D.I.V.O.R.C.E: Brexit #3


Two components, long since bound together, rarely come apart without some resistance.

An old stain needs scrubbing. An old lock, prizing. A long held union much “conscious uncoupling.”

‘Divorce’ in any form – be it between nations, employers and employees, lovers or friends – will always hurt if one side is hanging on more than the other.

Amicable divorces are only achieved when both parties are genuinely sick of the sight of one another (and even then, that doesn’t mean that others involved – children, parents, friends – won’t feel the hurt, won’t still want to resurrect the union).

It’s a messy business.

To think Brexit won’t be a messy business (isn’t already a messy business) is, I fear, naive.

There is much to untangle. There is resistance. There are hurt and confused children (on both sides, many well into middle-age and beyond). There is money at stake. Pride.

Brexit, imagined as a Willy Russell play, would be a divorce drama about a middle-aged couple: Britannia cast as an ‘ordinary, hard-working, just-about-managing’ woman (most likely played by Julie Walters), serving divorce papers to her rather stuffy, bloated, grey-suited, distant, EU husband.

We’d be rooting for her to leave him, to dye her hair purple; to go out into the world to find a new, younger lover (or, indeed, string of them).

But the ending (most likely) would be bittersweet: the toy-boy lover/s would rip her off then leave her; the ex-husband would find a younger wife, have more children, look ten years younger. Brit might even, in the final frame, gaze wistfully at an old wedding photo – taking herself back to another, simpler time, when she didn’t have to think so much about who she was now; who she’d been.

Because that’s the real challenge of surviving any form of divorce: the necessary reinvention. The rebrand.

Those who resist, who cling on to a past identity, are often cast as the saddest of creatures (more akin to a character in a Tennessee Williams play than a Willy Russell one). Some never let go of their injustice. Some never ‘let go’ at all, clinging to words “yellowing with antiquity.”

It’s hard not to be melodramatic.

It’s hard to be inventive too, it seems. It requires lots of curiosity and plenty of reflection. Of sitting with yourself (to work out what you’re really about) and going out into the world as that new self (demanding a courageous spirit no matter how small you might now feel). That’s how people reinvent themselves after divorce. That and, more often than not, by taking it day by day.

Is that how it works for nations, too? We’ll find out, no doubt, but, right now, I think it’s way too soon to tell.

Right now, in the heady swirl of it all, like I say, it’s hard not to be melodramatic. The reality of divorce, when it starts becoming about paperwork and negotiations, is always shocking, no matter how long it’s been coming.

Since last June, I’ve resisted ‘remoaning’, but I have to confess I did feel a little kick in my stomach when my phone flashed up the news the papers had been served. I’m not really sure what I made of our marriage, but I don’t think it was all bad. It needed working on. We – on either side of the channel – didn’t give it that chance, and now we’ll never know if it could have worked better. If it could have endured.

We will, however, all endure, regardless. We will move on. I can move on. We’ve got to. And I see no reason why we’ve got to throw up our hands and say our country is now doomed to be taken into the clutches of the swivel-eyed and hateful.

People have all kinds of ideas about what they’ll do and what kind of person they will be once they’re free from a sticky union. These ideas are very often tamed by a dose of reality or compromised over time.

Whatever happens, it’s going to take an awfully long time before we know who we’ve become as a nation. What we stand for. Rebrands always take time.

There may well be some very bad choices ahead. Some bad hair-dos, as it were. Some dodgy hook-ups. Some long nights of soul-searching. Some lonely days. And, inevitably, there will be some residual blame on all sides that will still have the power to make a surprise, and contentious, appearance over a Christmas lunch many decades from now.

That’s how it goes with divorce.

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