Faith Matters

What Brexit is revealing

Intolerance won the vote, but St. Martin's witnesses to a different reality.

Several months afterward I still find it hard to talk about Brexit. Britain hasn’t left Europe, but it has chosen to leave the lugubrious, sometimes sclerotic but nonetheless indispensable institution known as the European Union. The result of the referendum was evidently a protest from people who feel they haven’t been heard. Now everyone has to listen. 

In 2014 the Scots voted on whether or not to leave the U.K. The No campaign fought on the wrong grounds, and there were constant warnings of major corporations relocating from Edinburgh to London. But the Scots didn’t believe they were simply economic beings: this was about identity over centuries, not wealth over a few years. The result was close. Having learned nothing, the Remain campaign in the 2016 Euro vote fought on exactly the same grounds: we’ll be better off if we stay. It was a huge miscalculation. Those who voted to leave said, “I’m not sure I’m a part of your ‘we,’” and then, “This is about identity, not economics—I don’t feel European, and I want my country back.”

The Scottish referendum was almost lost because of the failure of the No campaign to describe a multicultural society the Scots would be foolish to leave. The Euro referendum was lost because the Remain campaign failed to describe the aspirations of the European ideal in any way the electorate could relate to. For those of us who believe that the EU is a tangible fruit of a Europe that resolved to learn its lessons after two world wars, and that Britain’s membership in Europe is a welcome sign of humility from a country that has finally renounced its global imperial pretensions, the result is devastating.