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26 April 2016

Should we leave the European Union?

We had to ask, didn't we? However predictable this feature is, the idea team decided it would be helpful to hear two Christian politicians debate whether we're better off outside the EU. We put the question to Kate Hoey MP and Sarah Dickson, and then stood well back...

Sarah Dickson, director of the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum

During Fairtrade Fortnight earlier this year, I was reminded of one of Martin Luther King Junior's thought-provoking sound bites; the sort that stop you in your tracks to make you think a moment. 

"Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you've depended on more than half the world."

Seeing it on a poster on our office kitchen cupboard door every time I made a cuppa, it made me realise the reality of our world in its increasingly interconnected state. As we become more interconnected, we face more international crises from climate change to refugee crises.

Our actions impact the lives of those across the world and people in other nations' actions impact our lives more and more. This compels us to cooperate with our neighbours across national borders.

It's by working together that we can build and maintain peace; that we can stand up and inspire action against global inequalities; and that we can form strong inclusive communities. This is why I want to stay IN.

People within church communities have been trying to live out this outward-looking vision for centuries and the EU referendum on 23 June gives Britain an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to doing so too.

Formed after 1945, the European Union was set up with the aim of building unity and peace between European countries. For the past 70 years, the EU has successfully made European war impossible because leaders have come together to negotiate and cooperate. I've grown up taking peace for granted and Europe is largely to thank.

Through this cooperation, we're able to tackle the climate change that is destroying some of the poorest people's livelihoods and dirtying our air. We are able to stand up for people's rights – protecting maternity and paternity leave, tackling human trafficking and expanding our aid reach to some of the most vulnerable.

For me, Jesus' inclusive, borderless love can be best lived out by shifting our focus globally. Remaining part of Europe gives us an opportunity – amongst others – in which we, in Britain, can expand compassion, social justice and reconciliation to a far further end than the British Isles.

There is no doubt that the EU needs reforms, just like Westminster, but it's by staying at the table that change happens. On the inside, we can be influencers. Britain is a leader in Europe. We can use our leadership to reignite a vision for Europe that goes beyond the economy to one of a vibrant, peaceful and compassionate community. The need for which, as our world is confronted with more and deepening international pressures, is overwhelming.

So, when you're eating your breakfast, mull over the Martin Luther King reminder that the world's structure is one of interrelatedness and it is by working together that we can truly love our neighbours.

Kate Hoey, Labour MP for Vauxhall

We live in a cynical age. Faith in our democratic structures and in the people that we elect to parliament has rarely been lower. People have a desperate sense that our system is rigged to be unfair and can't be changed.

I genuinely feel that our membership of the European Union is a big part of this problem. 

It's the sheer remoteness of our institutions that makes them unresponsive to the real needs of people. I do my best to represent more than 70,000 constituents in Vauxhall, and yet our London MEPs represent more than 8,500,000, most of whom don't know their names and would struggle to remove them because of the electoral system. Yet the EU elections are meant to be the democratic part of the institution! In reality, decisions are made by bureaucratic compromise in unsmoked rooms by unelected functionaries with little regard to the wishes of the public. No wonder a disconnect grows.

As it stands, the EU is a centralised structure for the convenience of the governing elite, not least the banks. The austerity that they have forced on the Greek people is horrendous and a reflection of their true priorities. After the EU enforced penury on a people who can't afford to repay the sums increasingly demanded of them there was a huge increase in suicides and a collapse in pensions and employment. This terrible situation doesn't illustrate a "social Europe" of countries collaborating to support one of their members at their weakest – it's more reminiscent of a hyena pack preying on the most vulnerable target.

The EU is an organisation incapable of being reformed. The prime minister took a minimalist agenda for his renegotiation and yet barely achieved it. Previously, whenever countries such as Ireland, France or Denmark rejected treaties in referendums, they were told to try again until they got the answer "right"!

So what kind of country would we be outside of the EU? The beauty of this question is that the answer can be 'whatever we wish to be'. My  constituency of Vauxhall has a large diaspora from Africa and the Caribbean, with many old Commonwealth links. How ridiculous that we give trading and freedom of movement preference to EU countries with whom we have little shared history, over old friends and family links. This is made more acute when existing EU policies like the Common Agricultural Policy, specifically discriminate against poor farmers in the developing world, making it harder for them to compete and improve their standard of living.

This referendum campaign is an exciting time. There are many powerful voices in the establishment dedicated to telling us that we cannot possibly change the status quo. On 23 June, everyone of you can have your say. As Christians we never fear the future as we know we are in God's hands. So the scare stories of those who wish to stay in the EU can be ignored. I want to make decision making more honest and transparent. I have confidence in the UK and I will be voting to LEAVE.

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