Brexit reminds me of the worst breakup I ever had

As Brexit continues to confound the intellect and rouse the lowest of emotions, I’ve realised it’s a perfect metaphor for the worst breakup I ever had. I probably shouldn’t single out Donald Tusk’s fairly equivocal rejection of Theresa May’s bespoke divorce fantasy. Eleven years on, almost every hopeless compromise reminds me of those dark days: arriving late at Jimmy’s World of Food and having to make do with the dregs from lukewarm tureens; failing to get my favourite seat in the cinema, so ploughing on in an isle exposed, end-of-row position, vulnerable to latecomers and anti-piracy sweeps from gormless ushers; not being able to afford a house with character in a desirable location, so having to settle for a part-owned, clinical white shell made of plasterboard and brick veneer, facing onto a communal garden occupied by borstal rejects on Tartrazine benders. Still, of all life’s grim realities, our exit from the EU works best.

In this pseudo-comic conceit I, of course, am the EU and my former partner, we’ll call her Boudicca, is the United Kingdom of England and Wales. I wanted to stay together, imagining our mutual interest and long-term prosperity was best served by ever-closer union. But for Boudicca, our relationship, originally founded on a student basis, the psychosexual equivalent of the Common Market, had mutated to involve too many compromises, too much syphoning off of independence, and consequently it had become a shackle. We were just too different, she said, and besides, she wanted to do a free trade deal with the United States.

In dumping me, even the good parts; a referendum involving a single voter – her – in which she campaigned ferociously, lest she talk herself out of it; she’d unilaterally signalled her intent to diverge. There’d been eight years of emotional and temperamental alignment but that, whatever the platitudinous bullshit offered, could not continue. This meant, as the body forced to deal with the consequences, I’d have to try and salvage my happiness and dignity, the equivalent of keeping the EU together, while sending a very clear signal to myself that I could not be vulnerable to a capricious woman’s sociopathy in future, i.e. protecting what remained of me from further ruinous breakups.

Initial negotiations were difficult. Boudicca wanted to retain some of the benefits of our relationship – a casual and friendly association with some family members – “tell them I’m thinking of them”, a social media connection to an old friend living in the US, and permission to ring me on occasion when drunk, bored and sentimental. However, I was adamant; one couldn’t simply cherry pick the benefits of union.

Consigning me to life’s fly tip meant giving up the friendship we, (well, I), had enjoyed. Anyone I’d designated friend or relative, though definitions in both cases were stretched, was part of the same awful package and could not be courted separately. And when it came to plugging rare moments of loneliness, not nearly tinged enough with regret for my liking, some other poor bastard would have to chunter on the phone in my place. As Boudicca saw me as an interchangeable archetypal phalloid, who could and would be replaced in the fullness of time, rather than an irreplaceable person in my own right, this seemed reasonable.

Edxit meant Edxit.

Theresa May didn’t want Brexit, because the EU was a comfortable and understood entity, that though imperfect, made life (relatively) simple. But lumbered with the referendum and fearful of the ultra-Brexiteers who swarm beneath her bed like clothes moths in a warm, airless room, she’s had to openly confront everything she dislikes about the Union while patronising, sorry, flattering the grievously offended block to salvage the rest. From the EU’s point of view she’s Boudicca, and like me following Boudicca’s departure, the only way the EU can survive and rebuild its strength is by drawing a line underneath the whole tragic spectacle and moving on.

Like me, all those years ago, they don’t want to do it. Tusk, Verhofstadt and Barnier think we’re crazy but have little choice but to live with the decision to leave and rally the troops to protect their interests. Like me, during those terrible weeks, months and years, they hope their former partner will wise up and employ the nostalgia they clung to in all other areas in service to intimacy once shared. But deep down, as I was ultimately forced to admit, both to myself and others, divergence means profound differences emerging over time. That fork in the road doesn’t lead back to the old path, just a dark and foreboding lane, traipsed by pub bores and provincial xenophobes.

Tusk knows, though he hates it, that the dream is over and it must be polite conversation and the occasional e-mail from now on. For Theresa May, the reality of what Brexit really means is only now beginning to crown. She’s going to have to go out there and befriend less committed, more predatory partners, perhaps finally settling for some comfortable but unfulfilling coalition with the state equivalent of a feckless porcine fantasist, addled by misogyny and alcoholism, brandishing a shrivelled chode.


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  1. “That fork in the road doesn’t lead back to the old path, just a dark and foreboding lane, traipsed by pub bores and provincial xenophobes” … endless remarks like this form a sort of overarching summary of why so many people voted for Brexit. It was as much a profound loathing of a certain ilk of Middle Class (mostly) Londoners as it was about Europe.

    • A certain ilk, huh? For what’s it’s worth I understand the grievance and hatred toward so-called metropolitan liberals, living in their economically sustainable, jobs rich, mixed community, with their insufferable tolerance toward immigration and by extension, integrationist mentality. And you’re right, it’s by and large a middle-class phenomena. I’ve lived in London most of my adult life and the only people I spoke to before the vote and afterwards who were raging about immigration (which they’d conflated with the EU as they were encouraged to do) were white working class. These people were, without exception, obsessed with immigration to the exclusion of all other issues. There was a bit of talk about the NHS, but only in the context that immigrants put pressure on the system, which in lines parroted from Farage, was unsustainable. I enjoyed one canvasser scrunching her face in disgust when I pointed out that freedom of movement worked both ways, so she could live and work in Europe if she wanted. “I don’t want to go over there, thank you very much!” she said, then moved to another part of the high street to get away from me. The fucking arrogance of me, suggesting she broaden her worldview, partake in cultural exchange. No wonder she voted to Leave. Other people I spoke to talked about the threat to British identity, meaning their identity, with lots of talk about post-war levels of immigrants, all tinged with imperial nostalgia.

      But yeah, I’m not rooting my comments in experience, either within London or in the rural parts of the country where I have connections, I’m just making a huge generalization based on a crude caricature of people I don’t understand, despite having interacted with them at length. Consequently, I accept their informed profound loathing.

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