Brexit: the psycho-social picture.

So far the media focus has been on economics. And as often with catchy sound-bites, the term Brexit has become what all of us of call it. But make no mistake, this is not an ‘exit’ with all its overtones of moderation and free choice, unwarily this is a divorce!

Having been divorced myself [more than once, to my embarrassment and – yes – shame!] I know something about former partners’ reactions to rejection – for that is what this is to our European ‘spouses’. In both my separations my wives acted with outrage at my behaviour – and understandably wished to secure their futures rather than mine. This fear for themselves is nowhere more apparent than in those EU countries where their own dissatisfaction with the EU is very near the surface.

Here are the results from an IPSOS poll taken in March/April 2016, before Britain’s referendum:

Out of EU

Clearly there is a widespread wish to comment on this union among its citizens. This desire is strongest in Italy and France. The intention to vote out is also very high in these countries, two of the original members. Given French pride in the European project in many quarters, it’s hardly surprising they feel most hostile to our bid to leave, most keen on punitive measures.

[These figures present a very similar picture to the UK’s stated intentions some months before the actual vote. You can see these earlier UK figures here: ‘leave’ is very much in the high thirties to mid-forties.]

European leaders realise that strident campaigns, full of sky-high promises in their own back yards, could easily push their own people, fired by national pride and the need for personal – even local – identity into ‘leave’ majorities. The same thing happened with real divorce in the UK too, post 1960’s: over the years more and more people got divorced as it became accepted until now, nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce!

When you say you no longer want to be with someone, they are upset. Not only are they upset by rejection, they are upset too by the fact that they were probably thinking they no longer wanted to be with you, but were keeping their promises. In other words your rejection facilitates the growth of their own. We have plenty of evidence of this in European papers’ continual criticism of the negative attitude of the Brits.

And not having expressed their rejection first, your former partners determine to punish you for your faithlessness, your preference of ‘others’ [the new world-wide trade treaties trumpeted by May via Mr David Davies. Not only are you kicking them out of bed, you are planning multiple new lovers too!]

So they become vengeful, you become an object of hatred, subtly reinforced by envious spoiling (maybe you’re just having too much fun with your new freedom, so let’s push for a punishing settlement).

My point is, that even though rational and reasonable forces might work for a settlement that keeps Britain near to the EU, emotional forces will want to punish us and may prevail. Our negotiators need to be skilled at healing – using therapeutic talk – more than anything else.

I suspect most of them don’t know much about that. They can find out here: