Observations of an ex pat: Divorce settlement

It was the marriage of the century. John Bull and Europa were tying the knot. After hundreds of years of on/off romances and on/off tiffs, the two rivals had decided they were both better off as one household rather than as two feuding neighbours.

Let’s be honest, JB was the more reluctant of the two. For centuries he had been top dog, with conquests right across the globe. He didn’t just have a girl in every port, he owned the ports and the hinterlands beyond.

Unfortunately two successive wars with Europa’s close relative Herr Hun had cost him dearly. JB could no longer afford to maintain his worldwide harem, many of whom were tiring of his attentions anyway.

So, he jumped into the marital bed with Europa who had come up with the novel idea of stopping feuds between her troublesome family members by making them economically interdependent. Admitting JB to the select circle with a marriage contract was the coup de grace of years of complex wooing and negotiation.

For awhile everything went swimmingly. There was a definite honeymoon period. But some of JB’s family were unhappy about the nuptials. Their heads told them that the family business could do better linked to Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and Rome. But their hearts yearned to be sailing across the high seas, sledging through the Canadian Arctic or slashing their way through the jungles of Africa and South Asia.

They started a whispering campaign against the marriage in general and Europa in particular. She was greedy, corrupt, dictatorial, domineering, overpowering, undemocratic and, most of all, not British. The whispers grew to a debate. The debate grew to a row and finally John Bull decided to call the family together for a vote on whether or not to sue for divorce. There was a fierce campaign of misinformation, half-truths and outright lies and finally the family voted by a narrow majority for divorce.

Europa was shocked and hurt. She knew that some of JB’s family were upset with her, but she didn’t realise it was that bad. Besides, everyone knew that divorce would be an economic disaster for everyone. John Bull was actually on her side– mostly. But he was more concerned with stopping the family feud so he had promised to abide by the family decision. Divorce proceedings began. Now the difficult bits started.

The marriage had lasted for 43 years. There were thousands of Joint investments, pensions, agreements, property and family businesses to unravel and sort out. The Brextieers (that was the name given to the Brits who campaigned to exit from the marriage) had claimed during the campaign that divorce would be a simple matter. That Europa needed JB more than JB needed Europa. So John’s family would keep all their shares in the family; not have to recompense Europa and her family for any losses; maintain access to everything they wanted; leave everything they didn’t want and return to gallivanting and forming liaisons around the world.

“What,” screamed Europa. “You are the ones who want the divorce. I have done nothing. You have to pay your fair share of the bills we have run up together and if you are going to leave than you can’t have access to the sat nav system that I paid for. The same goes for all those other scientific experiments. Oh, and because I paid 90 percent of the cost of them, they are all moving to my new house so your family will be out of a job. On top of that, we aren’t going to let you disrupt the prosperity, security and lives of our joint cousins the Irish. And, if you want to keep selling things to my family it will be on our terms. You are the one who wants out of this marriage. You pay the price.”

The Brexiteers said: “Fine. We will just walk out without a divorce settlement.”

“Great,” said Europa, “Then you walk out with nothing.”

It started to dawn on a growing number of JB’s family that divorce might not be such a good idea after all.


* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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  • Except that the EEC was never a marriage, just a business partnership which we entered because the benefits seemed to outweigh the costs, that is now being dissolved. A complicated one, yes, but that’s all: it was never a love match. It was always only ever about costs and benefits, so when the cost/benefit calculation shifted as the nature of the beast changed at Maastricht and with the Lisbon Constitution, it made sense to reassess the costs and benefits (both economic and otherwise) and withdraw now the benefits no longer cover the costs.

    (Even without the 2016 referendum, we were always going to effectively withdraw next time there was a new treaty enabling closer integration, which would have required a referendum under the 2011 Act: there is no way such a referendum in the UK would ever approve a new treaty, so at that point the UK would necessarily have mover to an ‘outer tier’ EU membership while the central core pursued ever closer union.)

    Bringing emotion into it, calling it a ‘divorce’ when it was never a marriage, helps no-one.

  • Peter Martin 1st Jun '18 - 10:09am

    @ Tom Arms,

    I thought the idea of the “guilty party” was a bit old hat these days. Usually the best thing to do is just accept a breakdown of the relationship and split things 50-50.

    But if you want to play that game we should say that Europa has her faults too. She’s a miserable skinflint. An economic miser. She always expects to sell lots of stuff to John’s family but she’ll only spend half as much back. That led John and his family having to borrow too much to keep the JB economy moving. The economy that Europa organised was a disaster and there just weren’t enough jobs for the young people in Europa’s family.

    Naturally they saw that things weren’t quite so bad in JB land and moved over in large numbers. Normally JB was very welcoming but, even though things weren’t quite so bad for JB’s youngsters, and less affluent family members, they weren’t great. Naturally there was some resentment and JB was under increasing pressure to put a stop to it all. But Europa was having none of it. “You have to accept every single one of my family who wants to come and live with you” was her uncompromising position.

    Well we know what happened after that! There are those who still yearn for a reconciliation. It seems unlikely. Europa has just started a new family feud with Italia so we’ll all have to see if that pans out any better for her!

  • From the Sun:
    “Excl: Revealed – David Davis’s new Brexit plan to give Northern Ireland joint UK/EU status and a border buffer zone”. Could the DUP support this? Will the Government then survive?
    Seems to me that each week there are statements and actions that make withdrawl from the EU more unlikely. Is the Governmednt playing a Machiavellian type agenda? .

  • For weeks cabinet ministers have been fighting like rats in a sack about whether they should adopt “max fac” or “customs partnership” to replace the existing customs union.

    Trouble is both are fantasies; there is no example of either approach working on any significant scale anywhere in the world but the cabinet seem to think that vague handwaving will solve all problems. They are out on a very breezy limb and the EU side has been asking for more and better information which, in context, translates as “no way will we buy your unicorns”. Have the cabinet have forgotten that the deal must be agreed with the EU and not just themselves?

    All this time after the referendum the clock is ticking ever louder yet the cabinet has no plan and no direction. So now, belatedly, they’re talking about a backstop which means kicking the can down the road in the hope that unicorns will magically appear.

    And it gets worse. ‘Customs’ is only one part of trade arrangements – it only covers the tariff and quota elements.

    The much bigger issue is standards, their mutual recognition and enforcement – everything from the obvious like no lead paint on toys to obscure technical stuff to mutual recognition of qualifications like driving licences. That’s the single market and leaving it would require all products to be recertified in the EU27. Larger firms might manage but small ones? I suspect many would not survive the hiatus in export sales and accompanying loss of income.

    Yet the single market seems to be viewed only as a bête noire, a creature of nightmares, to be escaped from at all costs. Almost nowhere, and certainly not from cabinet sources, is there any apparent understanding of the central role of the single market.

    Nor is anyone asking which firms will lead the export charge or why Brexit will make any positive difference to them. It’s easy to name 5 big German engineering firms but can you name 5 big UK ones? I can’t.

    Then again which countries are we supposed to export to? Trump’s America that is seemingly set on a trade war and breaks agreements at will? Highly mercantilist China or India? Russia that BoJo has insulted in a most undiplomatic way? Answers on a postcard …

  • Can we please stop talking about the World Wars in this jokey manner in a way that makes it sound like both sides were equally to blame. I’m part Jewish and Romany . It’s offensive. The Germans aside from invading countries were killing some of my relatives. We didn’t have a minor spat. It was not a tiff between equally responsible partners. These were wars of expansion by one country, not constantly warring countries, and genocide.

  • Little Jackie Paper 1st Jun '18 - 9:48pm

    If only JB had realised in the 1990s that there was the chance of being friends with benefits, like that handsome Norwegian chap. Sensible fellow.

    “Great,” said Europa, “Then you walk out with nothing.”

    Yeah – It’s not like JB had been making significant contributions for decades or hosting the facebook parties when most of the rest of Europa felt the need for ‘periods of adjustment.’

  • Little Jackie Paper 1st Jun '18 - 10:01pm

    gordon – ‘Yet the single market seems to be viewed only as a bête noire, a creature of nightmares, to be escaped from at all costs. Almost nowhere, and certainly not from cabinet sources, is there any apparent understanding of the central role of the single market.’

    True enough, but (if I might be frank) I do think you are letting REMAIN and the EU off the hook rather easily here. Look, as much as many might wish it were otherwise there is an entirely valid argument to be had about EU IN/EZ OUT status, about political union and whether voters want it, about reform being all about the EZ and about the severe constitutional deficit we have seen in grisly detail over the last decade. Or indeed about the very real social and economic dislocations that *SOME* areas have felt owing to non-reciprocal free movement.

    None of this is to necessarily say that EU membership is right or wrong – what it is to say is that you can not simply gloss over a raft of problems with the single market. This is what so many REMAIN types miss. I’d love to wake up in the morning and belt out ode to joy. I’d love to say spitzenkandidaten isn’t mickey mouse guff. I’d love to praise the strong convergence and look at free movement as meaningfully two way. I’d love to say that EMU isn’t hopelessly underbaked and that reform can be for the EZ OUTs as well as the INs. But I can’t. I can’t do it. There are problems in this picture that extend beyond the vinegary nationalism of the UKIP tendency as much as we all might wish it otherwise.

    30 years ago we should have gone EEA IN/EU OUT. We should do so now.

  • To be frank Jackie I think you are trying to wriggle off the hook. The ballot paper said

    Here it is. Please read it very carefully.


    So a very simple question but what does it mean?

    In the article which I’d urge you to read it points out the following

    To be utterly clear about this, the question is not: “Do you wish the United Kingdom to remain a party to EU/EEA free movement or to leave EU/EEA free movement?”

    You voted for the “Pig in the Poke” option, you may want Norway but you don’t get to decide, all you got to decide was to go for the “Pig in the Poke” or “Not”. Now I decided to go “Not” you decided otherwise, now you might not like “Piggy” but you voted for it and you own it. The thing you and your fellow Brexiteers have to face up to is what ever Brexit we get you voted for, tis no use crying this isn’t Norway or I’m shocked how much has changed or it would be much better if we had my private Brexit, you didn’t get to vote for that, you voted to start the process and by default get to own the outcome no matter how far away it is from your own personal Brexit which you thought you’d voted for.

  • Little Jackie Paper 1st Jun '18 - 11:24pm

    frankie – I like you. You have passion. I expect a stress ulcer too, but passion for sure. You really remind me of a 17 year old me, just you are less articulate and more repetitive than I was.

    If you don’t like the question I can only suggest you get in touch with David Cameron and have a word. I suspect he doesn’t write on here sadly.

    A tip for you, because I like you – I’ve just taken my occasional 5-6 months away from the internet. You should give time away from the internet a go, it does a person good. It gives you perspective on the world.

    Good luck to you.

  • Ah Jackie a backhanded compliment. Give as many as you want it will still not change the fact what ever Brexit we get is the one you voted for.

    P.S I’d have liked to meet your 17 year old self what went wrong? 😉

    PPS hate to break it to you but

    It used to be thought that stomach ulcers may be caused by certain lifestyle factors, such as spicy foods, stress and alcohol.

    There is little hard evidence to confirm that this is the case, but these factors may make the symptoms of ulcers worse.


    It would appear stress ulcers are like a good Brexit, a figment of the imagination, tis sad but true.

  • Since we joined the European Union we have been a member like all the others. How is it possible to divorce yourself?

  • Suzanne fletcher 2nd Jun '18 - 8:57am

    One can pull apart some of the phrases and words but I thought it was a jolly good read anyway. Thanks.

  • LJP – “I do think you are letting REMAIN and the EU off the hook rather easily here.”

    Actually, I wasn’t talking about REMAIN at all – only about the incompetence of serial bungler May and the ‘Ultras’ who know nothing of how the economy works but prefer to live in a fantasy world of their own imagining. That they are largely getting away with it speaks volumes about the poor state of the assorted opposition parties.

    FWIW, I have been a strong critic of the EU since Maastricht believing, correctly as it has turned out, that it was on a path that would end in tears. I simply do not understand why Lib Dems, whose self-image is as progressive constitutional reformers (PR & House of Lords reform etc), apparently think politics stops at Dover. Yet that is the implication of the fact that the party has only ever acted as a cheerleader for whatever undemocratic and centralising schemes the Eurocrats came up with, exhibit A being the Euro – a plan that was bound to do immense economic harm (as it has) before failing (as it eventually will).

    What is now obvious is that the EU is in crisis with is a rising tide of discontent across most of the continent. I believe in never letting a crisis go to waste – it could and should provide the opening to propose a radically different approach to the EU – one that would be democratic and recognises that for government it’s important to focus on the truly important and that, for the rest, less is more.

  • Little Jackie Paper 2nd Jun '18 - 1:02pm

    David Lowrence – ‘the rules formulated to send people home who could not support themselves without benefits’

    Well, I was thinking about raw numbers rather than benefits there. Questions about out of work welfare are a red-herring here to my mind. Regardless….

    Which rules specifically are these you mention? Are you talking about Dano, that was really well-known before the ECJ case, for example in Antonissen. Or are you talking about the more general provisions of 2004/38/EC, particularly 14.3 and 14.4? Or are you talking about something like the various registration systems, which are not about support and expulsion at all, despite what some people seem to think.

    I don’t read the Mail. I prefer things like this – http://eulawanalysis.blogspot.com/2014/03/can-unemployed-eu-citizens-be-expelled.html and http://eulawanalysis.blogspot.com/2014/11/in-light-of-dano-judgment-when-can.html. Presumably you being a part of the enlightened brigade have a reference for the rules you mention and the interpretation you inferred in your earlier post?

    Similarly I’d be interested to hear how you think that the flows of people within the EU have been reciprocal – here’s something else I read https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/sdn/2016/sdn1607.pdf.

  • Little Jackie Paper 2nd Jun '18 - 1:16pm

    gordon – I think we agree on much. Macron is right I think to the extent that EMU needs some serious political union to work properly. No one has anything even close to a mandate for that and as Italy is showing the constitutional deficit here is already severe. The convergence just isn’t there, the TARGET2 balances being a good indicator.

    We should have had a full-blown EU (probably a USE) and an EEA. Classic neofunctionalist spillover effects. This would include rules applied to surplus as well as deficit member states and the politics of that. All tested in referendums, and we saw how that went with the Constitution.

    I don’t claim that I know what the answer is here. I was always very dubious about EU IN/EZ OUT. For the UK I think that the best step is, as you suggest in your earlier post, to accept that there can not be an immediate 180 degree turn on 4+ decades. The only realistic option I can see is Norway.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jun '18 - 5:43pm


    Bringing emotion into it, calling it a ‘divorce’ when it was never a marriage, helps no-one.


    This sort of emotive approach was one of the things the Brexiteers used to win. They pushed the idea that those who want to remain in the EU were motivated by emotional reasons rather than practical ones, and therefore supported it regardless of what it really resulted in.

    We needed to push the opposite point of view – as you say, Dav, that it’s just a common sense agreement. We make agreements with our neighbours because it makes sense to do so. It makes sense to have agreements with neighbours so you can be relaxed and trust each other. Saying you can do whatever you like can mean the opposite, as you then always have to be on your guard, not knowing what they are going to do.

    Power has shifted away from governments and into the hands of the international super-rich. The way the Leave campaign worked was to take advantage of this by pushing the idea that leaving the EU would give us more “control”, while in reality being about the opposite. The way that privatisation and business controlled predominantly by international companies has meant our economy seems more opaque and less controllable by democratic government is one of the major reasons people voted Leave, supposing that this would be a protest against that. Yet the Leave campaign was funded predominantly by wealthy types who didn’t like the way international co-operation in the EU could fight back against the way in which international super-rich play one country off against another.

    So, the EU referendum became largely a competition between two factions of the economic right-wing. The Leave campaign was the extreme faction, while the Remain campaign was the more moderate faction, balancing the advantages the EU gave against the extreme right-wing arguments against. The problem then was that it led to the Remain campaign using predominantly economic right-wing arguments in order to convince their fellow economic right-wing types to vote Remain, and thus ordinary people saw Remain as economic right-wing and so voted Leave because that was what they didn’t like.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Jun '18 - 6:09pm

    “Power has shifted away from governments and into the hands of the international super-rich.”

    Has it really or is this just what they want us to think? While, all the time, they are working to use the power of those governments on their own behalf?

    Nation states have armies, tax collectors, police forces, prisons etc. They can make and change laws. Even the wealthy can’t do that. If Iceland (pop 300k) can jail bankers after the GFC why is it a problem for the UK?


  • Peter Martin 2nd Jun '18 - 6:18pm

    @ JoeB,

    “A Bancor for the Eurozone that would incentivise debtor countries like Germany……”

    The whole point of the eurozone was to have a single currency. So, whatever the merits may be of the Bancor idea, there’s no chance of that ever happening. The EU needs to become like America to make the single currency idea work properly. There’s no need for a Bancor there.

    PS I’d say Germany was more the creditor in the EZ than the debtor. A creditor with no chance of ever getting its money back!

  • Little Jackie Paper 2nd Jun '18 - 6:31pm

    Huntbach – ‘Yet the Leave campaign was funded predominantly by wealthy types who didn’t like the way international co-operation in the EU could fight back against the way in which international super-rich play one country off against another.’

    That might well be true on its own terms. However you would struggle to convince me that the EU is not an intrinsic part of the ‘open agenda’ that very much favours international capital. As you say I certainly don’t think that the REMAIN campaign said much about reform of the EU away from international capital. The Pillar of Social Rights is a joke as presented.

    I don’t know what to say. If you are the one having your job zeroed and outsourced to Bulgaria or having a load of PWD agency staff coming along and stimulating wage arbitrage then I can fully get why you might not feel the EU is a ‘common sense arrangement.’ I never got the feeling that REMAIN quite got that point. The low point was when Osborne told us that the EU meant high house prices. It is possible to dislike the EU AND be suspicious of Gove/Johnson/Fox et al as the election result suggested.

    Anyway I’ll sit back and let you call me thick now.

  • Peter Martin.
    Re Nations states.
    I agree. The thing about globalism of all political stripes is that it tends to ignore the reality that countries have a legal frameworks, political systems, social structures and are protected by military capability. They’re to all intents and purposes a physical ingrained realities containing populations who do not share an intellectual distain for the concept of nationhood . What they are not is arbitrary lines on a map.

  • Little Jackie Paper 2nd Jun '18 - 8:45pm

    JoeB – ‘national currencies returning for domestic and non-EZ trade use, but Intra-EZ trade conducteed in the euro, and adjustable exchange rates overseen by the European Clearing Union’

    That sounds like it bears a passing resemblance to the old ECU? I was never really clear on what was wrong with the ECU.

    The odd thing is that Major got heavily criticised in Europe for the hard ECU idea, presumably because the idea was a single currency rather than parallel currencies. In the event with things like cryptocurrencies we may yet end up with parallel currencies.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Jun '18 - 4:46am

    Little Jackie Paper – no, I am not going to call you “thick”, I quite understand the point you are making.

    I was never wildly enthusiastic about the EU, although on balance I always thought it better to be a member than not to be a member. What really got me was seeing what those running the Leave campaign were saying among themselves as opposed to how they put it to the masses – it was very clear that the reason they wanted to leave the EU was to set up the UK as some sort of extreme free market economy for the shadier members of the global super-rich to live in.

    The old socialist anti-EU position that Corbyn still yearns for seems to me to be unreachable now. The nature of the UK economy is now already too much based on international services and not enough on home provision to be able to get there. The only way I can see for it even to start to work is to have an extreme authoritarian government to push it, North Korea style. What the Leave leaders want seems to me to be at least workable, so therefore what leaving the EU would get us to – and it is clearly the exact opposite of what most of those voting Leave thought they were voting for.

    I quite agree with you that the Remain campaign was awful. When Nick Clegg arguing with Nigel Farage said that leaving the EU would “turn the clock back” he probably did more than anyone else to boost the Leave vote – because that’s precisely what people voting Leave wanted, a return to how things used to be, of course with a lot of golden age mentality.

    I do think we need to consider seriously the concerns that led people to vote Leave, and are leading to votes for “populist” parties elsewhere. However, I think dealing with those concerns properly needs international co-operation, so actually what the EU ought to be about.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Jun '18 - 4:53am

    Peter Martin

    Nation states have armies, tax collectors, police forces, prisons etc. They can make and change laws. Even the wealthy can’t do that.

    As we keep being told, we as a nation state can’t do what we want with the things you say, because if we challenge the power of the super-wealthy who control business, they’ll pull out of our country and go to one that sucks up to them. With the Leave campaign funders wanting to make us the ultimate country of that sort.

  • Peter Martin 4th Jun '18 - 7:12am

    @ Matthew Huntbach,

    “As we keep being told, we as a nation state can’t do what we want…..”

    Told by whom? How about the very people who don’t actually want us to do what we ourselves want to achieve?

    As the motto of the Royal Society advises us all ” Nullius in verba “. Or, take no-ones’s word for it. Accept nothing. Question everything.

  • Peter Martin 4th Jun '18 - 7:27am

    @ Joe B,

    Of course I agree that something like you suggest would work for the EU just as it could as Keynes originally suggested for the IMF.

    But there’s no chance, politically, that the EU will countenance changing back to national currencies and using the euro in a Bancor like role. The euro is a political project, rather than an economic one. Its only successful outcome has to involve the creation of a USE. It’s that or bust as far as the EU PTB are concerned. I’m not sure which way it will go but, either way, I’d say the UK was better off out of the whole EU project for now.

  • Peter Martin
    Indeed. The thing about the super wealthy is that even recent history is full of them going bust.
    At the moments there’s loads of people claiming that populists and/or the super rich and/or socialists and apparently everyone else are threatening “the liberal order”. Perhaps what we are really watching is the collapse the post-soviet consensus, sometimes called neo-liberalism due to voters re-asserting themselves within nation states that stubbornly fail to fade into history. Not 60 years of post -WWII corporation, but a mere 20 odd years of triumphalist end-of-history delusion from people who forgot the electorate is not actually a simple cog in the mechanism to ratify technocratic agreements between gentlemen of high social standing. In short, they forgot they have to win votes and even how to do it, so are stuck in a rut hoping that they can change the people doing the voting rather than the policies.

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