean and admit: 'We had a Brexit vote which was poorly conceived and conducted. We have tried to get a deal done to honour the result. But to be honest, the deal isn't great. Moreover, it will never pass in Parliament. We're not going to get a better deal, and certainly not one that will command a majority. We tried – and we have failed. It just can't be done.' It would take great courage for our politicians to concede this: but it is basically true, isn't it?

Admitting failure on a personal level is enormously cathartic. From a Christian point of view, at the heart of the gospel is the idea of owning up to the ways we all fall short. Haven't you ever had a huge sense of personal release when you have admitted you've messed up? 'I got it wrong. End of story. No excuses. Period.' It is liberating.

In our current national predicament, there has been a long chain of failings: David Cameron in calling the referendum without thinking it through, because he never dreamt people would actually vote to leave; Angela Merkel and the EU in failing to understand British concerns and so offering only sops by way of concession before the Brexit vote; in the poorly-conducted referendum campaign; in David Cameron walking away the day after he lost the referendum; and in politicians since who have consistently failed to reach out to one another for the sake of the national interest.

And indeed we might extend that admission of failure to ourselves – because individually we may well have contributed to the atmosphere of division in the country – be it online, or in other ways. Could we all just admit we messed up? Could the Archbishop of Canterbury help us do this in some way – perhaps by arranging a national day of repentance?

I dream. For both these options remain unlikely. Then again, other events would have seemed implausible even shortly before they happened: Donald Trump's election, the Brexit vote, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid, for example. And of course it must be acknowledged that neither suggestion above solves the central conundrum of Brexit itself. But while not providing answers, both approaches would generate new ways of approaching the issue.

History is shaped by many factors. But sometimes it belongs to those who think outside the box; to those who will make costly personal sacrifices for the sake of others; to those who have a daring vision that inspires belief in the impossible. So if there is a genuine Aslan in the House, now might be a good time for them to roar.

David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England. Find him on Twitter @Baker_David_A

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