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Cresta Norris: Grieving Remainers will come to accept Brexit


At last Brexit means Brexit. Thank you, Theresa. But why are Remainers still saying that Brexit will ruin the lives of ‘children and grandchildren’? Why is leading law firm, Mishcon de Reya, taking legal steps to ensure the UK Government will not trigger the procedure for withdrawal from the EU without an Act of Parliament?

I spent the weekend with a top City psychotherapist who will not talk about his work but let drop that all of his clients have brought up Brexit in the consulting room. What’s happening? He thinks this is a minor ‘Diana’ moment in British history, with national grieving amongst Remainers  for what is lost. Like ‘Diana’, Brexit has become an icon and an opportunity to have another public ‘outpouring’.  This explains the anti-Brexit march in London ten days ago and the million people who signed a petition asking for another referendum. But why are our everyday Remainer friends acting out of character? What’s going on in their subconscious minds?

Psychotherapeutically, Brexit has been an attack on identity. It has triggered a deep reaction in people who are insecure about their sense of who they are. Those who ‘lost’ in the referendum have suffered bereavement. Shock is the first stage of grief. Shock was what we saw in the TV coverage and interviews during the first days of Brexit, explaining why the BBC (a strong Remainer camp as revealed by David Keighley) lost perspective. Swiss-born Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the psychiatrist who pioneered psychiatric thinking about the stages of bereavement, says that after shock comes denial or disbelief. Disbelief explains the people who say the ‘wrong people’ had voted, or that the public were racist or stupid and that their vote could be discounted.

It’s the third stage of the Brexit-bereavement that most Remainers are stuck in. This is ‘bargaining’ and usually involves recrimination. The group of corporations using Mischon de Reya who have signed a petition saying that the referendum can be ignored have moved from the denial stage to using ‘reason’ to ensure that Brexit doesn’t happen – paying for a legal argument that says the vote can be ignored by the politicians.

The lawyers are similar to the people who have been calling the Irish passport office or finding evidence of European grandparents so they can stay ‘European’. They are in the ‘bargaining’ stage. They think they can make their Brexit-bereavement go away through argument. Theresa May should beware of having a grieving Remainer on the ‘Leave’ negotiation team because they will not conclude the negotiations.

The fourth stage of bereavement is anger and depression. This is expressed by the people who accuse the Brexiteers of ruining the lives of ‘children and grandchildren’. Rationally, no one can know what will happen to our children and grandchildren, but this is a visceral reaction – not rational. Unfortunately, with anger comes ‘splitting’, which is the idea that people are either good or bad. Even the most intelligent, when angry, will uses splitting as a justification for their actions – believing that all Brexiteers are ‘bad’. The mob shouting at Boris Johnson outside his house on the day of the result was a classic example of ‘splitting’.

The fifth stage for the Remainers who have lost their identity will be ‘withdrawal’. They will return to their former ways of thinking, but with less enjoyment. At the same time, Britain will be withdrawing from the EU. Confidence will return, the stock market will be strong, Theresa May will be micro-managing the country. So, finally the Remainers will reach acceptance, which is the final stage of Brexit-bereavement.

In the meanwhile, the Brexiteers must listen and empathise with their Remainer friends and understand that they will reach acceptance, eventually.

(Image: Garry Knight)

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Cresta Norris
Cresta Norris
Cresta Norris is a communications consultant and author of

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