As Britain voted whether to leave the European Union or remain, rain lashed down across London, flooding main railway lines and parts of the London Underground. The previous day had been warm and sticky, with massive thunderstorms overnight.
Midsummer can be a strange season: June 24 dawned warm and faintly sunny, as people woke to the news that a majority had voted “Brexit,” Prime Minister David Cameron was about to resign and a new chapter had opened in political history.
For weeks, TV, the Internet, newspapers and house-to-house leaflets bombarded the nation. Leading figures in banking and show business — together with the official government spokesmen — urged us to vote “Remain.” Boris Johnson, until recently the mayor of London, and an assortment of campaigners led the campaign to “Leave.” And the Church weighed in, with the Catholic bishops urging us to vote prayerfully and after due reflection: While remaining neutral, they somehow vaguely communicated a faint sense that “Remain” might be the better option.
Catholics were divided on this issue, along with everyone else. The “Leave” campaign included Catholic writers Charles Moore of The Spectator and Tim Stanley of The Daily Telegraph. But many Catholics were just as deeply committed to the “Remain” camp. And at no point did the “Catholic issues,” such as abortion, euthanasia or same-sex unions, even remotely figure in the agenda. This Brexit business was essentially all about political independence, parliamentary traditions, immigration, democracy and economic matters.
Many people were certainly convinced that remaining in the European Union would bring more prosperity and that any decision to leave would cause disruption, hardship and unemployment, as businesses faced an uncertain future. Among some young people, there was also a sense of incredulity that any country could switch course away from the European Union: a feeling that anyone who wanted to do so must have nostalgic ideas about a Britain of the past belonging to black-and-white movies and a vision of the nation as it was in the 1940s or earlier.
On the“Leave” side, the central issues were the lack of democracy in the EU — the sense of powerlessness, the irrelevance of the European Parliament, the vast amounts of money spent to no apparent purpose and the worrying instability of the euro currency. Above all, the issue was about the EU’s official commitment to “ever closer union” and the idea of full political integration, with no realistic opportunity of there being anything about democratic accountability.
Brexit divided friends, office colleagues and family members, although it has to be said that debates were peppered with a surprising amount of good humor, even if it was sometimes at the expense of the hapless politicians at the heart of it all. There have been — at least to date — no street riots, no burning or sacking of shops or offices. A commonly heard expression over the weeks was: “Aren’t you just sick and tired of it all?”
And now the decision has been made. No use in pretending that it all means a bright new dawn or anything like that. It certainly does mean that Britain has regained full control over her own political institutions again — something that even many in the “Remain” campaign agreed was an issue. There will be genuine attempts to ensure that goodwill and working relationships — albeit on new terms — are central to relationships with other European countries. And on major issues — the massive rise of Islam across Europe, the increasing secularizing of once-Christian nations, the breakdown of marriage and the routine killing of unborn babies — Brexit will make no difference.
Full disclosure: I voted Brexit. I believe that the European Union has had its day and is now a bloated and often corrupt bureaucracy robbing Europe of its better possibilities. Britain has a long and fine tradition of parliamentary democracy: This heritage is one we must nourish and defend, and we had to claim it back. There is an honesty and sense of hope in Britain following the Brexit success.
But at heart, the problems of Europe and all of the West are spiritual ones. Only a great re-evangelization, a new flowering of the Christian faith, can really offer hope — for Britain and for other lands that are currently sensing a loss of their sense of identity and heritage. It will be a tragedy if this is ignored and a misplaced nationalism, albeit with occasionally Christian overtones, takes center stage. There is no future in that. Europe and Britain deserve better. I believe that Britain has made the right decision for democracy and freedom. Now, we must ensure that this freedom is used wisely and is nourished by that Christian faith and life without which it cannot prosper.
Joanna Bogle writes from London.