I am writing this before the UK election takes place. Whatever the outcome, I guess, Brexit will remain the way we go. Like many, I believe there should never have been a referendum in the first place. We have a representative democracy for a reason. It is supposed to protect us from our own idiocies and worst instincts. We pay these elected representatives to educate themselves about the issues and then make informed decisions on our behalf. Referenda have no place in our constitution, and certainly not without a two thirds majority being necessary for constitutional change. As it is, we are careering down the Brexit path on the basis of the way about half of us felt when we woke up that morning and went out to vote. I don’t think anyone doubts that an awful lot of people would vote differently today, given the chance – and generations to come may well curse us for being so cavalier with their lives. But Brexit means Brexit as the Blessed Saint Theresa keeps telling us, so that’s it.
Brexit is, at heart, about political sovereignty. In the history of western civilisation, this is a relatively new concern. The Jews who suffered under Roman oppression, rose up in rebellion in the 1st Century, but not primarily in the cause of political sovereignty. In those days, most people lived under the aegis of one empire of another. As Jesus is supposed to have said, ‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s’. No – what exercised them was religious sovereignty. It was repeated Roman attempts to Hellenise the Jews, to introduce other gods into their temple and to impose emperor worship, that led to two disastrous wars and the Jewish diaspora. And that has been the real sovereignty issue for most people for most of that time since. It was only with the rise of nationalism in the 19th Century, that political sovereignty topped the agenda – as it still does unfortunately for UKIP and the SNP. The 16th Century Reformation in the UK was ultimately about to whom British subjects owed their allegiance – the King or the Pope. Henry VIII wanted his sovereignty made clear, and Roman Catholics for that reason alone remained disenfranchised and civilly disabled until their Emancipation in the 19th Century. The British compromise, introduced by Henry was the Anglican Church: the British Sovereign is Head of an ‘Established’ Church and of the State. His hatchet man – Cromwell – even made citizens sign an oath to that effect.
But many British subjects today are Muslim and would have considerable difficulty signing such an oath. They too believe in a unification of church and state – but a church and a state very different from the one Henry established, and a very long way from traditional British cultural, legal and moral values. All Muslims believe this – not just the jihadists; all – if they are true to the Koran - would welcome a British Caliphate. And it is hard to see how such a demand could be resisted in the future when, with an established Anglican church, we have already ceded the principle. This is not a minor issue. If UKIP and SNP are really concerned about preserving the ‘Traditional Values’ of these islands, they need to worry less about political sovereignty and worry more about the threat to those values from those that would impose religious totalitarianism on us all. To demand a secular society is not racist. It is to recognise that people should be free to believe anything they want – whatever the rest of us think. As I said in a previous Blog, my thoughts and feelings are my own. But society at large can only preserve that right and that freedom for us all, if the organs of state are absolutely and without qualification, secular. The Monarch must renounce her role in the Church or the State – she cannot continue to be head of both. Again, as I say in the Preface to The Christian Fallacy:
With the rise of religious fundamentalism of all kinds, that threatens to curtail the hard-won liberal freedoms that we all enjoy, we need secularism in our societies now as never before. Only in that way can those of religious faith and those with none, live and work together in mutual tolerance and peace.