EU referendum: A vote to leave is not about selfish gain


With little more than a week to go until we get to make the biggest decision of a generation, how most people I know are planning to vote in the referendum seems to boil down to this analogy: are they more of a savings account or shares type of person?

With a savings account your money is safe, but the returns at the moment are paltry. We might feel that our investment is stagnant and even complain bitterly about it, but we still would rather leave it where it is than take any risks with it. Shares on the other hand are more unpredictable. As we all know, exposing your money to the mercies of a fickle stock market can either reap great rewards or you can come away significantly worse off. To the cautious investor this approach is gambling with the family's silver, but for those who have belief in the long term performance of their assets, any short term instability is a price worth paying for a better future.

The problem I have with both of these approaches is that they revolve around money. The economy and immigration are by far the most significant issues for most voters because of their impact on jobs, benefits and our public services.

It's understandable that this is what will be foremost in most voters' minds when they enter the ballot box on June 23, but as a Christian I've learnt that money is far from everything in life, nor should a desire for more of it dictate our decisions. I've become tired and exasperated by the claims made by both the Leave and Remain camps about whether we'll be better off going their way. The simple truth is that no one knows how things will pan out and presenting worst case scenarios only creates a fog of claims and counter claims.

At least Archbishop Justin Welby made a valiant attempt to shine some light into the darkness, writing in the Mail on Sunday yesterday: "The vision for our future cannot be only about ourselves. We are most human when we exist for others". He rightly talks about Britain's Christian heritage and certain "glorious principles" including peace and reconciliation, sacrifice, generosity, vision beyond self-interest, suffering for others and helping the helpless that have made us who we are as a nation. As I look towards the EU and how I cast my vote, I want these virtues to be driving my decision rather than hopes of selfish gain.

Following the horrors of the Second World War, it was the same virtues that drove the architects of what was to become the European Union. As European leaders sought to heal the wounds of conflict, it was a network of Christian Democratic Parties in the early 1950s following many of the principles of Catholic social teaching who saw European unification as a profoundly Christian ideal. It was a belief that we all have duties beyond our national borders and that there should be far more that unites us than divides us. This was not a dream of creating a bureaucratic and remote monolith but rather a plan for reconciliation based on solidarity, subsidiarity and an explicit Christian moral vision. It was a vision Winston Churchill described as "the fountain of Christian faith and Christian ethics".

Over the following decades this vision for Europe has changed beyond all recognition. Economics has overtaken reconciliation as the driving force behind the EU. A Christian Democrat model which saw economics as a method to bring solidarity and improved living standards has evolved to the point where the market and economic performance dictate the way forward, often at the expense of other stated aims. This is no better illustrated than the impact the Euro crisis has had on Greece and other poorly performing economies in the Eurozone. Austerity has been imposed centrally on indebted nations. Technocratic decisions have tied national governments' hands with little regard for the consequences. The stability of the Euro has come at the expense of high rates of unemployment and worsening living conditions for millions.

It is little surprise that we talk so much of being 'better off' in or out of the EU when the measure of its success is judged by its impact on national economic interest. The lessons of 1953, when half of West Germany's debts were cancelled, seem long forgotten as too do many of the principles that laid the foundations for the EU. In 1992 the president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors warned that: "If in the next ten years we haven't managed to give a soul to Europe, to give it spirituality and meaning, the game will be up." It is now time for Britain to decide if that point has well and truly been reached.

I have yet to find anyone who thinks the EU functions well. Instead the consensus is that it is desperately in need of significant reform. We need a return to those core principles. Solidarity is being tested to breaking point. Creditor nations within the Eurozone are demanding a painful price from debtors even though some such as Germany have disproportionately benefitted from the Euro's introduction. Asylum and immigration have pushed the principle of free movement to breaking point. Instead of building bridges, the consequences are mistrust and ill-feeling. The concept of central authorities having a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level, has to a large extent been lost. As political elites push for further integration, they increasingly left behind the masses. For many – and not just here in Britain – the EU is a faceless, unaccountable and remote organisation where unelected officials call the shots. Few can name their MEP or know what they actually do. Christian morality that was so explicit in the early days has become harder to discern over the years.

It is good that we as a country still care about seeing the EU functioning well despite our scepticism, but our attempts to bring about change as one of many members have been limited and often unsuccessful. David Cameron's push for reforms only achieved minimal gains. Justin Welby along with many other good and intelligent people believe that is in our best interests to continue to push from inside the EU, employing those 'glorious principles' that we regard so highly. For me though, I see an institution that has little interest in serious reform. In fact there is good reason to argue that Britain is most likely to exert its influence, see progress and evoke change by leaving. Such an impact and shock will provide a long overdue wake up call.

There is no reason why we cannot continue to show generosity, sacrifice and reconciliation to our European neighbours outside of the EU. We have done this before and on the world stage too there is no reason why we should not continue with this either. A vote to leave is not implicitly a vote for isolation or for a rejection of the moral obligations we have taken so seriously as a nation.

As I have weighed up all of the arguments, looked at the state of play, read my Bible and prayed, I have become more convinced that Britain will serve itself better and the world apart from the EU. The EU is failing its citizens in many ways. Until it returns to its roots and rediscovers its Christian underpinnings, I believe it will do little to improve the lives of its citizens further.

Whether I am right or wrong I pray that God's will be done on June 23. I hope you can join me in that prayer whichever way you plan to vote.

Gillan Scott regularly writes about the relationship between Christianity and society. You can follow him on Twitter @gillan_scott.