Next steps for Brexit?

This is the perplexing question of our time and I would like to offer some thoughts on the subject.

1) To claim that the UK should not be permitted a second referendum because the will of the people was clearly expressed in June 2016 is just plain wrong.  We know that the Leave campaign was riddled with dodgy claims, such as the ludicrously misleading £350 million per week claim that (as of 29th September 2018) apparently 42% of the British public still believed!  There is also the issue of Russian influence and interference, which is repeatedly swept under the carpet but must have been significant with such a close referendum result.

Most significantly, the 52% did not know exactly what they were voting for and were promised dazzling, bright “sunlit uplands“, a land flowing with the milk and honey of freedom from constraints and a trade bonanza.  Just take a look at these claims, which have been exposed as utterly hollow.

So, that’s why we should have another vote to confirm the will of the people.  We can clearly see now how complicated and costly untangling ourselves from the EU will be.  In terms of the price paid, please note that already we have lost the equivalent of £500 million per week due to the decision made on 26th June 2016 and our actions since.  Government forecasts suggest that the UK economy would be 9.3% smaller under a “no deal” best case scenario after 15 years, than if we stayed in the EU.  Surely, very few people voted to be poorer and those who did were certainly not considering the interests of those are most vulnerable in our society and subsist on the breadline.

2) Nevertheless, I can see the merits to accept May’s Brexit deal for now, working towards “near-frictionless trade” with the EU and keeping the “Norway-style” option as a “Plan B” if a bespoke arrangement does not emerge from the negotiations.  There are clear benefits to leaving the EU in terms of fishing and agriculture, which are hardly being mentioned at the moment but are important to many communities across the UK.

We have probably lost so much already in terms of EU agencies and bank HQs that have relocated away from the EU, maybe we should persist on a sensible, gradual uncoupling from Brussels and pursue the opportunities this bring, whilst seeking to maintain as much of our trading relationship as possible.  I can see that a second referendum would be very disruptive, though if Parliament is deadlocked then that will become the best way out of the impasse.

Mind you, how much of the current Westminster inertia is based on lack of an overall majority for any one party and what chance is there of a General Election delivering a more decisive, satisfactory result?  There is also some doubt about whether the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50 and easily maintain our current EU membership.  Moreover, if there the first referendum result was reversed, would too many people feel betrayed and disillusioned by British politics, sowing the seeds of future discord.  Yet again, we can see the merits of May’s Brexit deal and only wish that she was better able to sell this across party lines…

3) Whatever happens, we must learn from this shambles.  Referendums are complex, emotive and divisive.  They do not solve issues but simply unleash mayhem.  They are a distraction from the serious and important business of government.  Think of how much could have been accomplished in the last 30 months if we were not so distracted by Brexit.  Is the price of a spurious vision, “Britannia Unchained”, truly worth the uncertainty and chaos.

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The case of the much-maligned Samaritan’s Purse

Why do people trust the truth so little that they feel the need to distort the facts in order to “win” a case or promote their agenda? Case in point is Toynbee’s broadside entitled “This Christmas, beware evangelical Christians bearing gifts”. Admittedly the headline was quite intriguing but the argument was frustratingly flimsy.

Firstly, why does it matter that Samaritan’s Purse has a monthly income of £16 million? Don’t you think every single penny is being used to promote the charity’s aims and objectives? Oxfam, recently rocked by a child abuse scandal, still managed to accrue a monthly income of £34.5 million (2017).

Secondly, wouldn’t Christians be abject hypocrites if we just doled out goodies and said nothing about our reason for doing so? We believe our Lord Jesus Christ’s ultimate act of grace — leaving the glories of heaven to enter the cesspit of earth for the sake of our salvation — is the greatest possible motivation for any human being to show love. In fact, why should humanists even bother to be charitable if they believe this life, so scarred by suffering, irrationality and unfairness, is all there is?

As we know the source of grace and truth, we are obligated and motivated to share this treasure. There’s no point in talking about love without also displaying kindness. Individuals and communities have physical and spiritual needs — Samaritan’s Purse aims to meet both, but recognises that what makes Christian charity unique is Christ Jesus the One who created us to care.

Thirdly, why would we not send boxes to the most needy people who, yes, live in Muslim countries? The sad fact is the West is woefully under-informed about Islam — please take time to read-up on what the Koran actually says and how this directly influences the beliefs and behaviours of millions.

For example, although Muhammad did not envisage modern terrorism, some of his instructions and actions can be used to justify such. For example, Q 8:12: I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip.

Islamic tradition (namely the hadith, which is said to record Muhammad’s sayings) also justifies spreading fear: “I have been made victorious with terror.” (Bukhari 4.52.220)

Just look at the desperate plight of Asia Bibi in Pakistan where mobs are baying for her blood after she was accused of maligning Muhammad.  Despite that country’s highest court ruling that she is “innocent”, she is in hiding and refused asylum by a UK government that appear desperate to avoid a violent Islamic backlash.  How can anyone objective seriously give any credence to the claim that this is a “religion of peace” when its followers direct so much animosity against those who refuse to “submit” to Allah’s rule?

Now listen to Jesus: “love your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you” — statements found nowhere in the teaching of Islam. Jesus never killed anyone, and criticised Peter for taking up a sword in his defence. Instead of killing and maiming, the Messiah healed people and even raised some from the dead.

Truthfully, we do a grave disservice if we only pack a shoebox, or send-off a tenner for “Children in Need”. Surely, everyone deserves to know the reason for the hope that we have.

In following-up Toynbee’s hyperlinks, I noted that the origins of this article seem to be from a website, “Wales Online“.  You can see again the misrepresentation: the author claims to present the case “for and against”, implying a degree of objectivity, but nearly every point is very much antagonistic, concluding with a link for a letter template to write to schools demanding they reconsider their support of Samaritan’s Purse. What a travesty. “Bah humbug” Scrooge would be proud of such efforts but who does the Humanist Society’s invective really help?

Rather than the legal eagle who walked by on the other side of the road, I’d rather be the compassionate Samaritan, getting stuck in to assist the man badly injured at the side of the road and share the Good News of great joy.

“Austerity isn’t over” – but you should at least get your facts right

Long-standing Guardian journalist and commentator Polly Toynbee just wrote an article that encapsulates why mainstream media have such a trust deficit.  To be fair, I actually agree with many of her central propositions about the damage radical Tory cuts have wrought on our social fabric but that’s no excuse for such a serious misunderstanding of the Resolution Foundation‘s figures, on which she bases her latest broadside against the government.

She fails to grasp the reality of the cuts to various government departments as a result of austerity.  All the figures Toynbee quotes, such as “Local authorities face another 57% cut in grant”, are actually “real-terms per capita RDEL cuts between 2009-10 and 2023-24”.  It is woefully inaccurate to portray these as a further, majorly worrying reductions – i.e. “a walloping cut in subsidy [for Transport and railways], presumably a gap that will be filled with fare rises.”

In a different misreading, Toynbee writes that Gavin Williamson’s “Ministry of Defence” gets a 12% cut when, in fact, the Budget marks an increase and improvement.  Yes, of course, we will not somehow be able to magically return to spending levels that could be expected if there was never a financial crash (a crisis that happened on Labour’s watch). The way these figures are repeatedly misrepresented as “ANOTHER” cut, in addition to everything that has gone before, is deeply disingenuous.

Yes, commentators are right to point out that the government still plans to make spending cuts in certain departments but Toynbee’s economic illiteracy is deeply alarming and incomprehensible for a media organisation that proudly boasts “Facts are sacred”.  If the Daily Mail or Donald Trump was bandying around similar figures in such a misleading way, they would be the first to complain and shine a light to embarrass them into a correction, so I hope they will act accordingly to sort out their own “fake news” problem.  I wrote to the Guardian’s editor earlier today and I sincerely hope that this news outlet, which has many great features, fixes this issue soon.