Marilyn Stowe talks: how Brexit is like a divorce

Family Law|June 28th 2016

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.



Video Transcript

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.

Thank you.

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  1. Andy says:

    Here is the joke.”.What is the difference between Brexit and Divorce”.
    At least with Brexit your not in financial ruin.

  2. JamesB says:

    Invoking article 50 seems to be like signing the divorce petition. Best done after a settlement is reached.

    Yes, it reminds me of my divorce and is upsetting me. Like once I started being amicable by signing dodgy divorce petition the locks on the house were changed. Best all done at once. Except the EU are saying no negotiation before the divorce petition (article 50) is signed.

    Personally, given my loads of experience of divorce, I would not sign the petition (article 50) until we have a settlement agreeable to the public.

    No, it is not the same.

    We should do the following (as someone who voted leave).
    1. No more public voting except in general election in 4 years, sick of it, public have made their opinions known
    2. No submission of article 50
    3. Government to be more representative of the public and act unilaterally for the public

    Example of 3 is treating other EU nationals different from UK nationals. British jobs for British workers as Gordon Brown said, and other nationals all treated the same, none of this racist EU law where a Romanian or Pole has to be employed above a Canadian or Chinese or Filipino for example.

    So annoyed with politicians not understanding those they are supposed to represent. They need to get on with it and do what they are paid to do, including meeting with their electorate and representing them more as they have not done until now.

  3. JamesB says:

    Preference for UK nationals above the rest and the rest to be treated according to same rules. Simple, how can all these politicians who for example have double firsts in PPE from Oxbridge not get that, they need to do what they are there for and this is what the British (UK) public have asked for please. That and more representative politicians, which they can do starting now without resigning and running away. They got us into this mess they can best take responsibility by seeing it through and sorting it out as best they can.

    They should not have been busy sleeping with the French and Germans to use relationship issues analogies. That said an affair need not be the end of a marriage and we can stay together I think and hope. Over to you politicians, public have made their views known. Fixed exchange rates between different countries does not work, pull your head out and sort it out as I do not want my children to be fighting like my grandparents were.

  4. JamesB says:

    Re Article 50 being like divorce petition,

    The difference is here is that the respondent – in this case the EU – cannot petition

    This puts us in a brilliant negotiating position and means we can do what we like including sleeping around etc. breaking all of the rules if we like.

    Instead of sleeping around I suggest we carry on going through the motions for a while and take twin approach of negotiating and doing subtle unilateral things until we get a deal to stay in (preferred) or go out. Example, non UK people entitled to less benefits then UK people impose this unilaterally.

    Other EU countries have been breaking the law without sanction for years, time we did. Example Hungary in Schengen area putting up fences which is against Schengen area law.

    If rules are unenforceable and without support other than by the establishment then they mean nothing and we can go round them and stay together in a common market.

  5. JamesB says:

    The EU is just like a marriage with children it is impossible to leave without causing a lot of problems and probably best to stay together with both sides making compromises and learning to live with until the children grow up and situation allows for a more amicable split by consent, if ever that situation arises in the future.

  6. Florence Kankya-Rutaroh says:

    I really liked the comparison. Hopefully things will calm down and we have an amicable divorce.

  7. Andrew says:

    By golly, James, the old imagination is in overdrive tonight!

    • JamesB says:

      Thanks Andrew. That’s why I’m backing Boris. We need someone with imagination and appreciation of history and empathy and common touch to reach those people other politicians don’t which is probably 50 percent of population.

  8. JamesB says:

    Correction, over 50% of the population.

  9. JamesB says:

    Most people don’t feel represented by the establishment or their politicians that is.

  10. JamesB says:

    Mainly backing Boris because of his performance before the Parliamentary Select Committee on EU exit. Which I watched avidly and he was good with good eye for detail.

    Those things (PSCs) can be worth watching. I watched (online) the one on child support. That was so bad for supposed experts and like a coffee morning of bitter single mums, no men were invited, which given 99% of those paying are men is very bad and brings politicians in this country into bad category.

  11. JamesB says:

    Further point, part of why I voted leave was because of the establishment and csa to whom I have paid hundreds of thousands of pounds over decades for no good reason indeed for a bad reason to finance children being taken away from their fathers in the UK for no good reason.

    • Andrew says:

      I don’t think the CSA or whatever they call it this week is a creation of the EU.

      Oh, and don’t colour in the words EUROPEAN UNION on your passport. That might stop the machines reading them and it would probably make immigration officers all over the word suspicious – and I don’t want to be stuck in the queue behind you while they decide that you were just being a prat.

  12. JamesB says:

    Time to colour in the European Union Header on our UK passports. Like removing wedding ring at separation.

  13. JamesB says:

    I do not regret my decision to vote leave. Like Nato in Yugoslavia, you can only give the EU so long before you have to move on.

  14. JamesB says:

    Time to move on, that does not involve invoking article 50. Which, like a divorce petition is an excuse to argue and spend money on lawyers and nothing else. No point at all in invoking article 50.

  15. JamesB says:

    I do think csa is creation of EU / the liberal do good establishment.

    I do think the words European Union should have no place on a British passport.

    Most people agree with me on the second point and also that legislators are an elite too detached from being representative. Nationalism is not a dirty word to be sniggered at as you suggest but what made this country great oh that and slavery and many uncomfortable truths for the nice nice nonsense politicians and lawyers. Thanks for engaging in the discussion though, I was getting bored talking to myself. I think people are beginning to realise that politicians lie and are not very representative.

  16. JamesB says:

    Boris out, Gove in.

    I’m backing Gove.

    If Theresa bloody May comes in as Prime Minister as ‘Unity’ candidate then the Conservatives are taking the bloody piss. She was on the losing side.

    Beginning to look like another F’in Establishment Stitch-up!

    If the public were only allowed to vote Remain then there should have been only that on the ballot paper, like Fifa.

    Do we live in a democracy? Not sure at the moment. I suppose I will give whoever wins a chance, but if I hear we can’t get access to the single market without freedom of movement one more time I think I will throw my tv at the wall.

    NAFTA has free trade without free movement FFS! Why cant we have decent politicians!

  17. D says:

    That article 50 exists, giving a defined procedure for unwinding EU membership in sensible manner shows there was at least some thought to the matter before other provisions of the treaty came into effect.
    This is light years ahead of divorce and relationship breakup where such a thing is considered unthinkable, taboo. Until it happens.
    It’s far better there’s an approach defined that it becomes years of international law battles or even worse conflict.
    However, because the UK government considered Brexit unthinkable, there was no sensible consideration to this outcome an a proper exit plan. Hence the instabilities and doubt. This is unforgivable.

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