Zechariah wrote concerning Israel: “for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye” (2:8). God looks at the world through the lens of Israel. And so, “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel” (Deut 32:8). Here in the United Kingdom (UK) the lens through which most people view Brexit is a British lens. The lens of those who favoured Brexit is coloured with patriotism, sometimes verging on jingoism. For those who wished to remain in the European Union (EU), the British lens is tinged with regret, and coloured with a more European perspective. For both groups there is a feeling of relief that a no-deal Brexit was avoided. But for ourselves, as brothers and sisters in Christ, it is vital that we continue to look at Brexit from God’s perspective.

When we look at the “bounds of the [British] people” in relation to Israel at the time of the end we see Britain, biblical Tarshish, separate from the Gogian invader: “Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, Art thou come to take a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil?” (Ezek 38:13). Not only is Britain not an ally of Gog, she seems unaware of his goals; unlike the European powers such as Gomer, she is not privy to the military strategy. As Brother Thomas wrote concerning Britain and the toes of the image in Daniel 2: “The ten toes belong to the image as a united dominion; hence Britain cannot be included among them…”1 Brexit, the exit of Britain from the EU, would seem to be in line with the difference between Britain and Europe which the Bible shows will be the case at the time of the end.

Once Christ is king in Jerusalem, the difference between Britain and Europe will be even more striking. The European horns, “shall make war with the Lamb” (Rev 17:14), and will say, “Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us” (Psa 2:3). But Britain will be among the first to obey: “Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the Lord thy God, and to the Holy One of Israel, because he hath glorified thee” (Isa 60:9). Prophecies such as these, whilst not speaking about Brexit itself, certainly shed light on Britain, its relationship with Europe and some of the factors behind Brexit.

But as we study prophecy and use it to discern God’s perspective of Brexit and other world events, it is also important to remember that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev 19:10). Just as the offerings and sacrifices of the Law were not an end in themselves but were designed to teach us about Christ, so too do the godly principles underlying all prophecies. Christ is the focus.

Bruges beginnings

To understand both how Brexit came about and what the current British view of Brexit is, it is necessary to take account of a keynote speech made on 20 September 1988 by the then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.2 She was speaking at the College of Europe in Bruges. This speech, known now simply as “The Bruges Speech,” is acknowledged by most, including the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, as a seminal moment which led to Brexit. But she did not argue that Britain should leave, what was then, the European Community. On the contrary, she said that Britain should be at the centre of Europe. What she did do was warn against the centralisation of power in Europe and the development of what she called a “European super-state.” It was this prospect that focused the mind of, initially, a fringe minority who began to argue that Britain should leave Europe. Euroscepticism had existed before this speech, but this speech provided an authoritative rationale from which Euroscepticism would grow.

Meanwhile Britain continued its involvement with Europe. For example, in 1992, under the then Prime Minister, John Major, Britain was a signatory to the Maastricht Treaty. This led to the establishment of the EU, laid a basis for the formation of the single currency and facilitated increased European integration.

But the seed inadvertently sown in Bruges began to grow. With the encouragement of Eurosceptic campaigners such as Nigel Farage, the prospect of a European super-state began to loom large in the British public’s imagination. The Eurosceptic minority in the Conservative Party developed into a persistent thorn in the side of the leadership. To silence, as he thought, the Eurosceptics once and for all, the Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, in 2016, held a referendum on EU membership.

Take back control

The Leave Campaign during the referendum had a simple slogan: “Take back control.” This alluded to the influence and power which Britain had supposedly lost, and would further lose, as a consequence of its EU membership. But many, as no doubt the originators of the slogan thought they would, interpreted the slogan as a call to take back control from the national political elite. The Leave Campaign not only attracted confirmed Eurosceptics but other groups such as the politically disaffected. Mr Cameron thought he could use the majority of the people to his own ends, but “the sea and the waves” (Luke 21:25) roared as the people voted to leave the EU. “The powers of heaven” (v26) were also shaken, for the following day, Mr Cameron resigned.

“Religious act of faith”

Yet the “Take back control” slogan was not just empty rhetoric. It drew attention to the reality of what had been stated in “The Bruges Speech.” The EU had indeed, since that speech was given, continued to increase its influence and centralise its power. This, of course, is the beginning of the fulfillment of that prophesied in Revelation where the nations of Europe are spoken of as giving their power to the European beast: “These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast” (17:13). But the majority of British people no longer wished to give their power and strength to Europe.

Nevertheless, although recognising that belonging to the EU entailed losing some power and control, it is probably fair to say that, even now, most in Britain do not fully appreciate the passionate commitment of European politicians to the European cause. During a debate on Europe in Parliament in 2019 the Conservative MP, Mark Francois, tried to put across the full extent of this commitment. He spoke of his experience when working as a shadow Europe Minister between 2007 and 2010. During this time, he said:

“I came to realise that for many people in the EU, particularly, though not exclusively, in the Commission, what is often referred to as the “European project” has the status almost of a religious act of faith. People passionately believe in it; it transcends almost all other considerations and it must be promoted and protected almost at all costs. Very many people in the EU were utterly shocked when the UK voted to leave. They were absolutely stunned, because in their world what we had done was an act of heresy—it was apostasy to leave.”3

The “European Project” is not just about trade and it never has been. Even the post-war European Coal and Steel Community formed in 1951 was motivated by, as the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman had said in a speech the year before, solidarity and an eventual federation of Europe.However, whatever the case in individual European countries, the UK population has never been committed to the “European Project” to the extent it might be described as a “religious act of faith.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson bilateral meeting with President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

A key goal and criterion of success for the EU is unity (the “one mind” of Revelation 17:13) and this was illustrated by the recent comments of the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, with regard to the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines to EU countries. In a tweet she said: “The #COVID19 vaccine has been delivered to all EU countries. Vaccination will begin tomorrow across the EU. The #EUvaccinationdays are a touching moment of unity.”5 But whilst Europeans are concerned with unity between their nations, the British are more concerned with something which enables and ensures they have control—namely, sovereignty.

Sovereignty

The UK officially left the EU on 31 January 2020. But in the absence of a trade deal, a transition period running up to 31 December 2020 was agreed, during which everything would remain as it had been when the UK was an EU member. Then on 24 December, a deal was agreed.

On 30 December, the trade agreement between the EU and the UK was signed in Brussels by Ursula von der Leyen and by Charles Michel, President of the European Council. The RAF then flew the document to London in a plane belonging to the Queen’s Flight—being one of the planes used to fly the Queen and other royalty. This was a highly symbolic gesture emphasising the importance of, from the British perspective, maintaining its sovereignty and independence.

Whilst there are parts of the deal where the British would have liked more, for example with regard to financial services and fishing, the central tenet of British sovereignty, according to the Prime Minister, has not been compromised. Even the influential European Research Group, a research support group devoted to leaving the EU—made up of Eurosceptic MPs and chaired by Mark Francois mentioned above—acknowledged that this was the case after their lawyers had scrutinised the document in forensic detail. The removal of the role of the European Court of Justice in overseeing EU subsidy law in Britain is just one example of where British sovereignty had been strengthened. But just as the British have never fully understood the European commitment to unity, at least by its politicians, so the Europeans are bemused by the UK’s insistence on the importance of its sovereignty.

In an account of the negotiations between the UK and the EU which led to the trade deal, Tim Shipman, the Political Editor of the Sunday Times, writes of an extraordinary moment in the first meeting between the British Chief Negotiator, Lord Frost, and his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier:

“Frost outlined Johnson’s key demand, that the UK be treated as an independent nation. Barnier responded with a “hilarious meltdown,” one British official said, the Frenchman launching into a “massive rant” in which it is claimed he said: ‘Why do you keep mentioning ‘sovereignty’. All you do is mention this word.’”6

This is a telling comment and highlights the difference between Britain on the one hand and the EU on the other. For the European, at least for politicians such as Monsieur Barnier, the “European Project” is more important than individual nations. As Shipman further commented: “To European leaders, it was a foundational principle that countries pool sovereignty for mutual gain.” Or as we would say using Bible language, countries give “their power and strength unto the beast” (Rev 17:13). In contrast to this, the British wished to claw back their power and maintain their independence as a sovereign state.

Trade

Isaiah 18:1 says: “Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia.” As Brother Thomas showed,7 this land refers to Britain. And Britain’s influence certainly reaches beyond these rivers. In this kind of context the word “beyond” is actually mentioned on the British Department of International Trade website: “The UK has a reach that stretches far beyond its borders to every sector and business capital in the world.”8 In Isaiah 23, Britain is also referred to as a latter-day Tyre and in this passage a resurgence marked by increased dealings with the rest of the world is spoken of: “And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that the Lord will visit Tyre, and she shall turn to her hire, and shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth” (v 17). If, as some brethren suggest, the “seventy years” specified in verse 15 as “the days of one king” relates to the reign of the current British monarch, then this time of resurgence is very near. One effect of Brexit has been the recognition that the UK now has an opportunity to further increase its international trade and gain access to new markets.

When a member of the EU, the UK traded with many countries under deals made by the EU. Now the UK has left the EU she cannot trade under these deals and she has had to seek new deals with individual countries. She hopes that the trade agreements she will make with these non-EU countries will be more favourable than the EU agreements she was previously obliged to trade under. To date she has already settled over 60 deals, agreeing to them whilst still negotiating with the EU, much to the EU’s chagrin. The prospect of improved and increased trade after Brexit has fuelled a feeling of optimism amongst many in the UK.

The mention of “Sheba and Dedan” in connection with Tarshish in Ezekiel 38:13 suggests that links will be further strengthened between the UK and the Arab Gulf States. And this looks set to happen, as Abdullah Al-Basri, CEO of consulting firm, Grant Thornton Saudi Arabia, stated: “The opportunities available to the UK post-Brexit are abundant across the Gulf.”9 As for the “young lions,” chiefly the countries of the Commonwealth, there is great potential for the development of trade. As a background article on the Council on Foreign Relations thinktank’s website stated: “some policymakers say that the UK’s post-EU future should lie in deepening trade and immigration with the Commonwealth.”10 One way this might be achieved is via the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Sir Peter Marshall, a former Deputy Secretary General to the Commonwealth, wrote in November of the relevance of the Commonwealth after Brexit.11 He identified the possibility of the UK joining the CPTPP as a way of dramatically increasing trade with Commonwealth countries. This is a trade agreement signed by 11 countries, six of which are Commonwealth members. A previous agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, included the United States but President Trump withdrew the country from the agreement, and it was never ratified. The UK has expressed an interest in joining the CPTPP and, as Sir Peter writes, this would, “at a stroke not only bring back free trade with much of the Commonwealth but also tie the UK into a large and fast-growing trade association as a replacement for the EU’s single market.” There are doubts amongst some experts that the Commonwealth has sufficient market potential to make up for any trade lost with the EU. But whatever happens, when Gog invades, “the merchants of Tarshish” will be grouped with “the young lions thereof” (Ezek 38:13).

Hastening it in His time

After the agreement was reached between the EU and the UK, the UK Parliament had to pass a bill, the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill, to bring it into law. Passing a bill in Parliament is an involved process involving debates in the House and detailed scrutiny by a Committee. Nevertheless, the Bill was passed in one day, with the Commons chamber being used for the Committee stage. This, despite the fact the Bill is over 70 pages long and the agreement between the EU and UK is 1246 pages long. During the debate, the MP David Linden asked the following question: “Mr Speaker, can you clarify the last time that a Committee of the whole House sat for a mammoth four minutes?”12 The Speaker gave his question short thrift, but everybody knew he had a point.

Although there had been many interminable parliamentary debates about leaving the EU, the haste with which the Bill was passed was indicative of the overall speed of events in the past few years in relation to the UK leaving the EU. As brothers and sisters in Christ we expected the UK to leave the EU at some time. Yet even in the early years of the past decade little did we realise just how quickly things would develop. The pandemic of the past year no doubt helped to accelerate the final stages of the process. However, whatever the precise factors at play, we know that the angels have been at work. As it is written in Isaiah: “I Yahweh will hasten it in his time” (60:22).

References

  1. J. Thomas, Elpis Israel, eleventh edition – revised (Birmingham: The Christadelphian, 1924), p. 328. Note that Daniel does not in fact specify the number of toes. A man at Gath, for example, had twelve (1 Chron 20:6).
  2. https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107332
  3. Hansard, HC Deb 27 March 2019 vol 657 c450
  4. https://www.cvce.eu/obj/the_european_communities-en-3940ef1d-7c10-4d0f-97fc-0cf1e86a32d4.html
  5. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-55456795
  6. T. Shipman, (2020) “‘Madman’ Johnson gets his Hollywood ending”, The Sunday Times, December 27, pp. 6,7
  7. Op. cit., p. 443
  8. https://www.great.gov.uk/international/content/about-uk/
  9. https://www.arabianbusiness.com/politics-economics/454834-how-britain-is-leveraging-the-g20-in-saudi-arabia-to-seal-post-brexit-deals
  10. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/global-britain-and-commonwealth-nations
  11. https://briefingsforbritain.co.uk/the-relevance-of-the-commonwealth-in-a-post-brexit-world/
  12. Hansard, HC Deb 30 December 2020 vol 686 c594