Brexit – Neither Divorce Nor Car Deal

In the debate over Brexit many people have tried to come up with suitable analogies. Among the oldest is the idea of the divorce – the withdrawal bill and the £39 billion payment of outstanding budget commitments is even referred to as the “divorce settlement”. More recently some have sought to liken the search for a “deal” to the kind of arrangement you might come to with your local car dealership. Over the weekend I began thinking about both.

Let’s begin by looking at the stages in a marriage at which a divorce may be contemplated. You’ve been together for less than 5 years, both of you are a good deal more mature than when you married. There are no children, neither of you gets on with the in-laws, you have few mutual friends. You live in an apartment block where you hardly ever encounter your neighbours. You come to an agreement to part company. There is some pain, inevitably, but there is an overwhelming sense of relief in both parties at the resulting sense of freedom. Even your friends, who have been treading on eggshells around you as they sensed the tensions in the relationship, feel that same sense of relief.

Now, suppose you have been together for 40 years. You have grown-up children and several grand children. You are aunt and uncle to several other children. You are God-parents to a number of your friends’ children. You are a partner in your father-in-law’s business, expecting to inherit when he finally decides to retire. You are well known in your community, both of you involved in different aspects of community life. Divorce in those circumstances is almost unthinkable and will cause enormous disruption and sadness in the lives of many people, including the employees of the family business.

I leave you to decide which of these, if any, Brexit is most like.

Now let’s look at the car replacement analogy. It might be the case that the car you are trading in is subject of a finance agreement with some outstanding payments due. You will need to settle that as part of the deal, or, quite possibly, before you can contemplate a deal. You discuss your requirements with the dealership and are offered a trade-in value for your old car. You don’t like the offer, believing your old car is worth more. You can take it or leave it. You decide to leave it. What you don’t do is leave your old car in the dealership and, literally, walk away.

The “no deal” option for Brexit is like deciding to manage without a car for the foreseeable future. “No Brexit” is like carrying on with your current model with all its faults rather than accept a bad deal.

The truth is that neither analogy is anything more than an approximation to what Brexit really means. How could it be otherwise, since Brexit is a unique event for which there is no precedent in history. What hurts, and what makes the 40 year divorce example feel close to the reality of Brexit, is the huge number of cultural, sporting and business links that have been built across Europe over the past 45 years and that are now being sullied by the xenophobic rhetoric that has been unleashed.

The Channel Tunnel makes travel between Britain and Europe easy. Image found at

The choirs, the amateur drama groups, the sports clubs, the agricultural societies, that exchange visits on a regular basis. The beekeepers, bird watchers, surfers, animal breeders, astronomers, geologists, paleontologists, anthropologists – the list is endless. True, such relationships extend beyond Europe, especially in these days of the World Wide Web. But Europe is on our doorstep. Heading across the Channel for a day or a weekend to meet individuals with shared interests is easy and many people do it, for business, pleasure, and to exchange ideas and information about their hobby or profession.

And we must not forget the real marriages between Britons and European nationals and the new rules that mean that the “foreign” spouse now has to register for “settled status”. So do the children, even grown ups who were born here, grew up here and have worked for decades, paying their taxes and NI contributions. All because a few ultra-rich, public school educated people want to avoid paying their taxes.

These are things that we don’t hear so much about. We hear plenty about the businesses that rely on parts manufactured in different regions of the Continent and how that will inevitably be made more difficult – and more expensive – by Brexit, whatever form it takes. But the pain caused at the personal level by the opprobrium about Europe and Europeans that is regularly exuded by the extremes of the leave camp is unforgivable.

19 thoughts on “Brexit – Neither Divorce Nor Car Deal

  1. I thought this sentence of yours was particularly pertinent and insightful Frank: “What hurts, and what makes the 40 year divorce example feel close to the reality of Brexit, is the huge number of cultural, sporting and business links that have been built across Europe over the past 45 years and that are now being sullied by the xenophobic rhetoric that has been unleashed.”

    The breaking of these links to some degree or another is as damaging as the trading disconnections. Great post.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. A straw poll of our immediate family adds up to perhaps fifteen different countries and numerous visits to Europe over the years. Journeys ranged from school trips to Euro Disney, charity, visiting friends, holidays, training and work. Work includes doing fireworks for Bastille Day to flying with the RAF.
    No country is perfect but now we are going to dump friendships with some of the most civilised countries in the world and pal up with regimes that are evil?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. This is a helpful description for those of us on the outside looking in! I’ve tried to follow the news on Brexit, but find it all a bit overwhelming to fathom. It all seems very sad to me, so the breakup of a long-standing marriage and the wave of disruptions such an event causes, rings true from my limited perspective. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. That’s a great explanation of Brexit, Frank. I think the registration for ‘settled status’ is yet another money-grabbing scheme, since each person has to pay £65. The person who thought that up will probably get a large commission.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. One of the best and most mature statements I have read on the whole tragedy Frank.
    And for once ‘we’ can’t heap the whole blame of ‘the politicians’. There has been a failure of a large portion of ‘ordinary’ people to engage with each other, even when it became obvious there were no simple solutions

    Liked by 2 people

      1. And we will all have to suffer the consequences. It will take a new mood burrowing up and spread outwards to sort this out; we possibly face years of regret that there ever was a referendum.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Well written and good analogies, Frank. The longer the omnishambles goes on, and the more we learn about all the negative impacts, the more I despair of those in positions of power who are burying their heads in the sand and refusing to recognise that, to paraphrase ‘1066 And All That,’ Brexit is a very bad thing. We are destroying our country and its relationships on the basis of an ill-defined and erroneous concept. The sheer ignorance of those who support it is breathtaking.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve been steering mostly clear of Brexit discussions, mostly because the real reasons behind the smozzle don’t show up over here, but this post of yours should be front and centre exposure on all media. It actually explains what is going on, and the kind of spirit that underlie the leave camp. Great article.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Sha’Tara. It bears comparison with the “Trump phenomenon” and has bee so compared many times. Essentially it was about blaming immigrants, and the EU regime that permitted a large degree of freedom of movement between the constituent states, for the problems caused by neo-liberal policies in operation at home. No-one even understood that the EU Freedom of Movement clause did allow a degree of control within individual nation state members, but successive UK governments chose not to implement those controls.
      It is further complicated by the “Irish border issue” which I have written about before. Essentially the treaty that brought peace to Northern Ireland 20 years ago includes a provision that there will freedom of trade and travel from NI to Ireland. This is impossible if there is going to be a controlled border between UK and EU. (NI is in the UK, Ireland will remain in the EU). The government have spent 2 1/2 years trying to square this circle and getting nowhere.


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