Brexit: my seven stages of grief



The outcome of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU is the worst political disaster of mine, and my parents’, lives.

Now it seems we will be leaving the political structures of the EU, and there is a high probability we will leave the integrated markets which have underwritten so much of our national wealth. I am filled with grief that this has come to be.

“Motherland”, “La Patrie”, “Россия-Матушка“, “Das Vaterland”, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”: the language used to refer to the state reflects the fact that our relationship with our country is in many respect like that of parent and child. The state educates and protects us. It gives us a leg up in life. Woe to those born without a functional state, an evil or parasitic state, or any state at all. For those peoples whose state has suddenly been taken away from them, the loss is not unlike the loss of a parent.

The sudden loss of the EU feels similar to me. Not the loss of a parent, but of a grandparent, uncle or aunt.

The absolutists of national sovereignty are, in this metaphor, like those who want more out of their parents – more money, more attention, a deposit on a mortgage – and think the way to achieve this is to force their parents to disown their own parents. Misguided. The existence of a superstate does not mean the state cannot function, just as a the existence of a grandparent does not mean a parent cannot protect their child.

Grief when a relationship ends, through breakdown or death, is said to work through seven stages.

Shock and disbelief. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Guilt. Depression. Acceptance and, perhaps, hope.

The Independent has already published its “Seven Stages of Brexit“. I’d be surprised if acceptance was reached on Friday by anyone, although lager drinking was much in evidence.

Here were my seven stages, illustrated by the Facebook comments I made yesterday.

  1. Shock

The pollsters set us up nicely didn’t they?

I didn’t watch through the night, having court the next day, although I saw Sunderland. That place is now under a curse. I awoke from feverish dreams and turned the television on to see “Britain votes to leave the EU” in big red letters. All the muscles in my body tensed as if I was about to be hit by a car. Next thing, I saw the Prime Minister resign live on air. Samantha Cameron’s face was a reflection of my own.

I made my way across the city on the verge of tears. Social media was in meltdown. So were the markets. Already the later emotional stages were coursing through my body, but I wanted to contribute something positive:

What a terrible result for our country. 

Now is not the time for: welcome to the kingdom of “I told you so”.

Events will speak for themselves, and the liberal internationalist half of Britain must not be accused of talking the country into a depression. 

We have to work a way through this, to protect the vulnerable and to reassert British tolerance and creativity. 

One final thought. Now that David Cameron has resigned, the bell tolls for Jeremy Corbyn as well.

(8:52 am)

2. Denial 

It was only an advisory vote. We can have another referendum. There is a huge majority of Remain MPs in the Commons. The EU can’t force us out until we trigger Article 50, and Cameron and Boris won’t do it.

Here was my most delusional post of the day:

Dream scenario.

1. Boris Johnson leads the Tories.

2. Hilary Benn replaces Corbyn.

3. Benn and Johnson negotiate with the EU.

4. Better terms offered, with a full “emergency break” on net EU migration above 100,000.

5. General election called with both parties running on a remain in the reformed EU ticket.

6. Benn wins.

(1:39 pm)

Why Boris? I thought it essential that the politicians who lead the Leave Campaign are accountable for what happens next. As for Hilary Benn, he is now the outstanding politician on the Left, even if you disagreed with his stance on Syria. Which was, by the way, the same as that of Jo Cox. His interview with Andrew Neil on the EU was exceptional.

The odds must be pretty slim. Delusional – who knows?

3. Anger

In July 1940 three journalists under the pseudonym CATO published Guilty Men, a screed against the appeasers of Nazi Germany. One of them was Michael Foot, whose memory has been traduced by comparison to Jeremy Corbyn.

In my head I composed a personal Guilty Men: 2016 Edition.

These bastards, whom I reserve the right to forgive once the anger has left me, stood before me, as before an imaginary firing squad. But I am not a violent man. Only one took the pearl-handled revolver I offered them, and put it to his own forehead.

David Cameron.

He is an honourable man. But, it was argued he will be seen, when the history books are written, as being as bad as Neville Chamberlain and Anthony Eden:

He was worse than either.

Eden’s mad intervention in Suez did in fact hasten the end of the British Empire – a costly and dubious appendage by that period. I doubt it led to consequences that wouldn’t have happened slightly slower anyway, it was ultimately destroyed by growing independence movements and the economic costs of WW2. Eden also did great service before and during WW2.

Chamberlain’s record is debated by historians, and the consensus is that he is to some degree unfairly maligned. He rearmed Britain. He declared war for Poland. And he supported Churchill against Halifax in the darkest days after Dunkirk.

Cameron has called an unnecessary referendum that “tool of demagogues and dictators” (Attlee, Thatcher), which he has lost. He played up the anti-EU rhetoric before his negotiation and negotiated abysmally. His economic and social policies – notably Osborne’s “magic growth fairy” pre-Keynesian economics – have created the conditions for the Brexit vote.

You quoted Trotsky the other day. I will today. 

“You are pitiful, isolated individuals! You are bankrupts. Your role is played out. Go [in three months time] where you belong from now on – into the dustbin of history!”

(2:45 pm)

4. Bargaining


Item 1 on the British exit renegotiation wishlist: an option to return to the EU on current terms on a future referendum to return.

(1:07 pm)

5. Guilt

Let’s face it, most of us could have done more for the Remain cause. Going on demonstrations next week, while probably a good idea, as long as they remain peaceful, is a bit late.

I did join Britain Stronger in Europe. I helped at a few phone banks, I handed out leaflets around Redbridge and Whitechapel. I went to the poorly-attended rally at Trafalgar Square. I entered an essay prize with an analysis of the risks to the City of London on Brexit. I became a keyboard warrior for Remain.

I could have done a lot more. I might even have left that London.

I’m a Guilty Man too.

6. Depression

Marked by flashes of black humour:

Here follow translated extracts from the 2066 edition of the Oxford Engurlish Dikshuni:

Brexit (pron. “break-shit”), n. 

(1) A calamity that befell the United Kingdom (a historic nation-state that comprised the majority of the British Isles between 1707-2017). 

(2) Something you did out of spite, but regretted immediately afterwards.

Brexit (pron. as n.), v. (swearword)

(1) To make a major decision without thinking about it beforehand. 

(2) To win an argument, or vote, using misrepresentations and/or hate-mongering.

(7.45 pm)

7. Acceptance, hope

Walking around London today I have never seen so many faces of sadness and quiet anger. If anything it reminds me of 9/11 and 7/7.

One hundred years ago next Friday the Battle of the Somme began. It lasted for 141 days. 1.3 million lives were lost, including 350,000 British lives, and a further 70,000 from the Commonwealth. 

That battle, and others, broke decisively the public’s faith in war, empire and nationalism for 100 years. To be fair, it also broke faith in elites that had to be repaired in the even worse days to come.

What have we come to now?

Walking along the Embankment earlier I saw this memorial. It read:

“To the British nation from the grateful people of Belgium 1914-1918”. 

A reminder that we have deeper ties with the European peoples.


(11:43 am)

All is not lost, dear friends.

Dover remains 33.1 km from Cap Gris Nez. There is currently a lot of fog in the channel. It will clear.

52% of the turnout voted to “leave” the EU. But what that means is nowhere defined. Many of the Leave Campaigners, including Boris Johnson, have come out now for a “Norway option”. Add those people to the Remain vote and you have a majority for a lite version of European membership.

We know this is far from ideal: the same rules, no power to change them. But it does provide a platform to return to the fold from, at some point in the future.

The other half of the British population is not evil or deeply racist. It is misguided and fearful. The misrepresentations put before the public by the Leave Campaign will be exposed in broad daylight. They are being so already.

Fears, like nightmares, dissolve in the light of day.

The young own the future. They will not forget this defeat.

These will be my last words on the referendum for a while. I’d like to end with two quotations.

First, Winston Churchill, the great European, speaking in the Munich debate on 5 October 1938:

…[O]ur loyal, brave people… should know the truth. They should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defenses; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies:

Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.

And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning.

Second, the Argentine writer, Jorge-Luis Borges, in his “Note on the Peace” of 1945:

Of England, of the complex and almost infinite England, of that torn and lateral island that rules continents and seas, I will not risk a definition; it is enough to recall that it is perhaps the only country that is not fascinated with itself, that it does not believe itself to be Paradise or Utopia. I think of England as one thinks of a loved one, as something unique and irreplaceable. It is capable of reproachable indecision, of terrible slowness (it tolerates Franco, it tolerates the subsidiaries of Franco), but it is capable of rectification and contrition, of returning to wage once more, when the shadow of a sword falls across the world, the cyclical battle of Waterloo.