Brexit continues to consume the national debate. It is the latest chapter in the long and (probably) never to be resolved story of our islands’ relationship with the European continent. From Viking raiders, through to Roman occupation, Duke William of Normandy’s conquering the country (his descendant still sits on the throne and parliament still uses the Norman French expression – La Reyne le veult- to pass all state laws), to Henry VIII, Cromwell (both), Marlborough, Napoleon, Nelson, Wellington, Pitt, Hitler, Churchill, DeGaulle, McMillan Heath, Wilson, Thatcher, Cameron and now Boris Johnson.
On and on it goes. Brexit is the latest run in this long-running show but it is not the last night. This is the show that will never end.
The latest national figure to step onto the stage is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who wants to take part in ‘citizens’ meetings – the dangers of which I wrote about in June – aiming to stop a no deal. Whatever your thoughts on Brexit, the Archbishop has a role and place to play in the discussions. The Archbishop of Canterbury, indeed all Archbishops of Canterbury, have a duty and a responsibility to help foster and inform our national debate.
Everyone else is taking part. For journalists it is the gift that keeps on giving. For politicians it provides a stage apart from simple party politics. For business it is a hurdle to jump, for the rest of us… well we can tune in and out as we wish. Brexit has replaced the weather as the issue of national hope and despair, depending on your mood, and Brexit has something for everyone. Whatever your interest or concern is it’s possible to invoke Brexit – from trade to diplomacy, rules and regulations, money and who pays what to who, food standards to environmental standards, cultural interests to travel arrangements – it’s got the lot.
Brexit has spawned a huge industry of advisors, commentators, analysts and consultants. It’s created thousands of new civil service jobs and quite a few in the private and voluntary sectors too.
It’s changed the debate of the economy, forcing our government into promising tax cuts and starting a spending spree. It’s finished off a couple of Prime Ministers, brought an abrupt end to 70 years of settled national foreign policy, dismantled the reputations of a whole generation of our political leaders and destroyed the prevailing political settlement. Brexit is, and will continue to be, the great scythe cutting through our national life for years and years to come.
October 31 will not be the end of the debate in our relationship with Europe but will reboot and re-energise our long ties with the continent.
What’s more, Brexit day will not see the question come to rest gently on the ground but will add turbo chargers and rocket boosters to the great debate.
Along with other faith leaders such as the Archbishop, and senior figures from right across our national life, we should encourage and welcome the liveliest of debates. It’s part of what, should, make us even stronger and vibrant as a nation. As they say in parliament: ‘La Reyne le veult’ or the ‘Queen wills it.’