A messy divorce just got messier – now we have a custody battle
The Brexit business has often been compared with a divorce. It feels more so than ever today. The sort of English divorce you’d find in a novel or a TV drama, though perhaps not quite as dramatic. Not so much cruel and calculating as in Henry VIII’s abandonment of Katherine of Aragon, more full of Victorian rectitude and hypocrisy.
It’s an old story. You’re frustrated with your marriage, and you want to get away. You have all kinds of fantasies about how wonderful it will be to have the freedom do your own thing. You know there will be bitterness and a financial cost, but what the hell – the sunlit uplands await. Until the uplands turn into a valley of loneliness. The children take sides, and new relationships are fleeting and superficial. When you get into something permanent again, surprise, surprise: the same old problems surface. And it turns out that the real problem lies not in your spouse, but in you.
I’ve never been divorced, and nor do I expect to be in the future. That’s not to say that my wife and I see eye to eye on everything, but we do try to resolve our issues without threatening each other with eternal damnation. Besides, I’ve always felt that if you have any respect for your other half, you will think carefully about the suffering you might inflict on them by walking away. It’s not all about you, and it’s not a zero sum game.
When the partner who walked away sees their suffering ex in the street, they might say “look at you! Now you know why I divorced you”. Which reminds me of the Leavers who – as the demagogues in France, the Netherlands and Germany, inspired by our example, threaten and agitate – tell the EU “we’re leaving you because you’re doomed anyway”, but neglect to acknowledge that by our decision we British contributed to the doom by kicking them half-way down the stairs in the first place.
So now, having endured two referenda in four years, each divisive and painful in its own way, we may have to endure another in a couple of years’ time. It’s the turn of the Scots again. And what of Northern Ireland? It’s as if on top of the main divorce there’s a custody battle breaking out – not that one would be so insulting as to describe Nicola Sturgeon and her party as angry adolescents wanting to go to the reluctant parent across the North Sea. But a Scottish re-run definitely adds a further dimension.
As David Allen Mills, lawyer, blogger and fellow son of Brum put it in a post earlier this week:
So far, Brexit must seem like a doddle.
But yesterday, the Scottish First Minister made her move.
Now we wait for Sinn Féin’s move.
The SNP and Sinn Féin have been watching and waiting and preparing the whole time.
The SNP and Sinn Féin have thought hard about how to exploit this political opportunity. Only a fool would underestimate either entity.
So soon the proper politics of Brexit will begin, with the UK government facing skilled and determined politicians taking full advantage of the power and leverage presented by the government’s policy of a ‘clean’ (ie, hard) Brexit.
Was this what the 37% bargained for on that shiny summer’s day last year?
It’s pointless blaming our soggy politicians for this mess. After all, we elected them. They reflect our morals. They mirror our prejudices. Though watching the BBC’s Question Time last night, I struggled to find a participant who reflected my values.
Not Joanna Cherry, a relentless blabbermouth from the Scottish Nationalists, all sophistry, sly smiles and lawyerly smugness. Nor Jacob Rees-Mogg for the Conservatives, a patronising courtier defending his indefensible political mistress. Or Labour’s Angela Eagle, valiantly deflecting references to the Corbyn-shaped elephant in her room. And certainly not Tim Martin, a real-life pub landlord who told us that all the answers to our problems lie in treating government as a business (heard that before somewhere, haven’t we?). About the only panellist who made any sense was Matthew Parris, a Times columnist who has more emotional intelligence in his little finger than the rest of them put together.
As I sat hurling expletives at these third-rate talking heads, I started wondering whether I’m showing the first signs of Pick’s Disease, a form of dementia affecting the frontal lobes. One of the symptoms is that you become disinhibited in your use of language. But so far, it’s just a dialogue between me and the telly. Should you encounter me shuffling down the high street muttering abuse at traffic wardens, dog-walkers and showroom dummies, feel free to call the men in white coats.
Still, all is not lost. Before long (assuming Wales bugs out also) we’ll be England again. Even though the bankers and the eurocrats may soon be gone, we can still hammer the Scots, smite the Welsh and pacify the Irish – at rugby anyway. And, if the latest accusations from the White House about wire-tapping are to be believed, we are still capable of capitalising on new business opportunities. To those other staples of the English economy – charity shops, estate agents and actors who talk like Americans – we can add a new offering: outsourced espionage.
The sunlit uplands lie before us. Can’t wait. Now, where was that Sudoku puzzle? I need to practice for the GCHQ entrance exam.