Divorce is often a messy process, unpleasant for everyone concerned. As the divorce-to-end-all-divorces, Brexit is shaping up to be messier than most. Britain’s fishing industry may be among the first to feel betrayed, let down and hurt, but they are unlikely to be the last.
Yesterday the UK and EU agreed that during the near two-year transition period after Brexit, the British fleet will be subject to European Union catch quotas that the UK has no say whatsoever in setting.
Bertie Armstrong, of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said almost mournfully that “we do not trust them to look after us”, warning the EU to “be careful what you do or the consequences later will be severe”. It had the ring of the kind of empty threat people make when they are particularly upset.
Northern Ireland could be heading for similar disappointment. The EU’s “backstop” – which would see Northern Ireland remain in the EU customs union and create some kind of border between it and the UK mainland – remains in the transition document, despite not being actually agreed.
Once again, our politicians have put off trying to square the circle of creating a hard border between the UK and EU, but a soft one between the North and the Republic. It might be wise to start planning now for the tears and possibly very serious tantrums when a “solution” that may very well please no one is finally unveiled.
The Advice Now website’s divorce survival guide includes the advice that “you will both need to compromise”; the trouble where Brexit is concerned is that too many people hold absolute positions from which they are unprepared to shift even slightly. The guide also notes that “feelings don’t fit tidily into legal processes”; unleashing the kind of bitterness and bad feeling that can occur in a divorce between two people on a national scale would be a potentially catastrophic mistake.
The UK Government has sought to develop ways of demonstrating the UK is still a friend of the EU, but this seems to have been drowned out by hostile Brexiteer rhetoric. As Britain’s current Cold War-style relations with Russia demonstrate, allies are extremely important in this world and the UK’s natural allies are our fellow liberal democracies. Our politicians need to find better ways of ensuring friendly relations with the EU post-Brexit, for the sake of the kids – and all the rest of us.