Sunderland is famous for two things these days.
The first is its Premier League football team, which with clockwork regularity bumps around the bottom of the league, then sometime in the winter or spring sacks (fires) its manager then via a stunning late surge in form, escapes demotion into the next league down, the Championship.
The second claim to fame is its ability to count votes in national elections very quickly. If only we still built ships so effectively! Sunderland’s council officers have the logistics off to a fine art. So when the nation waits for the first election results to come in, we routinely see Sunderland’s returning officer, Dave Smith, reading out the first results of the night to a waiting nation. This is followed by whoops of delight by the local Labour contingent and their newly elected MP (they always win by a country mile) followed by some quick analysis by the statisticians to deduce how the rest of the night is going to go for all of the parties.
So it was on the night of 23rd and 24th June, but this time the vote was arguably more important. The British public certainly thought so. Turnout was high, up by about 8% in the North East to over 69%. And the rest of the world was watching attentively as well. On this occasion, Newcastle’s super-efficient staff beat those of Sunderland and they announced their results (a narrow vote to remain in the EU) at the stroke of midnight. Fifteen minutes later, Sunderland announced that they had voted 61% to 39% to leave the EU, a much bigger margin than anticipated. From then on, most people knew deep down that the rest of the nation were going to vote ‘Leave’.
I believe that this result is of the Lord. Let me spell that out. I believe that God wanted the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. We can have a debate as to whether that is God’s mercy on us, or his judgement. But I think that it is in His purposes and the Lord wanted to show us this. Why do I think this? Because it was so unlikely, and because it has the classic signs of an act of God.
Let me explain.
11. A commitment to hold the referendum was in the Election Manifesto of the Conservative Party when the General Election of 2015 took place. None of the other parties made the referendum a manifesto commitment. It can be said that this was against the will of most senior members of the party, including the leader, David Cameron. The only reason it was in was to head off a challenge from the UK Independence Party, which threatened to take away millions of votes from the Conservatives (which, in fact, they did). The only way this referendum was to be carried out was if the Conservatives won, outright.
22. The General Election of 2015 was won by the Conservative Party. They won more than half of the seats in the House of Commons, 330 out of 650. This was a surprise result. Nobody seriously foresaw this, not even the Conservatives. At best they were hoping to share power with the Liberal Democrats or any of the nationalist or Northern Ireland parties. In which case they could have avoided having the referendum. Consider this.
a. Up until election day, opinion polls indicated that Labour had 33% support, the Conservatives 34%, UKIP 14% and the Liberal Democrats 10%. The Scottish Nationalists were likely to win most of their 59 seats North of the Border. So a coalition of Labour and the Scottish Nationalists looked likely.
b. The constituency boundaries are currently biased in favour of the Labour Party. I am not making a political point, here. But there is proportionally more inner city ‘Labour’ seats with smaller populations than ‘Conservative’ seats. So if the two parties polled equally, Labour would win more seats.
c. There were 92 opinion polls before the election. 42 had Labour in the lead. 35 had the Conservatives leading. 17 showed a ‘dead heat’. Of the 35 showing a Conservative lead, the highest lead was by 6% over Labour. When the election actually took place, the Conservatives actually polled 8% above Labour. Not one of the 92 polls had them ahead by this much.
d. The bookmakers were not predicting an outright Conservative win. The odds were 7/1 against.
33. Even though the new government was obliged to have the referendum, nobody seriously considered that people would vote to leave the EU. The odds were against this right up until the night of the vote. Remain was 6/1 odds on according to the bookmakers. Even the leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, was predicting that ‘Remain’ had the most votes.
44. Now a look at the weather. God has used the weather, sometimes good, sometimes bad, to bring deliverance to our nation at many moments of crisis. To get an idea of this, look up the Spanish Armada, Dutch Navy 1688, Dunkirk in 1940, D-Day in 1944… I could go on. So what was the British weather like on June 23rd? Well, the area of England that was the most pro-Remain was London. What happened in London and the South East? Floods! Torrential rain and disruption to travel in London. Many commuters complained that they could not get home in time to vote. And what happened in the pro-Leave North? Warm sunshine all day. Coincidence?
55. Finally, I want to look at the issue of prayer. I only have anecdotal evidence here, but from conversations I have had, I believe a lot of people were praying fervently for the nation at this time. An organisation named ‘Intercessors for Britain’ used to have their main annual prayer event in London every January. But 18 months previously, they decided to reschedule the meeting to July. The 18th, to be precise – the Saturday before the referendum. And this was planned long before the date had been set by the Prime Minister. But God knew!
I I have kept a souvenir. As the results are announced through the night, the newspapers are printed too early to announce the result. So they have to ‘guess’ their headline. And they got it wrong! On the morning of 24th, I picked up a paper and decided to keep it. Here is an extract from the front page.
But the Lord had the last word.