From the minute the referendum result was in, the language of Brexit has borrowed heavily from divorce. The EU Commissioner Jean Claude Juncker said very early on that Britain’s split from Europe “would not be an amicable divorce”. He went on, though, to say that the relationship had been having troubles for some time, suggesting “it was not exactly a tight affair anyway”.
Political commentators over the last month have subsequently, and repeatedly, used the marriage metaphors, suggesting the terms of the divorce need to be carefully scrutinised and even one saying financial settlement may be hard to come to!
It does seem a very appropriate analogy. Britain and the EU are going their separate ways after a lengthy union that has often been frosty. However, they will still need to find a way to work together as they continue to have common interests – just like estranged parents. They cannot have no contact because there are thousands of businesses on both sides of the Channel dependent upon the trade links. It is just that those links need to be renegotiated.
In what ways other than language can the Brexit architects borrow or learn from divorce and family law issues?
Sort out the finances – this is vital for any couple divorcing and is not an automatic part of the divorce process. In the context of Europe, the split from the Union is one thing. Trade deals and associated alliances need to be sorted separately. Don't do one without the other.
Keep emotions under control – the in/out debate is a discussion that has polarised the nation. It has seen temperatures running high, from family and friend groups in the UK, to country versus country rhetoric in the wider picture. While these feelings are understandable, they will not help the negotiations yet to come. As experienced family law specialists advise, keep to the task at hand and keep your emotions away from negotiations. Airing them all and point scoring will not help you reach a settlement.
Seek third party help for negotiations – you don't have to do it all yourself. There are specialists out there, be they lawyers, mediators or negotiators, who can help guide discussions, find the middle ground and steer everyone towards a common goal.
Don't air your grievances in public or on social media – we may feel like hitting out. We may feel like having a dig – but this is only going to fuel resentments and even lead to unseemly and public tit-for-tat point scoring. It can only make things more painful. Keep the discussions discreet. Don’t play them all out over social media.
Everyone is nervous about what will happen as the EU and the UK go their separate ways. It is the same for any family going through a break-up. The important thing is to focus on the future, rather than recriminations, and find a way to make a different kind of relationship work for the good of all concerned – in this case, all 742.5 million of us living in Europe.
Family Law Solicitor, Bedford