Brits Abroad: Young Catholics experience the European side of Brexit
From 5th to 8th February, a group of young Britons ventured into the heart of the European Union in Brussels, to engage with EU institutions and European-wide Church Organisations. The group are interns of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales, and work in affairs relating to faith in politics. Some work with Catholic Members of Parliament, some with charities and two in the Conference itself. The visit was hosted by Michael Kuhn, Assistant Secretary General at COMECE, with a wide range of speakers discussing the future of the EU-UK relationship, the Church’s advocacy, and relations with the wider world.
Although polls suggest that approximately 73% of 18-24 year olds voted to remain in the EU, the opinions of the group were mixed; one was a ‘leave’ voter whilst another, an active ‘remain’ campaigner. This was cause for interesting inter-group discussion, and debated when met with the opinions of the members of the Commission, Council and Parliament themselves. At points during the week the group did feel alienated from the European experience, although, especially in conversation with the Church organisations, there was a chance to hope in future relationships between Europe and British citizens.
A warm welcome?
William, who voted for Britain to leave the EU, believed that although ‘being in Brussels opened my eyes to the value of the work of the EU, for the first time, in a real way I was not filled with regret towards my decisions to vote leave’. Conversely, Charlotte, a ‘remain’ voter, felt that it was ‘hard to be optimistic whilst there is so much uncertainty surrounding the upcoming Brexit negotiations’. This contrast was one that was also found in the opinions of the officials with which the group engaged.
The UK task force seemed to suggest that Brexit deals would be difficult and unlikely to be directed in Britain’s favour. On the other hand, the UK Permanent Representation to the European Union held onto the staunch British motto to “keep calm and carry on”, speaking as though they may even enjoy the challenge. The Church organisations on the other hand, portrayed Europe as a force for good. Charlotte felt that it was ‘encouraging to meet with organisations such as CIDSE, Caritas Europa and the Jesuit Refugee Service, who continue to work across national borders in the interest of the poorest and most vulnerable throughout the world.’
Love thy neighbour
With the train journey from London lasting less than three hours, one is inclined to view Europe, and Brussels, as a close neighbour to the United Kingdom. But will it remain a friend? Laura, who was raised in Scotland, can see this tension filtering into the countries of the United Kingdom itself. She says that ‘as a Scot who wholeheartedly believes that the UK should remain part of the EU (Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain), I can understand the frustration that my compatriots feel about Brexit’. It is clear that the Scottish parliament is unhappy with the handling of negotiations; however Laura believes that ‘now is not the time for more division, but a time for working together and fostering relationships.’ She hopes that ‘Scotland will still have a role, an alliance and a friendship with the EU and UK alike.’
William too can see the benefits of the union as ‘the cooperation of nations pursuing the peaceful coexistence’ of all. He believes that a positive outcome of negotiations is that ‘post-Brexit Britain can re-examine its nature and role in the world whilst remaining close friends with its European neighbours; perhaps even to the point where Britain and the EU can cooperate and inspire each other to greater ends.’
Upon our return to London, all agreed that there were optimistic voices and conversations throughout our time in Brussels. Whether or not the UK and the EU are to expect a difficult road ahead, these particular “Brits abroad” hope that all sides can continue to pursue co-operation and the common good.
Nina Mattiello Azadeh
Media Assistant, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely that of the author and in no way represent the view of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales and its services.
EN The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.