Last week’s European Union referendum result cannot have escaped your attention. With the Leave campaign, or Brexit, victorious the question became: what happens next?
In their attempts to offer an answer, a lot of media outlets likened the result and subsequent fallout to the beginning of a divorce. So have prominent politicians. EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker was one of them. He said that Brexit was “not an amicable divorce”.
But does the comparison hold up?
An ordinary divorce is rarely mutual. One side often loses interest in the relationship before the other, if their partner does at all. The disinterested spouse decides to leave even though they have no idea what to expect.
Once the split has happened, people can feel a number of conflicting emotions such as relief, fear or even regret. They will ask themselves if they did the right thing.
The party who has been left can experience shock, denial or depression. They can even try to bargain with their spouse. Ultimately, though, there is acceptance. It is only at this stage that deals can be made and the parties can move on.
See any similarities? All of these reactions have been seen somewhere in the media in the days since Brexit. However, the ‘acceptance stage’ has yet to arrive. But like in most ordinary divorces, common sense will eventually prevail.
Divorce can be amicable. Yesterday, John Bolch wrote an article which served as a rough guide to keeping things civil. Sadly, there are many divorces which simply cannot be dealt with nicely. In those cases, like with Brexit, it is in everyone’s interest to set aside the negative feelings as much as they can and work together for the best possible outcome.
Hello, “Brexit will not be an amicable divorce”, Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Commission President has warned us all ominously and “it wasn’t a tight love affair either” he added.
So that got me thinking. Reading Twitter avidly, and being an avid Tweeter myself, and reading everything that I can about Brexit, I realised that this is actually very much like an ordinary divorce involving two people.
What happens when a couple decide to divorce is usually, one party tires of the other long before the other tires of them, or may not be tired at all. They plan to leave, they decide they want to leave but actually they haven’t got much of a clue about what’s going to happen afterwards. What happens afterwards, as far as they’re concerned can often be a mixture of relief coupled with great regret and also, “did I really do the right thing?”.
When there is a divorce ongoing, what often happens are, to the person going through the left behind stage, are different stages of grief, it is like a bereavement. You might expect to see shock, denial, anger, there might be some sort of attempt of bargain, and there might be great depression. But ultimately there comes acceptance. It is at the acceptance stage that deals can be done.
It seems to me that with Brexit we are nowhere near that yet. What is happening is people are going through all of the negative emotions that do occur when divorce occurs. Ultimately, at some point common sense will prevail and it is at that point that dirty tricks, which I am sure are happening on both sides when things are said that both parties ultimately will come to regret, it is at the point of acceptance that things will calm down and deals will be done.
Sometimes divorces can be dealt with on an amicable basis and my colleague, lawyer John Bolch has written a blog post in which he explains how a good divorce can happen. But sometimes there are divorces, I am afraid, which can’t be dealt with as nicely as that. What is required then is for both parties’ minds to concentrate. To put aside as far as possible the negative emotions, to come to a form of acceptance as soon as possible and to concentrate on what they want and what can feasibly be achieved. Once they know what they want and know that it is a possibility, to work hard with the other side to make that happen. The fall out can then be contained, the cost can then be kept down and the whole thing can be wrapped up. Sometimes it is all about tough love and getting tough to achieve ultimately what you actually want to do.