What could the Brexit civil service team that are managing the formal process of leaving the EU learn from Relate? The UK’s largest organisation specialising in relationship counselling will know when divorce means divorce and has considerable experience in dealing with break-ups. After all, a marriage can last 40 years – like the UK’s relationship with the EU – and then decide to split. Relate charge around £50 a session. Legal advice when divorcing is expensive. No doubt the two senior partners from law firm Linklaters that have been seconded to the Department for Exiting the European Union will be the first of many Brexit lawyers that will cost us a small fortune. But Relate helps to manage splits and separations without rancour using both systemic counselling (which looks at the interactions between each person involved in the relationship) and psycho-dynamic counselling (which investigates the reasons behind the problems such as how important people from the past affect us now).
If Brexit were a divorce, then the former head of the civil service, Lord Gus O’Donnell, who thinks after forty years of increasingly impossible behaviour the EU might change, is like the naive best friend of a divorcing couple who dreams that the marriage can continue. Owen Smith, the increasingly hapless potential Labour leader, thinks that there could be another referendum… along the lines of the unmarried man who hopes his best friends will stay together even though the majority agree that they are better off apart.
The Relate website lists the different issues that are created by separation into topic areas and then suggests solutions. They start with the thought that separation is not easy, but that it is reassuring to know that ‘other people have been through the same thing that you are experiencing’. In Europe, the UK may be the first to ask for the separation but we know that over half the French would like an In/Out referendum; in Italy, the Five Star Movement which has mayors of Rome and Turin have asked for referendum on leaving; the Austrians are talking of Auxit and the Leave candidate Norbert Hofer only narrowly lost their recent presidential election. As pressures increase on the EU, our blueprint for exit will be useful for everyone.
Relate advise ‘talking about the process’. Our civil servants have been talking all summer… but will they have learnt how to cope with the ‘thoughts and feelings’ that will arise as they negotiate? Relate say:
‘Whether the decision was yours or your partner’s, you’re still likely to experience a rollercoaster of emotions. Even when a separation has been expected, it’s common to feel a sense of shock…’
It seems likely that some civil servants, like dear old Gus O’Donnell, are still hoping the Brexit will not happen. They will be struggling with low self-esteem. Relate suggest:
‘It’s not unusual to feel completely lacking in self-confidence at the end of a relationship…. There is a sense of loss, dreams dashed and an unknown future lies ahead.’
Theresa May clearly understands these emotions, so she has asked the Cabinet and their teams to present ways in which an EU exit can be made successful. She has asked for a constructive and confident approach to Brexit. Relate use a similar technique with its counselling that helps gain confidence, increase self-esteem and build better relationships. Maybe the time has come to ask the Brexit civil servants to step aside and leave the job to the lawyers and an experienced team of divorce counsellors?
(Image: UK in Italy)