If Brexit is like divorce (and it isn’t), it is only because we were tricked into marriage in the first place
You hear it again and again, the hysterical comparison Remainers make between Brexit and getting divorced.
Throughout this EU referendum campaign we have constantly been told that not only will voting to become an independent country will see us physically severed from the continent of Europe and cut adrift to bob around aimlessly in the Mid-Atlantic, but also that this “acrimonious split” will be akin to walking out on our European allies and leaving them with the house, the car and custody of the kids.
Latest to peddle the divorce line is Philippe Legraine in CapX:
On top of the disruption of a messy divorce, Britain would suffer enduring damage by separating from the huge, wealthy market on its doorstep. Not only would trade with the EU be less free, Britain’s access to other export markets would be worse too.
The Economist has been at it too, with their scaremongering and false depiction of Article 50 negotiations:
Article 50 provides that the EU will negotiate a new agreement with the withdrawing country over two years. That can be extended, but only by unanimous agreement. The article also specifies that, when agreeing a new deal, the EU acts without the involvement of the country that is leaving. To get a feel for the negotiating dynamic, imagine a divorce demanded unilaterally by one partner, the terms of which are fixed unilaterally by the other. It is a process that is likely to be neither harmonious nor quick—nor to yield a result that is favourable to Britain.
(This is false narrative is nothing but hyperbolic, biased scaremongering, as brilliantly debunked by The Leave Alliance here).
And the Guardian gets in on the act too, with William Keegan opining:
The Labour party turned out on parade last Thursday, and Jeremy Corbyn pronounced that there was an “overwhelming” case for our remaining in the EU. This is statesmanlike behaviour and judgment. Whatever the deficiencies of the EU, we are not going to remedy them if we leave. And the Lawson/Johnson idea that we can renegotiate our way into the advantages of belonging to an organisation that we have just left is for the birds. Messy divorces do not work like that.
The broader point keeps on cropping up – Brexit means a messy and acrimonious divorce, we are told, and therefore we should avoid this at all costs.
But this is pure nonsense. Britain’s relationship with the European Union is not like a marriage. Our membership is not a flawed collaboration or partnership whose kinks and problems need to be patiently worked through in couple’s therapy.
In truth, Britain’s experience of EU membership has been like being in a platonic friendship with someone who is desperately trying to turn that friendship first into a romantic relationship and then into a marriage, and using every single trick and deceit at their disposal in order to do so.
Britain wants somebody to hang out with sometimes, a bit of companionship and a mate who will be there to help celebrate the triumphs of life and provide support and encouragement when things are difficult.
The EU, on the other hand, keeps agitating for us to get a joint bank account, a veto over what TV shows we should watch, a common “guests remove shoes upon entering” household rule and is insisting that we spend our precious vacation time visiting their parents in the south of France rather than driving Route 66 like we always wanted.
Worse still, the EU is making ominous sounds about going vegan “for the good of the Earth”, the clear implication being that we are expected to forswear steak night and take the plunge as well.
And despite our repeated attempts to push back and hint at our desire for a platonic relationship, at some point soon we know in our heart of hearts that the EU fully intends to do to us what every newlywed wants to do on their wedding night – consummate the marriage.
Poor Britain just wanted someone to go to the movies with once in awhile, and now the EU has moved in, spent three grand on new curtains and turned the home cinema into a mini fitness centre. Throw in the fact that suspicious looking packages from Ann Summers have been arriving all week – not to mention that leather whip and pair of handcuffs resting casually on the bed – and it looks like we are in for a rather excruciating evening.
Of course, this could all have been prevented at any point if only we had been willing to have one slightly awkward but brief conversation making it clear that our view of the relationship and the EU’s view of the relationship are fundamentally different – that we want to be friends, and that if it is to be “friends with benefits”, the only benefits we are interested in relate to pragmatic things like trade and friendly cooperation (where doing so on a regional European basis makes sense).
There is still time to have that conversation – just. There is still time before the removal van comes to bring the EU’s clothes and furniture, and before the wedding invitations go out announcing our forthcoming nuptials to the rest of the world. The conversation will become trickier and more fraught the later we leave it, but if we Vote Leave in this referendum we can still salvage an important friendship while preserving our own national bachelorhood.
Brexit now would not be a divorce – it would be correcting a decades-long misunderstanding about the nature of our relationship with the EU, and what we wanted to get out of it.
Wait much longer, though, and the relentless process of political integration (which David Cameron has utterly failed to win an exemption for Britain) will soon be such that we find ourselves trapped in a common law marriage, and a relationship which is much harder – or even impossible – to escape.
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