Sunday, 19 June 2016

Why Catholics should vote to remain in the EU - according to Dr Rupert Beale

Dr Rupert Beale has asked me to post this article by him in favour of remaining in the EU on my blog. I am happy to do so: he clearly feels passionately about it, and is a clever chap, whose honesty and good intentions are beyond question.

I only preface it by saying that I am not convinced (I find that the more remain stuff I read, the more I am minded to vote to leave - and vice versa....) . However, you will judge for yourself.


Our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide.

I had intended this to be a riposte to the various arguments with a Catholic flavour in favour of the UK leaving the EU, but the words of G.K. Chestertons hymn have been swirling round my brain of late. I fear that what I might have written would have been scornful. Theres been quite enough of that. 

What I ask of all people of good conscience who believe that the EU is not a good thing is this: please do not vote for us to leave.

Many people were upset by the death of Jo Cox despite never having met her. I cannot imagine the shock and anguish that her husband must be feeling. Somehow he found the strength to issue a very dignified and fitting tribute to his wife. One poignant sentence stands out for me: “She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.”

It is love for one another that defines us as Christians. A love that imitates Christs universal and self-sacrificial love. That is why we defend all human lives, and why we do not try to make different categories of worth between persons – all are infinitely loved by an infinite God. Value to us is the dignity and flourishing of persons; it is not a number of pounds in a bank, even if its the Bank of England.  People to us are equal: born or unborn, young and vigorous or old and dying. They are not different in value for being British or French, Romanian or Bangladeshi.

We can have a debate about the European Union. Its a human political institution, with all the usual faults. I have argued that Britain benefits from membership (it certainly does in narrow monetary terms). I have also argued that British political influence has been a good thing in the EU as regards an area thats personally important to me: scientific research. This scientific excellence fostered by the EU promotes economic growth, as well as the health and wellbeing of Britons, Europeans and all humanity. These, we should agree, are good things. Furthermore, its very hard to see how the UK could get a better deal outside the EU.

The EU is not an unalloyed ode to joy. There is a point of view that the loss of sovereignty entailed by (for example) allowing an international court primacy over a British court is intolerable. Some believe that the EU is remote and less accountable than it should be. The original noble ideals of the predecessor to the EU – which were couched in rather specifically Christian terms – have to some extent been betrayed.

Personally, I do not see that voluntary submission to the judgements of international courts (not confined to the EU of course) is a regrettable loss of sovereignty, but I think you can have a reasonable debate about it.  There is also a very uncomfortable argument that it is in fact Britain that's bad for the EU (our influence is by no means always for the best).

The EU is a collection of 28 separate nation states, one of which is our own decidedly imperfect one. I agree that the EU has done and continues to do things which go against the high ideals of its founders – but imperfection is to be expected, whatever mechanisms are in place to help smooth relationships between our different countries.

Whatever you think about the EU, it cannot be emphasised enough that the merits or otherwise of the EU are not on the ballot paper. Whats on the ballot paper is leaving the EU. The wider context of this vote is not the impassioned but usually polite discourse between committed Christians. The context is fear of immigrants, lies about money, distrust of foreigners, distrust of economists, distrust of politicians, distrust of journalists, distrust of ‘experts’ – distrust of everybody. 

The context is also a national political debate in which we have the love of money played off against the fear of immigrants. Across continental Europe, the context is many national parties that wish their particular country to break off from the EU (and most of those parties make our own Far Right seem pretty tame). 

The context is also the recent horrible killing of an MP doing her job. The suspect has given his name in court as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. Inevitably, the motives and state of mind of the suspect have been subject to speculation, and that speculation has varied depending on the particular views of the speculator.

Its illustrative of the poverty of the national debate that this terrible tragedy is being used to score points. Its Jo Coxs husbands words that we should take to heart, and not give way to hatred. That means no hatred of foreigners, and it means no hatred of politicians either – even if they are guilty of rabble-rousing and xenophobia (as some most assuredly are). 

The secular debate around the EU referendum has been conducted in terms which are too often bound by entombing walls of gold and the love of money. They are also being conducted in a way that suggests people – some people at any rate – can be cast adrift.

From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men;
From sale and profanation of honour and the sword;
From sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord!

In a sea of lies and half-truths there is one particular depth of mendacity that I wish to plunge into: the claim that £350m a week can be spent on the NHS if we leave. It is worse than a deliberate lie. It is specially designed to be a lie, because the Leave camps spin-doctors have realised that if they lie about it, it will be talked about a lot.

The counter-argument is that the real figure is lower: £136m. This is great for the Leave camp: it still sounds like a large number, and cements the broader untruth that the EU costs us money in the minds of voters. The demographic they are especially targeting – older Labour voters – is tickled by the promise to spend all that money on the NHS. They have told us a small lie to make us believe a bigger one – what clever fellows those spin-doctors are!

Mendacity is not the special vice of the Leave campaign. It has long ago infected our whole political discourse. If all truth is relative, a lie can surely be a legitimate tool used in pursuit of a political goal. In those circumstances, where to tell a lie is neither considered wicked nor shameful – and is in fact admired for its ability to shift public opinion – it is little wonder that people have lost trust.

Truth and truth-telling are essential to Christian values. Of course, there is nowadays little or no reference to Christianity in public life. But truth-telling is important to secular humanists and people of other faiths too. Can we not replace Christian values with ‘Enlightenmentvalues? I dont see much evidence of that happening.

The secular debate – even if conducted in terms that dont abandon the concept of truth altogether – is dominated by narrow self-interest. Will Britain be better off? Will I be better off? Will we be able to keep the foreigners out? Its not exactly the universal brotherhood of man. The Enlightenment owes far more of a debt to Christianity than is generally admitted. The philosopher that atheists dont much like to talk about is Nietzsche. Right now, its his abyss thats staring into us.
I could see myself voting for Brexit under certain circumstances. For example, if it became a condition of our continued membership that we join the Euro (this would by law be subject to a referendum). The procedure there would be for an elected government to carefully build global alliances and put us in a position to negotiate an orderly withdrawal (we have no such alliance in place, and all our trading partners, allies and EU neighbours are against us leaving). We would need to ensure that any exit did not produce a severe economic shock.

At present, we have no credible scenario to achieve a successful negotiated settlement, and a substantial economic shock is certain if we leave. (I accept that some economists believe we could recover in a decade or so, while others dont – but that there will be an initial shock is agreed by all.) A severe economic shock to Britain and to the EU at this time would give rise to the perfect conditions for bigotry and hatred to flourish. This we must not allow.

If you, like me, believe on balance that Britain is good for the EU and the EU is good for Britain I expect you will vote to remain. If we do vote to leave, we give succour to the very worst elements of our national politics and the national politics of the other EU members, and we must endure the national humiliation that will follow as best we can.

Take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.


David O'Neill said...

Sorry you wasted the precious space on your blog with that utter TOSH!! Sadly no-one can foretell what will happen when we (please God) leave the EU but I would rather have our ELECTED MPs make a mess than UNELECTED European civil servants. At least we can vote them out. My vote is LEAVE ASAP!!

Ben Trovato said...


I almost didn't post that comment; simply to call an argument tosh without engaging with it is not great in terms of advancing the debate. However, I am pretty confident that DrBeale's shoulders are broad enough for him not to be too hurt by this, so I let it stand.

However, I would remind all potential commenters that civility is generally a better way to advance your arguments; and engaging with what others say is always more powerful and more productive than simply dismissing them.

Unknown said...

Hi David,

Thank you for your comment. A few points to pick up on: firstly civil servants in the UK are also unelected (rightly so) and we cannot vote them out either. There are more than ten times as many unelected UK civil servants than EU civil servants.

We cannot foresee the future with 100% accuracy but some things we know about with a high degree of certainty. Others really are very unclear. It's worth looking at this: which very clearly sets out the legal ramifications of a vote to Leave.

I would urge you to have a good listen to that: I suspect you will be surprised at how misleading some of the coverage of the debate has been as compared to the reality of what we are actually voting for.

Very best wishes,


F Marsden said...

A very good and well-balanced presentation from Dr Beale, in my opinion. Having visited 27 of the 28 countries in the EU, all except Malta, I am very happy to belong to this wide community of European nations. I like my EU passport and E111 health insurance card. I don't want to have to go through the Others non-EU channel at airports and queue up with Chinese, Russians, Africans being grilled about their visas.
Of course Brussels deserves criticism. 40000 bureaucrats compared with 405000 in London! But it has lost its original Christian inspiration. We should work to reform Europe from within. If we opt out, the other 27 nations will be frosty towards us, and in no hurry to give us any favourable trade deals. We are heading up a Brexit blind alley which will put us permanently on the global sidelines.
We may well see the Irish internal border established and a flare-up of nationalist violence in protest. And why shouldn't Scotland also vote leave and try to retain their EU membership? Brexit will bring a decade of bickering, arguments and economic damage. And it will be all our own fault.
Rev Dr Francis Marsden


David O'Neill said...

In response to Fr Marsden; we have visited Malta. When TOLD they had to accept immigrants they refused & the Maltese people happily paid extra taxes to pay the levied fine.
As to responding to every comment (as Ben Trovato suggested) it would have taken too long & used up even more of the precious blog space. All that remains to be said (IMHO) is that no-one can foretell the outcome if we either stay or leave but what we can say (Brexit) is that at least we won't be bound by court rulings with which the majority of people disagree & will be able to vote out our ELECTED MPs if we don't like what they do rather than be stuck with decisions of UNELECTED Eurocrats.
Insofar as the Remain supporting politicians say that we won't be able to rule ourselves that is BOLONEY!!
I sincerely hope that you do publish this Ben!!

David O'Neill said...

Just 1 short addendum; we are asked if we do not think the EU is a good thing not to vote. How naive are we expected to be? Not voting is almost the same as voting to remain!! Come on Rupert Beale at least be honest!!

Unknown said...

Dear David,

I hope you've noted that the EU has less than 1/10th the number of civil servants than the UK.

I think it would help if you were to look at this:

It's very good at explaining what this referendum is actually about.

With very best wishes,


Delia said...

The link given in Rupert's comment above, also forwarded to me by a friend, has clinched it for me.

Jonathan Marshall said...

Despite all the rhetoric, prophecies of doom, threats, and all the rest, the Referendum boils down to just this: the supremacy of our Parliament, and nothing else. Do we want to become an independent nation again, or remain a mere province of an anti-democratic, failing would-be superstate?

Ask yourself one question on Thursday - Would I actually vote to join the EU as it now is? If the answer is no, vote Leave.

Unknown said...

Hi Jonathan,

I find it intriguing that Brexiteers typically want to focus on a different question to the one that is actually on the ballot paper. Joining something and leaving it aren't equal and opposite. If you leave a marriage, that isn't the same thing, but opposite, as deciding not to get married. Personally, I would probably join the EU if we were currently out, but that's absolutely beside the point. Leaving the EU is – as you would see if you'd looked at the link that Delia found helpful – a nightmare. It's also nothing to do with restoring the sovereignty of Parliament (again, you would find this very helpfully explained by that link). The EU isn't a sovereign entity, nor will it ever be one. It's an international body where 28 states manage to cooperate rather better than they otherwise would, and avoid fights and trade wars a lot better than they otherwise would. Please reconsider.

Best wishes,


Jonathan Marshall said...

"If you leave a marriage, that isn't the same thing, but opposite, as deciding not to get married"? Not so. In deciding to leave a marriage you are admitting that you should not have married that person in the first place, which was my point.

I have no illusions about the problems of leaving - there will be many of them and they're not going to be solved overnight - but there will be many more problems if we stay and we will have little say in how they are tackled.

But if you really think that the EU isn't (and never will be) a sovereign entity, consider this - It has a Parliament (of sorts); a flag; a national anthem; a police force; a currency; and it is working towards having an army - all symbols of a sovereign state. If it is simply an international body for co-operation why does it need these things?
Similarly, why does it need to force its will on its so-called co-operating states by refusing to accept democratic decisions of the people of those states?

We must leave - and you should reconsider!

David O'Neill said...

Bravo Jonathan!! Have you also noted that the 'Remainers" have petitioned for another referendum (just like the Scots who didn't get the right answer to their referendum). Looking at the financial situation; in the short term things might be difficult. The farmers won't get their subsidies NOT to produce but will have a market presently largely denied to the - the UK. If the pound falls this will make our exports cheaper & the world (not just the EU) will always buy an equally god article at a cheaper price - don't we all? This is without the VAST savings we will make by not having to pay a membership(?) fee to the EU which far exceeds the benefits we get