Well, that was a shock – but not, perhaps, a complete surprise. Last Thursday the British people (or more accurately the English and Welsh people) voted to leave the European Union.
It was clear during a heated and often acrimonious, and sometimes depressing campaign, that feelings were running high. As is always the case on such occasions those who wanted to leave were passionate and forceful, while those who were not actively involved in the campaign largely held their counsel. A lot of things were said by campaigners – some of them true, but many clearly not – and some were provocative and have led occasionally to confrontation between people who voted leave and have been telling immigrants to Go home now or worse.
The few days after the Referendum have been interesting. The Prime Minister immediately announced his resignation. The Labour Party is in total disarray. The value of the pound has dived, and is now at its lowest level for more than thirty years. The Stock Market has lost billions of pounds of value. The Leave campaigners are back pedalling rapidly on the “promises” they made (or now claim not to have made) during the campaign. So bereft do they seem now of any sort of a plan for Brexit that it is beginning to look as if our withdrawal from the EU will be a prolonged and drawn out process. There is talk of a second referendum, or a General Election in the autumn following the appointment of a new leader of the Conservative Party. It is hard to know exactly what to make of it all.
Clearly we are now a deeply divided nation. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted Remain; England and Wales voted Leave. Young people overwhelmingly voted Remain; the over-50s overwhelmingly voted Leave. London and the cities voted Remain; the market towns and rural areas voted Leave. The comfortably off voted Remain; the poorest voted Leave. 51.9% voted Leave; 48.1% voted Remain. Had a mere 650 000 voted differently we would be remaining in the EU.
On the morning after the Referendum the Church of England published prayers petitioning God for grace to build trust and renew our unity. You can see them here, and use them in your prayers if you wish.
No doubt things will, in time, calm down and we will begin to see a way through our divisions to find a new unity. How our political leaders behave and work for a common purpose will be crucial in moving our country forward so that all parts of the country can feel that they belong and are important in in our national life. Jesus and the gospel teaches us that, with God, there is always hope of reconciliation, renewal and a new beginning.
Pray for our nation, pray for our leaders, pray for those who feel left behind as others thrive and reap the benefits of our nation’s prosperity, pray for those immigrants who work in our country and contribute to its success, pray for those who feel deflated and despairing following the referendum result, pray for those who feel triumphant and joyful at it, pray for those in Europe who feel betrayed by our abandonment of them, pray that we may find a new place and a new voice in the world and that we may contribute to the good of all in the United Kingdom and beyond.