It was an interesting moment when I received the early morning call a few weeks ago from the Danny Pike show on BBC Radio Sussex/Surrey asking whether I would be interested in taking part in a show about whether mediation might be a useful intervention in the Brexit process.
Having agreed to take part, I then discovered that the producers had come up with an interesting angle to have a live discussion between a leave voter and a remain voter, with the mediator attempting to help them to find a mutually agreeable way forwards.
Putting aside the initial thought that I could easily be walking into a very difficult situation on live radio, I thought that this sounded like quite an intriguing program to take part in and, a few days later, it took place.
Having had time to reflect on the experience,I felt that it might be helpful to summarise the key points that I learned from this process.
How the mediation process could have helped Brexit negotiations
My first thought is that it is clear that, right from the beginning, there was a missed opportunity to involve mediators in the negotiations between the UK and the EU. The mediation process or having a mediator, or in this case a team of mediators given the complexities and the number of parties involved, could have helped to keep the discussions moving forwards and avoided the risk that entrenched positions would be formed that would then lead to a breakdown in communication.
It is equally clear that, once again right from the beginning, mediators could have been used to help to start the discussions between the various parties in the UK. It is a great shame that the substantive discussions only really started once the deadline was looming, with this creating an artificial timeline and a pressure-cooker environment, having had years of gradually increasing acrimony to deal with since the referendum, and it was hardly surprising that these talks have, to date, been unable to yield any agreed way forwards.
The end result is that we now find ourselves with an increasingly divided country, at every level from political parties to families and friends. This polarisation was very apparent within the radio program, with it being clear that both the leave and remain voters were intelligent and reasonable people but that they had found themselves on different sides of an ever-expanding abyss within the political discourse.
The outcome of the discussion (the mediation)
Unsurprisingly, it was not possible to make giant leaps of progress within the 15 minutes allocated for the program but I do feel that some seeds were sown within the discussion, with both callers able to empathise to a certain extent with the other person’s position and to see that they probably had a lot more common ground between them than they might have initially thought, whether this be with reference to trying to improve the country’s economy or protecting the environment.
They were also both open to meeting properly to try to find some more common ground and, as I explained on the program, there would need to be a recognition that any genuine attempts to try to resolve such an entrenched dispute would require a number of meetings over an extended period of time, probably at least several months.
Correlation between Brexit conflict and discussion with divorce dynamics
From a family mediator’s point of view, what is really interesting about all of these points is that they correspond almost exactly to the dynamic involved in a divorce situation, especially one where there is a reasonably high level of acrimony. Not only does this reinforce my sense that Brexit is essentially a divorce but it also confirms to me that the failure of the various parties involved to recognise this much earlier on, and to then take appropriate steps including entering some form a mediation, has left everyone suffering the effects of a high-conflict divorce that has no end in sight and, in the case of Brexit, that does not have the normal fallback of making a court application which divorcing couples would normally be able to consider as a last resort.
I hope that you find these musings thought-provoking, both with reference to the various Brexit negotiations and in terms of how mediation should always be considered in any type of divorce or separation, whether this be between nations, companies or individuals.
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