“Brexit means Brexit” said our bold new PM in June. Two months later we still don’t have a clue what that means. In the coming week Theresa May is getting together with her cabinet, including BoJo, David Davis and Liam Fox to formulate a strategy, a plan even, for leaving the EU. Since none of these characters had a clue what Brexit actually meant in June, I doubt they have much better ideas now.
In essence, this planning will be done by a governing group who seem far smaller than the events they grapple with. A crisis indeed. Why does this seem outside of their abilities?
Politicians are known for expediency, for producing lightning quick reactions to situations as they unfold: ‘events, dear boy, events’ said Harold Macmillan when asked what he most feared. It seems no one these days can quite agree on what Mac’s remark referred to, but my memory brings to mind the Profumo affair and the series of scandals involving government ministers, ladies of the night and Russian diplomats (or spies as they were known during the Cold War).
However, Brexit is not deliverable by an expeditious solution, it is not a puzzle to be solved or a code to be cracked. Because it represents one of the deepest ongoing dilemmas of human lives, whatever solution is proposed, the problem will remain. Things won’t get better after Brexit, they will simply be a bit different. And we will have to address the problem again. That’s why the solution we propose, Controlled Brexit, represents the best answer to this thorny issue.
For those interested in the deeper theme, the picture in the post shows what Otto Rank – with Jung the most brilliant of Freud’s disciples – called ‘the fundamental struggle of human lives’ – whether to merge or separate.
The struggle begins at 18 months as the newly mobile child leaves his parent’s side, wanders wobbling for a while and then scuttles back to mum or dad. As the child grows and gains confidence, the exploratory urge builds and the journeys away from mum get further and longer. But still, the child has a powerful sense of the need to return home, which as adults we know as home sickness.
This is the core issue in the Remain – Leave choice. We might even conceptualise the home-sickness of our Leave voters as a longing for their homes of yesteryear as our open, flexible, service-based economy has – despite its strengths – failed to generate enough shared prosperity to reach across the whole nation including into former industrial heartlands. I am sure a map of these heartlands would exactly correlate with a strong Leave vote. There are psycho-social forces at play here.
Yet, so unsophisticated are the politicians and advisors on both sides of our domestic political spectrum that you never hear the argument expressed in these terms – that while we may go our separate ways for years, all people are dependent on connections and contact as buffers against our fundamental vulnerability – we are born vulnerable and we die so. At all crucial points in life we depend on others. Who will be the bigger family we return to when our solo project runs into difficulties?
The EU was one solution, a club that promised insulation against isolation in an expanding world. A family to be part of in the face of globalisation.
To offer succour to his readers, struggling with the insoluble tension between merging and separating, Rank offered a third alternative, another intention that could be used to bridge the divide and resolve the conflict. He called it Reparation, and it is expressed in the diagram here:
In this iteration of Rank, merging is equated with regression, while separating is with Progression. This is completely in tune with the legacy of individualism (seen as a progressive urge) that pervades our times.
Controlled Brexit is a reparative solution, aiming to progess in small steps, testing the temperature both at home and abroad as we go, and not burning bridges until we have found a way of building or repairing them. We will publish the plan in a few days, once the analysis of a set of six workshops around the UK is finished.