In a chapter I contributed to European Disunion: Between Sovereignty and Solidarity, published in 2012, I focused on Britain’s relationship to the European Union. I used the analogy of a marriage: ‘… the UK can be characterised not so much as an awkward partner as a reluctant bride, delaying saying “yes” because her heart still yearned for others and unhappy in a domestic relationship that does not allow her to play the role she expected.’ The marriage has been one of convenience more than love and the relationship variously fraught, though so long as we have been in the marriage we have carried out our household obligations.
I think the analogy retains its utility now that we have served divorce papers. In any marriage that has lasted more than forty years, a divorce can be messy. Even if it were an amicable break, there would be the issue of what to do with the house and children (if any) and the assets acquired over that time. Arguing over who gets what is not necessarily easy. There is talk of a ‘clean break’ Brexit. It is possible simply to walk away from a marriage, but that may mean that one side keeps the house and assets, but lose out on the alimony.
I think the analogy is valuable for drawing out the nature of what is entailed in leaving the EU. It illustrates the problem of identifying what constitutes Brexit. A divorce is a legal ending of a marriage, but the real tussle is over dividing the assets. Divorce mean divorce. It remains a divorce whether amicable or acrimonious. The amicable to acrimonious spectrum is a wide one.
I offer that as a possible aid to explaining the nature of Brexit, given that there is little else to assist, with no precedent to guide us. I do so without prejudice to either side of the argument. As I explained in a recent debate in the Lords, the discourse on Brexit is toxic and I associate myself with neither side. There are proponents on each side that lack balance and self-awareness. Being convinced that one is so obviously right and that one’s opponents are deluded does not always create a sound basis for persuading others to see the light.