The EU Referendum

As a leader of an organisation committed to political impartiality, I am prevented from expressing a political view. I should not and will not tell people how to vote. But the Brexit debate is cross-party, and as such I can be non-partisan while still considering aloud the impact and implications of Brexit and “Bremain”. As a faith-based charity concerned with the global impact of injustice there are several ways in which this has an impact on Cord.

As a charity we are concerned about how best to fight poverty. The UK should be proud of having met the UN’s target – to which the UK and then EEC signed up in 1970 – of spending 0.7% of our GNI on international development; we are one of only four EU member states to have done so.  This target has been recognised as a vital step towards promoting international and national security and stability[1]. To some, this money – about 90p per household per day – may seem a waste, but the amount spent by richer countries on development pales against the global spend of over 12% of collective gross income on defence. The extent to which this minimal but crucial expenditure would be protected in a post-Brexit EU is unknown, particularly given that a Brexit is likely to signal a change in the UK’s leadership team.

We have seen in recent months the impact which global injustice and inequality can have on the movement of people, and we must decide whether we can better promote justice, equality, dignity and the protection of human rights inside or outside the EU. While typically tongue-in-cheek (and if you will forgive the bad language at the end), Patrick Stewart’s sketch about the European Convention on Human Rights gives an amusing overview[2], and provokes further thought about the increased influence and voice we have to promote the respect of human rights inside the European Union. The EU is similarly better able than the UK alone – and better able with the UK in it – to influence policies around climate change, fair trade, arms trade, and responsible production, for example. The UK may well take the lead on proposing and implementing these policies, and we should be proud of that and want other nations to join our cause. It is easy to forget sometimes that “Brussels” includes the UK – at least until tomorrow! – and that most of the decisions it makes go the UK’s way. It is also easy to forget that even in our parliamentary democracy there are vast numbers of people whose votes are “pipped to the post” and that our own PM has a parliamentary majority despite having won only 24% of the vote. This is one reason why it is a Good Thing to have a robust civil society providing some additional policy influence and rights protection.

What seems to have been largely overlooked in this debate is the benefit of migration, not just culturally and academically but also economically. We are partly the world’s fifth-largest economy because of our migrant workforce, and partly because we are EU members. If Brexit would reduce the levels of migration this would reduce our workforce and our tax base, having a knock-on impact on costs, unemployment, productivity and pensions. Less selfishly, as Cord we do what we can to make the lives of individual refugees better. We would wish both to welcome them and to make their places of origin safer and more viable. And even less selfishly, we also have to be careful that we do not encourage migration based on the skills people bring to the UK, because these skills may well be more required in their countries of origin, increasing those countries’ dependence on development assistance to combat skills shortages.

Refugees are a constant reminder not only of violence and inequality around the world but also of climate change. They often come from places where there has been such environmental degradation that they can no longer earn a living. We have a collective responsibility to care for the world, as well as for the refugees themselves, and we are called to action on this by Sustainable Development Goal 12[3], for example. Refugees, migrants and the displaced are also people for whom the Bible constantly calls us to advocate and provide. This same Bible calls us to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility to value others above ourselves, not looking to our own interests but to the interests of others. We must consider whether inside the EU or outside we can better combat climate change alongside other root causes of conflict and violence.  And indeed whether the EU with or without the UK has a better chance of addressing root causes of violence.

It seems fitting that I write this on a train into Brussels from the Netherlands, with on one side the Atomium glinting in the glow of a glorious sunset and on the other side the golden silhouette of the city’s mini-Manhattan. These structures will remain regardless of the outcome, but I can’t help feeling that they and all of us will be a bit diminished if Britons vote “out” tomorrow.

 

[1] see for example the Secretary-General’s report at http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/documents/secureworld.pdf .

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptfmAY6M6aA

[3] http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sdgoverview/post-2015-development-agenda/goal-12.html

Photo credit: nwhomebuyers.co.uk/