Brexit Evolution: The Stages of a Difficult Divorce

Photo credits: The Guardian.

Since Brexit talks started in June 2017, it’s been difficult to keep up with all the rumours and drama. Yet, looking at Brexit through divorce terms proves a good method to understand the continuously evolving break-up process. The fluctuating negotiations cover assets, trade, money, and the rights of people (EU Citizens in the UK and British Citizens in the EU). The ‘divorce’ issues that the UK faces includes these as well as the question of the Northern Irish border. Due to having divorced parents of my own, and many friends who have gone through the same process, it’s ringing a few bells.

Both parents want to make the divorce operation as easy as possible for their children. They want to ensure that they separate with a good enough deal that is both economically viable for themselves, and preferably, without bitter relations. The UK divorce laws currently require a two-year separation period for no fault divorces, which makes things difficult for couples and families who just want to move on with their lives. This supposedly grants both parties enough time to divide their assets and come to terms with such a change. Does this remind you of anything in particular?

The two-year transition period after Brexit’s official date, 29th March 2019, will allegedly allow businesses to prepare for the change, as well as provide time for the development of security measures. But as with any divorce, the two opposing sides have different views on what this should really entail. The EU published its demands earlier this year, arguing that the transition phase should end by 31st December 2020, during which time the UK should follow EU rules but not be involved in any decision-making. On the other hand, Brexit secretary David Davis argues that the UK should maintain their right to object to EU rules during this period. While the EU wants to maintain the free movement of individuals, the UK says that EU citizens coming the UK during this time won’t benefit from the same rights as if those that came beforehand.

Photo credits: The Guardian. This is Michael Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, who on Tuesday announced there were still ‘significant points of disagreement’ with the UK on a possible transition deal.

The financial cost of a divorce is just one of the complications that makes the already hard decision to end a marriage even worse. From court fees and legal aid to selling/moving houses and paying maintenance, it’s not cheap. Theresa May’s ‘divorce bill’ with the EU will cost a shocking £39 billion, and bankers predict that Britain will lose £72 billion of economic activity, annually until 2021. Voting leave was supposed to improve the UK’s economy – many believed the Leavers’ promise that the UK would be saving £350 million pounds a week that could be put to better use invested in the NHS; but so far, promises have proved empty.

Breaking-up is hard, and there is always an emotional side. In the same way that divorce breaks up families, Brexit has divided our country and society. The almost equal result in the referendum vote is one thing (51.9% to 48.1%), but people still identify with being either a ‘remainer’ or a ‘leaver’, over 20 months later.  Parliament continues to be divided over a ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ Brexit, with uncertainty surrounding the Single Market or the Customs Union. From May’s “Brexit means Brexit” rhetoric, to Jeremy Corbyn’s backing of the Customs Union, the only thing that we can be sure of, is that the negotiations and incertitude will continue throughout 2018 and onwards.

The divorce metaphor frequently used to describe Brexit has its problems, of course. A typical divorce doesn’t include 27 different nations on one side, for example. In March 2017, Theresa May even told MPs, “I prefer not to use that term with regard to the European Union because often, when people get divorced, they do not have a good relationship onwards.” A tricky relationship is inevitable: our country voted to kiss goodbye to a community that it has been co-operating with for 55 years. But, as with all divorce settlements and break-ups, time heals. A two-year transition phase, similar to the two-year separation period in UK divorce laws, may just provide this.

Who knows? We may not all be Brexiteers, but Brexoptimists perhaps.


By Rosie Downing

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