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End the civil war

Brexit has so divided the nation that there is almost a virtual civil war. No, this is not another partisan piece for or against Brexit but it is a cry for us all to see what the conflict over this issue is doing to the nation. 

I have been studying, teaching and doing politics for 55 years and I cannot recall anything like the present deep divisions and the failures of political leadership to build bridges and unite the nation.

A number of business leaders have expressed their anxieties about what Brexit might do to their companies and have been accused of starting another ‘fear’ campaign. They are not politicians and they presumably know their business interests and have a right, like any of us, to defend them. They see what is happening in the retail sector, with M&S, House of Frazer, Toys R US and lots of others closing stores. They hear concerned voices from BMW, Nissan, Siemens, Airbus and others and 94% of SMEs say the Government is ignoring their concerns.

How have Ministers responded? The Foreign Secretary responded with a four-letter word and the Health Secretary said “the growing threats from businesses over Brexit were completely inappropriate”.  When the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, made a case for the softest possible Brexit he was accused of starting Fear Mark Two. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the ardent Brexiteer accused the Chancellor of the Exchequer of orchestrating the business attacks and of undermining the Prime Minister.

There is a legitimate debate about the terms on which we leave the EU but being conducted with this ferocity and bitterness it is damaging the nation. If Brexit means thousands of jobs lost, families will suffer.  Moreover since 2010 Government policies have cut the rate of unemployment but If Brexit reverses that they will be punished at the next election. The Conservatives have traditionally been a pro-business party, which makes their current behaviour all the more shocking.

But there are other damaging consequences of getting Brexit wrong. The Irish border issue is another cause for deep concern. A hard Brexit will inevitably mean a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Those pressing for the UK to walk away from the EU with no deal need to understand the potential implications of that. Stephen Martin, the Assistant Chief Constable of the Police Service in Northern Ireland warns that violent republicans “would exploit uncertainty over the future of the border”.  He said it was “highly foreseeable” that police officers would be targeted if any kind of customs checks were re-introduced post Brexit.

The point is not whether or not we leave the EU. That has been decided. It is about how we, as a nation, conduct ourselves in relation to leaving and so far the evidence is deeply disturbing. The Apostle Paul taught that “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Love and grace are two distinguishing features of Christ-like behaviour and they are not very evident in the public debates about Brexit, even from some of those who profess to be Christians.

Ultimately this is about leadership and, with a few exceptions; our political leaders are handling Brexit in a deeply divisive manner. They need our prayers for grace and humility so that Brexit does not leave scars that take a generation to heal.

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