We should be very cautious when someone tells us that they can interpret history’s direction. Nevertheless, events over the centuries suggest large multinational political units have not fared well. That intuition is reinforced by the warning that humanity’s quest to achieve greater political centralisation is ancient and sinful- a reasonable interpretation of Genesis chapter 11, verses 1 to 9 and especially verse 6.
Competition between countries has sometimes caused immense suffering, especially through war. Nevertheless, that competition has also been used by God’s providence as a device to contain evil. (There is even a respectable historical argument that it was the plurality of states which provided the crucible for modern democracy and industrialisation.) Evil would have been greater if, instead, we had a few super states or, perish the thought, a single world government.
I concede that back in the 1940s-50s the European project aspired to peace building. For some, it was even a desperate attempt after the blood-letting of 1939-45 to shore up what Winston Churchill called “Christian civilization”. The Catholic tradition, given its supra-national church, found the institution-building aspect of the project more congenial than some Protestants did; the Lutheran Ludwig Erhard, German Economy Minister during1949-63, called the proposal to unify Europe a, “macroeconomic absurdity”. In practice, greater European unity was probably as much the result of peace as its cause. The European Community/EU produced the obscenely wasteful Common Agricultural Policy, the Euro and associated mass youth unemployment and a not very coherent response to the collapse of Yugoslavia. Here in Northern Ireland we should be grateful for Europe’s interest in our own troubles, but the EU role in the political process has been greatly exaggerated.
So, I voted Leave not through any antipathy against the other European nations but simply from a desire not to be part of an “ever closer union”- admittedly, the EU’s stated intent to punish the UK for leaving suggests this is one club we are better off leaving. The laws which effects our lives should be made by a government accountable to us. It is not surprising that we have been seeing something of a continent-wide peasants’ revolt against a decision making elite which looks increasingly remote and sheltered. The “European project” survived the recent Dutch and French elections but resentment is growing.
Although my own professional background is as an economist, I always thought the economic arguments were given undue prominence by both sides. Making precise predictions as to what might happen to the economy is impossible and certainly some of the fear expressed by Remain has not so far been justified. Christians and others should certainly make prudent precautions about the future but we have been warned against over-confident forecasting! (See, James chapter 4, verses 13 to 17 and especially verse 13.). I still feel that 10-15 years on from Brexit the net impact on the economy could well be quite small; plus or minus one or two percent on total jobs and incomes. So, it was quite sensible for voters to have made their decision last June based on other considerations- the role of Parliament versus the European Commission or the level of migration into the UK.
That Brexit is causing division and emotional pain to some I regret, but that is what happens when we confront a great issue of political principle. The Bible seems to warn us against multi-national political centralisation as does a reading of European history; better off out!
Dr Esmond Birnie is a Senior Economist at the University of Ulster and a former MLA, and contributed to Contemporary Christianity’s ‘A Soul for the Union’ event in 2016.
Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.
Tomorrow: Sean Mullan writes from the perspective of an Irish citizen.