Brexit – An Exercise in Kabbalah
For an introduction the principles of Kabbalah please click here

The issue of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union (Brexit) aroused acrimony and division in the country to an extent probably not seen since the English Civil War nearly four hundred years earlier in the 1640’s.

The unfolding of events leading to the UK’s eventual withdrawal on 31 January 2020 was also an excellent example of a process that could be viewed on the Tree of Life.

Using this tool would have enabled the careful sailor to navigate the choppy waters of the referendum dispassionately. Instead, many people were too easily caught in the whirlpool of feelings and emotions of the collective population where reasoned response was largely abandoned. But, as my old teacher of Kabbalah used to say “so what’s new?”

Many families were as divided by arguments about the EU (European Union) in 2016 as they had been about whether the King or Parliament should rule the country in 1642. Even if there were no dead bodies on battle fields this time around, deep psychological wounds were inflicted that may take years to heal in some cases

Some (brief) political background on the early days of the UK’s relationship with the EU is set out in the appendix of this article.

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The various stages of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU (European Union) popularly known as Brexit set on the Tree of Life.

Although a substantial majority voted in favour of the UK remaining in the Common Market (as it was then called) in the 1975 referendum, there remained a vocal minority who were opposed to further integration with European organisations. These views eventually found a political voice through the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which was formed in 1993 with the express intention of taking the UK out of the EU.

The UK’s “First Past the Post” Electoral System meant that, despite gaining more than 12% of the popular vote in the 2015 General Election, UKIP had only one member of Parliament. Sensing an increasing risk of defection of “Eurosceptic” Conservative MPs to UKIP, Prime Minister David Cameron promised that, if his government were re-elected, he would attempt to renegotiate the UK’s membership and this would be followed by a referendum on Britain’s continued membership – to be held no later than 31 December 2017.

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The British Houses of Parliament (left) and the European Parliament (right).

The referendum question was: 

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

There were only two possible responses:

1) Remain a member of the European Union

2) Leave the European Union

In calling this referendum David Cameron, who was in favour of remaining in the EU, was confident that the result would support him. He also believed that, by holding a vote which would result in a (possibly substantial) majority for remaining in the EU, it would silence the Eurosceptics who had caused conflict within his party for much of the previous twenty years or more.

As it happened, he was proved wrong with the result of the referendum held on 23 June 2016 being that a narrow majority voted in favour of withdrawal from the EU.

We can now see how the process of Brexit unfolded through the lighting flash of creation placed on the Tree of Life.

Despite the two thirds majority 1975 referendum who were in favour of staying in the Common Market there were well over eight million people who voted for leaving. It is the presence of this significant minority which gives us Keter in “The Tree of Brexit” – there was always the possibility of leaving.

Hokhmah, at the top of the active pillar on the Tree represents the decision to hold a referendum which was manifested by the introduction of the European (Referendum) Bill 2013-14.

The debate of this Bill represents the move to Binah where the members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords considered the implications of such a Bill becoming law. Earlier opposition to holding a referendum had been expressed by the Conservative Party’s coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, and by the Labour opposition. Although this Bill did not pass into law a subsequent Bill did become law as the European Union Referendum Act (2015) when the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats both supported the government with only the Scottish Nationalists opposing the Bill.

The decision to hold the referendum could still have been abandoned at an early stage, however, if Parliament had not approved the Bill placed before it. The passing of the Bill corresponds to the place of Da’at sometimes known as the Abyss. It is a pause on the central column and perhaps likened to “Crossing the Rubicon.” The further down the Tree a project unfolds the more difficult it becomes to abandon.

The decision not to get married on the day of the wedding is much harder than calling off the engagement at an earlier stage – a popular theme in such films as Four Weddings and a Funeral and The Graduate. Once the place of Da’at has been traversed then the projected is expanded on a grander scale.

As the Bill became an Act, the place of Da’at had been passed on the Tree – the decision to hold a referendum had been made and only needed a date to be set.

The principal clause of the Act provided for a referendum to be held by 31 December 2017 and an announcement was made on 20 February 2016 that the referendum would be held on 23 June 2016.

Once the announcement of the date had been made the process of holding a referendum began to be expanded – this corresponds to the place of Hesed on the Tree of Life. While Hesed means lovingkindness, an earlier name for this Sefirah was Gedulah (greatness) which was perhaps a more accurate representation of this part of the process in this instance. Now the arguments and discussions can begin across the country rather than just in Parliament.

The decision made by each Member of Parliament – and the general population - whether to vote in favour of staying or leaving did not divide neatly along conventional party lines.

The position of leaving would be seen on the right hand side of the tree where promises were made of liberation from what was considered as excessive EU bureaucracy and loss of sovereignty while those on the left hand side of the Tree wanted to preserve the status quo and concentrated more on what would be lost by leaving the EU – including freedom of movement between countries and EU funding for various parts of the UK economy.

The longer the debate ran the more extravagant were the claims made by either side. Perhaps the most flamboyant claims made in favour of Brexit were the slogan on the side of the campaign bus promising an additional £350m per week for the National Health Service and the likelihood that Turkey was about to gain imminent membership of the EU.

Meanwhile the Remainers (including the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Georg Osborne, and the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney) promised economic disaster if the UK left the EU. In the wake of the vote in favour of leaving the EU the threatened tax cuts never materialised and neither did the full additional funding for the NHS. Turkey remained – and remains in 2022 - outside the EU having first applied for full membership in 2005. Whether the long term economic effects are positive remains to be seen.

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The claim that the UK sent £350 million to the EU every week, while technically correct was misleading as it took no account of the subsidies receive from EU community funding.

My teacher of Kabbalah was asked in the lead up to the 1997 General Election which party he supported and his reply was “the one which I think will do least damage.” I never knew which way he voted and I was happy for it to remain that way. As one retired Rabbi remarked to me on the subject – “once I declare which way I vote I have lost half my congregation.” A wise man, but many religious leaders did declare their

position on both Brexit and, subsequently, their voting intentions in the 2019 General Election. 

The claim that the UK sent £350 million to the EU every week, while technically correct, was misleading as it took no account of the subsidies receive from EU community funding.

If we refer to the diagram of the psyche set on the Tree we will see that politics and affairs of state belong to the upper left side triad (Binah-Gevurah-Tiferet) while religious affairs belong to the upper right triad (Hokhmah-Hesed-Tiferet). When a cleric espouses a political opinion in public or a politician attempts to interfere in religious matters they have removed themselves from their home position and encroached on territory which is better left untrodden.

Spiritual teaching (which often, but not always, comes from outside an established organisation descends from the upper world through the great triad of Hokhmah-Binah-Tiferet for the benefit of all, whatever their political or religious views.

The intensity of debate was such that it became apparent that it was nothing less than the nature of the soul of the nation (Hesed-Gevurah-Tiferet) which was at stake.

The referendum itself was duly held and represents Tiferet on the Tree of Brexit for this is the very essence of the project.

When the result became clear - and against expectations - the process of enacting the result of the referendum began – this corresponds to the lower face of the Tree.

The political fallout from the result of a referendum which the government confidently expected to win could not have been easily foreseen. The first casualty was David Cameron, who resigned as Prime Minister the day after the referendum and was replaced by Theresa May.

Various attempts to pass the legislation in the UK parliament which would start the negotiations with the EU were blocked by those who wanted to ensure that “no deal” was not an option. “No deal” meaning that the principle of tariff free trading within the EU (the “single market”) would be maintained along with freedom of movement. For the Brexiteers this struck at the very heart of the principles voted with a turnout of 73%.

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Another argument advanced by those who had voted in favour of remaining in the EU was that the legislation stipulated that the result of the referendum was to be considered as advisory rather than binding but it would have been a courageous decision to ignore the result of the referendum – as shown by the definition in the satirical television programme Yes Minister.

It is perhaps worth considering that in a commercial situation no decision of this magnitude would have been put to a simple majority vote but would have required either a two thirds or three quarters majority. Government is not the same as business.

A report from The Guardian on 15 June 2016, eight days before the referendum,  showed George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, spelling out the dire fiscal consequences of voting in favour of Brexit including increases in income tax, alcohol and petrol duties. Despite the threats made as part of “Project Fear” they were never implemented in the wake of the "Yes" vote.

Another major issue was the question of border controls between Eire (which remained in the EU)  and Northern Ireland (which, as part of the UK, would be subject to post Brexit arrangements). Physical controls on the border had been disbanded under the Good Friday Peace agreements in 2004 and were considered inviolable.

The government was consistently unable to pass the legislation it required as a general election called by Theresa May in June 2017 had resulted in a “hung parliament” in which no party had an overall majority. The Conservatives were still the largest party but had to rely on the support of the Ulster Unionists to pass legislation.

A resolution to trigger “Article 50” for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was eventually passed in March 2017 with a deadline of 29 March 2019 for it to take effect.

This period between June 2016 and March 2017 can effectively be seen as a blockage on the path between Tiferet (the referendum vote) and Netzach (drawing up contracts with the EU).

Once the notice of withdrawal had been served the “Tree of Brexit” moved to the Sefirah of Netzach – a word whose root has various meanings one of which is “to make eternal.” The means by which the referendum was to be enacted was through written contracts with the remaining 27 members of the EU which would have lasting effects.

The proposals which were made represent Netzach – the process of setting something in motion – while any adjustments by the other contracting party are demonstrated by the complementary principle of Hod.

Hod – often translated as majesty – embodies the idea of something shimmering which is extended to the idea of resonance or even echo, eternally repeating. If Netzach is the ball being served in a game of tennis Hod is the return of serve which keeps the ball in play and this exchange continues until the deadlock between the players is broken by one of them being unable to reach it or making a foul shot into the net or out of the court.

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The regional divisions of the Brexit vote were very pronounced. The large population of London together with Scotland and Northern Ireland voted “Remain” while constituencies in all the other regions voted to leave the EU.

A White Paper published by the UK government in early 2017 set out the proposals for the final withdrawal of the UK from the EU.As a result of the government’s continuing inability to pass the required legislation Theresa May resigned as Prime Minister and was replaced by Boris Johnson in July 2019. Attempts to unblock the jam by calling a second General Election by the new Prime Minister and increasing the government majority were denied by the Fixed Term Parliament Act. This required a two thirds majority of the

House of Commons to override its provisions – the next scheduled election was June 2022.

The hostility to a general election by the opposition parties was primarily due to their concern that the government was preparing for a “no deal” Brexit but, by the end of October 2019, the newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, joined forces with the Scottish Nationalists to pass the legislation for a general election. This was held on 12 December 2019 by which time an extension had been agreed to the deadline for withdrawal from the EU to 31 January 2020.

In any creative process the Sefirah of Yesod represents a final interval before completion. This is described in more detail in the article on Selling a Business. In this process the General Election embodied the principle of the Yesodic interval.

Although the Scottish Nationalist gained thirteen seats at the General Election the number of Liberal Democrats decreased by one seat. The key to the result of the election was the campaign by the Labour Party which embodied the most left wing manifesto in more than 30 years. The leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, was also a controversial figure and Labour Party lost 59 seats, 47 of which went to the Conservatives.

The effect of this was to hand the Conservatives a comfortable majority enabling them to pass the legislation they required in the UK parliament and then conclude the negotiations with the EU. This allowed the Tree of Brexit to complete by reaching Malkhut on 31 January 2020.

After Brexit had been completed support emerged for a campaign to rejoin the EU. So far (in 2022) it has come to nothing but, just as we saw the Keter of the Tree of Brexit embodied the possibility of leaving the EU after the referendum in 1975 in favour of remaining so the Keter of the “Tree of Rejoining the EU” has been established. The procession through the Sefirot to Malkut may be abandoned at any stage and only time will tell whether this new Tree will proceed to completion with the UK once more becoming a member of the EU or whether it is blocked at an earlier stage.

 

 

Appendix - Early Political Background of the EU

The Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957 and enacted the following year, was a successor to the European Steel and Coal Community. This had been established by the Treaty of Paris in 1951 and was signed by the same six countries – West Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

In the aftermath of the Second World both treaties were aimed principally at increasing economic co-operation between France and West Germany to ensure there would be no re-occurrence of the conflicts which had claimed so many lives in the two World Wars of the twentieth century. The development of a “common market” was an integral part of these treaties despite initial opposition from France.

The United Kingdom’s application to join the Common Market (as it was almost always known at the time) in 1961 was vetoed by General Charles de Gaulle of France but the UK was eventually admitted (with Ireland and Denmark) on 1 January 1973.

A referendum in the UK was held in 1975 to ask whether membership should continue with 67% voting in favour and a turnout of 64%.

In the decades which followed, the Common Market under the treaties of Maastricht (1992) and Lisbon (2009) changed its name, firstly, to the European Economic Community and then the European Union. Under these treaties its scope of operation was extended beyond the original economic sphere and additional powers were granted to the European Court of Justice (first established in 1952) by the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997.

The size of the European Union was also enlarged by the admission of additional member states so that, by 2016, it comprised 28 countries with a population of around 500 million.

Border controls between countries largely disappeared so that residents of any one member state had an automatic right of residence in another member state and the freedom to work there without obtaining a visa.

© Jonathon Clark 2022