The EU Referendum: Two Views from St Mary’s Congregation

Gordon Stewart and Sarah Macnab have contributed two articles from their perspectives on the forthcoming EU Referendum.

I am grateful to Gordon Stewart and Sarah Macnab for volunteering so gamely to write articles from their perspectives on the forthcoming EU Referendum. Unlike a General Election, the EU Referendum will set a direction of travel for Britain (and possibly Europe’s) future for at least a generation. It is therefore very important to consider carefully the reasons for a vote on way or another.

Sarah and Gordon have written powerful pieces with trenchant arguments. They do so as fellow-Christians committed to their local church. Whatever the outcome on June 23rd, let us unite in prayer for the future of our country – inside or outside the European Union – and for Britain’s place as a partner of other democratic nations seeking the Common Good in the global village.

Simon Butler


Remain contributed by Sarah Macnab


I believe that the vote I cast on 23rd June will be the most important of my life and that the result of the referendum will affect my children and grandchildren profoundly, as it will all young people.   The choice is economic security and global influence, or a leap in the dark.   My head, my heart and my Christian faith tell me that the United Kingdom should remain part of Europe.

Alliance, partnership and collaboration are good for the human race.   Co-operation is better than isolation.  Brexit would be at odds with our geography, history, character and the international interests vigorously and enterprisingly pursued for centuries.  The European Union is a key element of the geopolitical package that has kept Europe democratic and peaceful for the past 70 years.  That’s not to say that the organisation doesn’t need profound reforms, including a rethink of its purpose, ambitions, and structure of governance.   We have a unique opportunity to lead and play a constructive role in this, a positive prospect rather than the destructive and isolationist fantasy of Brexit.  We can be critical friends, resolve differences, love our neighbours and work together for the common good.

A strong economy enables us to prosper and care for those in need and this is what we have as part of Europe’s single market: British businesses have free access to sell to 500 million consumers, 44% of our exports go to the EU, 75% of businesses that trade goods internationally do so with Europe; 3-4 million jobs in Britain are linked to that trade.  Brexiters say they will negotiate new deals with EU countries, but it’s certain that these would involve adherence to EU rules and acceptance of free movement of citizens.  Through the EU we enjoy favourable trade agreements with over 50 other countries.  We’d lose access to those deals if we left, but Brexiters cannot explain what these new deals would be or how long they would take.   If WTO rules were to be applied to UK/EU trade, exports and services would still face tariffs and restrictions.

The Bank of England, IMF, G20, OECD, World Bank, CBI and LSE have all confirmed Britain would be worse off under Brexit.  The other European states want us to stay, as do the leaders of the US, China, India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as well as a great host of trade unions, car manufacturers, scientists, academics, entrepreneurs, farmers, environmentalists, small businesses, the heads of MI5, MI6, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Commonwealth and NATO.   Who wants us to leave?  French fascists, Farage, Galloway, Trump (a bully who questions the need for NATO) and Putin (whose goal is to weaken the institutions that could thwart his neo-Soviet ambitions, including the EU and NATO).

Brexiters make much of sovereignty, saying the EU generates 60% of laws passing through Parliament.  The House of Commons Library says it’s 13.2%.   They claim that Britain sends £350 million a week or £55 million a day to Brussels.  This figure ignores the budget rebate Margaret Thatcher famously secured by brandishing her handbag.  And half of what we send is returned to us. The best figure for our net contribution is £17 million a day.  If that sounds a lot, consider that it works out at 26p per person per day – a fraction of the price of a chocolate bar.

What’s more, it’s misleading to suggest that, if we quit, this sum would be available for paying doctors or reducing the budget deficit.  If we lost full access to the EU’s single market, the economy would be hit and our deficit could rise, not shrink.  We would have less money to spend, not more.  The Bank of England has warned that there is a risk of short-term financial shock and long-term financial uncertainty.  The Brexiters’ response to the measured tone of this legally-required report is to shout that it’s wrong!   I’d rather believe the Bank.

Immigration is good for our economy.  Contrary to myth, EU migration is not burdening the NHS, increasing crime or hurting wages. Rather, it enriches the UK labour force and economy.  85% of EU nationals in the UK are economically active, compared to 80% of UK citizens and 73% of non-EU foreigners. Between 2001 and 2011, European migrants made a net contribution of £22 billion to the UK budget.  The UK government should certainly do more to get houses built, help migrants learn English, and ensure that there’s enough money for social services in areas where there are concentrations of migrants.  But nothing about EU membership prevents it from doing that.  Outside the EU the UK would still have to accept free movement to gain full access to the single market.   Brexiters have not said what this would look like.

Boris Johnson has compared the EU with the Nazi superstate.   This statement isn’t about Britain’s interests:  Brexit is about people’s hatred of a world that doesn’t fit their prejudices.  The EU was an answer to Hitler’s murderous war, not an attempt to recreate his vision.

There isn’t space here to list almost every aspect of our life which could be affected by the result of the referendum.   I have a host of facts from reliable sources on everything from the European Court to welfare and human rights.                     If you have questions, please ask me.

Whatever the result on 23rd June there will be a great need for reconciliation in this country – and we disciples of Christ are good at that.


Leave contributed by Gordon Stewart


The referendum arguments centre on sovereignty, including concerns over democracy, security and immigration; and economic matters. For me, concerns about sovereignty are paramount, though the economic risks of remaining in an unreformed (and clearly unreformable) EU are of real concern.

The UK long had a magnificent and proud history as a strong and sovereign nation with a liberal culture steeped in the Judeo-Christian religion and tradition, welcoming to newcomers prepared to own our history and share our values. The UK is no longer a sovereign nation and our Christian religion, tradition and culture are undermined by our membership of the EU. The founding of the European Community was an attempt by a group of Christian men to overcome what they saw as the baleful legacy of nation-state nationalism. But the 65 year old construct has become secular, autocratic and insular, unable to compete in the global world, and has had profoundly depressing political and economic effects on the well-being of many of its subject peoples and others. The EU has lost the moral and spiritual vision of its founding fathers to an emphasis on sterile and bureaucratic regulation and the political imperative of ever-closer union.

Every country enters into treaty obligations that fetter its discretions in particular areas. But the UK has gone much further: we have had our sovereignty surrendered across the board to a political organisation intent on achieving super-statehood. Around two-thirds of our laws are made in Brussels with no effective control by our own government or by the Mother of Parliaments. Our government is involved in the process, but so are 27 other countries. In truth we have negligible influence in the EU: demonstrated by the recent sight of the British Prime Minister being treated with near total contempt during his admittedly feeble efforts to ‘reform Europe’. Since the late 1980s the UK has voted against EU legislative proposals 70 times. We have lost the vote 70 times. EU law reigns supreme over UK law. While in Italy and Greece elected governments have been ousted by EU-appointed technocratic juntas. And the EU leaders are openly scornful of democracy.

We do not control our borders. Over 500 million EU citizens have an unrestricted right of entry (possibly to be increased by 13 million from eastern Europe, and 79 million Turks who share neither our religion nor our culture). The NHS and our schools are already being overwhelmed. Our housing stock and infrastructure cannot keep pace with immigration. And there are massive security concerns: there is no effective way of preventing a terrorist threat given the lack of real border controls. Controlled immigration can provide great benefits to the UK. But immigration is uncontrolled and, so long as we remain in the EU, virtually uncontrollable. To manage immigration in the interests of our own country, we have no option but to leave the EU and impose controls on immigration, as once we did. Otherwise forecasts suggest that we face an increase in population over the next 25 years equal to the populations of 16 Birminghams. Increases of anything like the magnitude we have seen over recent years, let alone those forecast, are simply unsustainable.

Economically the EU is a failed and failing regional autocracy, unable to compete in the C21st global economy. It is a stagnant and unambitious and inward looking customs union with massive unemployment and as a result a desperately worrying political future, with extreme parties of the Left and Right growing stronger by the day in very many of its vassal states. Every other region in the world has recovered since the 2008 debt crisis; the euro zone’s economy failed to grow at all between 2008 and 2015. The  combined EU economy has shrunk from 36% of world GDP in 1973 to 17% in 2015. Over the last 10 years Europe (essentially the EU) is one of only two continents on Earth not to have grown economically. The other is Antarctica. Thankfully, the proportion of Britain’s exports that go to Europe is ever decreasing (44.6% in 2016, down from 54.7% in 2006). British trade with non-EU states is in surplus and growing. Britain’s trade with the EU is in deficit and shrinking. The UK’s future lies in entrepreneurial world trade with the expanding economies of the world, not with Little EU.

The EU is not intentionally evil. But its drive for political integration has led to massive unemployment and poverty in a number of its regions. And it is a customs union, defended against the world by tariff barriers, often to the severe detriment of the poor in Africa and other third-world regions. The EU, intentionally or otherwise, benefits the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and downtrodden.

We Christians strive for unity and fellowship. But the structures of the clearly unreformable EU foster conflict and unhappiness.

A vote to remain is not a vote for the status quo. There are clear plans for fiscal and political union, to apply to all member states (including the UK), not just the euro states. We have probably just this one opportunity to reclaim our democracy, our sovereignty, our right to count among the great countries of the world and our ability to control our destiny. We must vote to Leave. That is the safe and honourable vote.

You decide on June 23, 2016