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Brexit: The human cost

Friday, 1 July 2016  | Sally Apokis

The 23rd of June is a dark day casting a black shadow falling east from the UK. I am gutted and have felt shocked and ill by the Leave campaign winning and ‘Brexit’ now becoming ‘a thing’, not just a slogan or an idea.

I am an Australian who has recently returned to Melbourne after living and working in the UK and travelling widely across Europe for the past 7 years. I, with an Australian passport, had this wonderful privilege because my Greek-Australian husband is a dual passport holder and thus an EU citizen. As his wife, I was on a European Economic Area (EEA) family member permit - a strangely functional name for this visa that lasted 5 years. From there, I have been granted permanent residency in the UK.

But now, the Greek passports of my husband and children will no longer give us the right and freedom of movement to work and travel across the UK and Europe.

My husband is a theologian priest and an NGO and community development worker. I am a teacher, an Anglican minister and an educational chaplain across primary, secondary and university education, as well as a community development worker in the NGO sector. Like many Australians with these sorts of qualifications, I have found that there are few jobs in Australia, while there are many jobs in the UK and America. In 2010 my husband was appointed to the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham as clergy training officer. The selection committee chose him as an overseas candidate because they were looking for a person of diverse ethnicity and with innovative entrepreneurial skills and expertise. They were proud to have a Greek-Australian priest in the role of training their Anglican clergy, who, along with the NHS and education, are the backbone for social cohesion in the UK.

How can I say that clergy are the backbone for social cohesion in the UK? I know this because I have lived in a rural village in Nottinghamshire, a town in Kent and in the City of Sheffield, and have seen the life of the church in action. I can say this because I have worked as a family and children’s worker in 2 churches and as a university chaplain with 4 universities across the UK, and I have seen the myriad of services offered by local parishes within their communities, especially in the form of welcome and services to migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, the poor and marginalised. I can say this because, as a clergy mum, I am a part of a clergy mums’ Facebook group with 684 women who I know provide spiritual, community, educative, social, environmental, person-centred care across the whole of the UK. The UK geo-political unit is the parish, and the parish church and community services generated from every church in the UK are vital for the holistic functioning of the country.

As they begin to post this morning in the UK, the women in this group are in grief. They cannot believe,  and are shocked, gutted, stunned, angry, sad and in tears about the new UK they are living in. Their children and teenagers are in tears. They are sending their children to school with extra tissues. I am now hearing from my male clergy friends, too - they are saying the same things. They are so gutted by what this means for their children and their grandchildren. They are fearful and so worried for their family, friends and children’s friends who are migrants and the backlash they are already feeling. They are so worried about what this will mean for the UK farming communities. They have partners/husbands/wives who work in the EU and in long-term projects and partnerships - so what will happen to their jobs? They are calling out for prayers and resources to help their communities cope with the shock of this news and how they can care for their people on both sides of the campaign.

Commentators say that, in a nutshell, it is migration and the European governance demands out of Brussels that have been the leading issues for the Leave campaign. When I posted on my Facebook newsfeed that it looks like the UK is leaving, a good friend - a Tory and a Leave campaigner - said he was ‘delighted!’

Is he delighted that migrants like my husband and I can no longer work in the UK? Is he delighted that the very things he valued about our contribution to social cohesion will no longer be possible?

He and others had been delighted that a Greek-Australian and an Australian had contributed so much by encouraging, empowering, exciting and inspiring the communities of which we were a part. ‘You are a breath of fresh air!’ was just about a daily chorus from so many worn-out folk. We delighted many through teaching, leading in local communities, caring for the poor and vulnerable, creating new services for church and community families like Messy Church, play church, ‘Real Spirituality’ and establishing new ways for the missing generations to engage with church life. We established meaningful chaplaincy services in 3 universities; were involved in the creative arts communities and festivals; paid our taxes; contributed to a pastoral care network across 3 counties; and were inspirational leaders amongst a cohort of hard-working yet deeply dispirited and ground-down middle England folk who, let’s face it, carry so much of the UK on their shoulders.

When we arrived in the UK in January 2010, our perception was that the national mood felt depressed, heavy and spiritually weighty. I soon learnt a little of why this was. The middle class carries the lion’s share of social cohesion, contribution and responsibility as they give their out-of-work time to myriads of charitable associations to literally keep the UK going.

And then came this.

May I share from my experience our learnings about the heart and soul of the UK? I was an emergency teacher in 2010 working in some of the most deprived old mining districts; and in 2013-2016 my husband worked across the county of Kent facilitating parishes in how to respond to chronic poverty, particularly in coastal towns. We quickly learnt what is really hurting the guts of the UK. The UK is in chronic existential identity and crisis of meaning because of the legacy of Maggie Thatcher. She and her government’s policies, which closed mines and ports within and around that small island, gutted work, life, meaning and purpose out of communally-rich communities. The work of the mines and ports had provided meaning, purpose, social cohesion and pride for men and their families. That was taken away, with no succession plan for work and rebuilding. I taught the grandchildren of these white British-born former mining families and I have never seen such hollow soulless eyes, such dispirited and proudly angry people, as these children and their families. White urban poverty created from within the UK has left a legacy, that is the UK’s shame; and deflecting aspects of this shame towards Europe and migration is, I believe, in part why we have the result we have today.

So maybe, from this day, a healing of body, mind, soul and spirit might be able to come to the UK as it withdraws to recreate the memory of some ‘golden period of being British’. That has been part of the ‘Leave’ campaign’s cry. ‘We want to be British! We have lost our identity!’ From the pain I saw in UK communities, I do believe that this existential cry needs to be heard. Community listening, dialogue and conversation just around that question are vital.

In the meantime, as with global warming, the melting away and breaking off of smaller icebergs from the bigger iceberg is not a healthy sign for this world and her people.

Rev. Canon Sally Apokis, together with her Greek-Australian theologian priest husband, has worked and ministered across the Christian traditions, ecumenically and interfaith, in Melbourne and in the UK. She was canon of Rochester Cathedral and has recently returned to Melbourne.

Editor’s note: Click
here for our digest of key articles on Brexit from Australian, UK and US sources.


Ian Hore-lacy
July 3, 2016, 9:32PM
Thanks Sally for a very heartfelt and worthwhile comment.

However (as one whose inclinations defaulted to Remain and who spent much of the decade to 2012 in London) I am not clear how the UK regaining its sovereignty and escaping the Brussels bureaucracy will adversely affect your and Con's prospects and welcome there, though obviously Australian passports may be more useful than EU ones.

Nor can I see how, on balance, it will be negative for other social aspects.

Farmers will be impacted, but arguably the CAP is immoral anyway in relation to third world trade.

Certainly the main Oz perception has been to assume Remain, but I think that may be because from our superficial media coverage (notably excepting Greg Sheridan) we associate Leave with UKIP, and not a visceral and wide distaste of Brussels over-reach.

The current challenge will be significant but not too great for a country that survived WW2, in my honest opinion.
Geoff Jay
July 6, 2016, 9:40PM
Thanks for your insight regarding the possible impacts of the UK leaving the EU. I lived in the UK on my Aussie passport, working for just over twelve months in 2009-2010. I attended All Souls Langham Place London with my wife and we entered into the life of that church through a home group that met every fortnight. Both of us, on reflection of our time there, concluded that the UK needed to have an open discussion about what sort of place they want the country to be. There seemed to be rampant uncontrolled immigration and cultural identities were being swamped by newcomers.

That may not be a bad thing, but it seemed to us at the time that the UK was directionless but somehow unwilling to confront the situation. Perhaps this exit vote is the beginning of the conversation that the UK needs to have to determine where it wants to go and what it wants to be. I would hope that this is not the beginning of some sort of attempt to bring back old England as it was ... nostalgia can be deceiving.

I say this as an Australian with lots of cultural heritage from England and Ireland, but also as a Christian with a deep passion for the rightness of the Kingdom of God informing my moral, spiritual and community compass. I pray that we in Australia will be willing to confront our own destiny and have decent, rational, real conversations with each other about what is good and bad about Australia ... then have guts to make the changes to make it a better country.

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