Well, if you can’t beat them join them. Since Brexit and its political consequences seems to be about the only story in town at the moment, I thought I’d add my voice to the tumult.
Whatever one thinks of the result, there have been a number of attempts to describe Brexit in terms of a divorce. I’ve heard it in BBC interviews and I’ve read about it from divorce lawyers. When a relationship breaks down, everybody wants to smooth things over so that life can go on afterwards with minimal disruption. How does government handle Brexit so that we get an amicable divorce? That is the question.
Except that there’s a problem with this analogy. Our relationship with the EU was never like a marriage in the first place. And if we try to think of Brexit as a divorce, it may profoundly affect the course of the next few years. The process of divorce is all about how to limit the downside and manage the fallout from the end of one relationship. But, given that Brexit is going to happen anyway, we need a wholly different analogy, one that also offers a decent shot at some upside.
So why wasn’t it like a marriage? Well, lets have a look at some characteristics of marriage.
Membership of the EU does arguably share two characteristics of marriage – permanence and exclusivity – but definitely lacks any sense of exchange of identity and definitely does not qualify as a marriage of equals.
Where Brexit is similar to divorce is in the need to clear up the mess after the relationship ends. But in this respect, Brexit is no different from the disentangling and unravelling of lives that takes place when unmarried couples split up, or indeed when any longstanding formal or informal arrangement comes to an end.
So for me, Brexit has little in common with a divorce. It has much more in common with resignation from long standing membership of a club whose committee imposed more and more rules for its members.
This club membership analogy offers a more positive upside. Although relations with the club may be strained and will have to be renegotiated, Britain now has the opportunity to strike up deeper friendships with the many other non-members. How and whether that happens depends on our new leadership.
But whatever happens, if we keep thinking of Brexit as a divorce, we won’t be giving ourselves a chance to see any benefits. We haven’t got divorced. We’ve resigned from a club.