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Referendum

Emboldened by Rowan Williams' signature to a recent letter in The Guardian, here is one person's view of what we should consider when we vote on 23 June in our referendum on membership of the European Union.

Explorers tell of how, when walking alone in the wild, they were alert, looking around, hearing a branch crack to the left, a curious animal noise to the right, a sudden movement in the branches ahead, weighing up where the danger was going to come from and then - WHAM! - from above, below, whatever direction they weren't looking, they were in mortal danger.

And so it is today, with the debate on the EU.  So fiercely has the debate raged on questions like the percentage rise (or fall) in gross domestic product, the number of school places, demands on the NHS, net immigration, the Scottish view, the availability of housing - all important questions - that a deep underlying question has remained unasked and unanswered.

For two thousand years, through invasions and wars, through famine and plenty, through the wax and wane of empires and countries, Europe has fumbled its way towards a peaceful coexistence. This is no mean feat - the last west European war ended only 72 years ago. What has come out on top, after all this time, after all this conflict and bloodshed, after all this misery, are a number of important things, which it is worth setting out here:

A shared framework of law, upon which people and organisations can rely to live their lives. It is a law to which everyone without distinction is subject, including the government, including the police, including local government, including the army. If you ask why I say that, I reply "Look at Russia, look at China,  look at Turkey!".  They have laws too, of course, but in practice not everyone is subject to them. 

A shared framework of rights, the other side of the coin. Each person and organisation is subject to the law, but also enjoys protection under the law. Arbitrary government, where powerful and well-connected people and organisations can disregard those rights where they are inconvenient, is common-place in many parts of the world. The shared framework of rights is a key development, born of Christian ethics and sustained by European institutions, in our country and in our neighbours' countries.

A fundamental belief in the rule of the people, on behalf of the people. The belief that the authority to govern which is given by the people, in periodic elections, to choose the general direction their government should take, is fundamental to the European ideal. A basic tenet of Christianity is that we are each one of us responsible - even just in a tiny way - for creating the Kingdom of God. With that responsibility comes power - free will - the power to decide, the power to do good, the power, in fact to make law and how it should be applied. 

This is not static. We have moved over two thousand years from a rule book of fundamental scriptural laws to developed laws based on Christian ethics and suitable for huge and complex human societies. And of course, we are free to choose new laws (and occasionally free to get it wrong) and abolish old ones. In the last 72 years, the building blocks of that set of relationships have been the United Nations and the European Union. Each is imperfect. Each needs reform. Each wastes money and resource. Each occasionally gets it wrong. Each is in some respects unaccountable.

But how, in all conscience, can we risk de-stabilising one of the two pillars for world peace and a force for good? 

Does anyone really believe,  in all conscience, that we will re-build the alliances and relationships, friendships and bases for cooperation which we will have demolished if we leave the European Union? 

What meaning will "freedom" have when - faced with the huge stresses to which we may be subject because of the instability we have caused in countries all around us - the effect of our vote endangers peaceful cooperation, and risks destroying the unity on which it is based?

This isn't just a "don't rock the boat" argument. A vote for Brexit will lead to a huge distraction from the important work of governments, both in the United Kingdom and in the rest of Europe, for a very long time, as new relationships are forged. 

It will lead to conflict and hostility. It will lead to a huge investment of time and effort to achieve - well, to achieve what? 

That's the point: we don't know what a post-Brexit Europe would look like, nor how we will get there, and there are huge risks that it would look very, very different from what those who vote for it hope.

What a waste that would be. We have important work to do.

Nick Jenni