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A Jesuit’s take on Brexit

David Stewart SJ is a Jesuit from Scotland who has been with the Jesuits in Britain for the last thirty years. He writes regularly for the Jesuit magazine America in the States, giving important insights into what is happening in Britain, particularly since the controversial Brexit referendum.

David was in Dublin recently and was interviewed by Pat Coyle, director of Irish Jesuit Communications. Referencing the Scottish independence rally in Glasgow led by Nicola Sturgeon on Saturday, David predicts the eventual breakup of the United Kingdom. His personal sense is that the Conservative Party in England is prepared to let the union fracture, and “lose Scotland”, the word ‘lose’ being an example of the Anglo-centric language used by some London-based commentators.

In an interesting observation regarding that rally, he notes how the Scottish Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf ended his speech in George’s Square with what could only be described as an Ignatian meditation, according to David. “Addressing the 25,00 strong gathering the minister invited them all to close their eyes and with their imagination, place themselves in the scene of the morning after the vote if the Yes voters had won the referendum. They were asked to connect with the emotions that this might give rise to, and to use this as an inspiration to move forward in campaigning,” certainly an Ignatian process David concludes.

In a wide-ranging interview, David also spoke about what it’s like on the ground in these turbulent days in Britain, describing it as a time of “fracturing political, social and moral reality” spawning unwelcome outcomes. “We are witnessing behaviour that is vindictive, nasty and judgemental,” he says, adding that the practice of ‘name-calling’ and ‘prejudiced behaviour’ which was unacceptable in the past had become “almost mainstream and is modelled by our political leaders.”

He notes that significant numbers affected by austerity now feel left behind and excluded from the political system. They are perhaps alienated from the left with their trade unions having been emasculated particularly during Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister, he speculates, adding, “And now with the Conservative Party moving even more to the right some people are fearful that they plan to sell off a great part of the National Health Service to US health providers.”

When asked what contributions or leadership stances have been made by the Christian churches in Great Britain, during the current malaise, he notes that Pope Francis’ stance on ‘caring for the earth’ has struck a chord, and along with Extinction Rebellion has – surprisingly – effected some changes in the government’s environmental policies.

“The resounding message of ‘the crisis is real’ from Pope Francis and Greta Thunberg has resulted in Britain declaring a climate emergency,” he says, adding that, “In Britain more and more of us are waking up to the reality of that emergency and are following the example that Dorothy Day who once wrote  that you can bring about great change by attending to small things, small matters, in everyday life.”

(David is pictured at the National Ploughing Championships in Co. Kildare, next to a ‘selfie-poster’ of Pope Francis.)