I've spent ten years working in mediation, including in post-uprising Tunisia. UK politicians could learn much-needed lessons about consensus from successes elsewhereby Julian Weinberg / August 14, 2019 / Leave a comment
How can the Brexit impasse be broken and the country move forward together? During the Conservative leadership campaign, Rory Stewart proposed one possible solution: lock parliamentarians in a room with mediators until they agreed on a deal.
This may seem an odd notion. Isn’t mediation needed for actual wars? There was a referendum with a clear result—can’t it just be implemented?
Parliament, however, is in a stalemate. The government is concerned that violence may break out if the referendum is not honoured. The police and ministers have warned of the likelihood of civil unrest in the case of No Deal. Meanwhile, Remain have mobilised the biggest demonstrations since the Iraq war.
Mediation may be associated with violent conflict, but it also has a long tradition in resolving community disputes and can play a role when there are no workable alternatives. Parliament has shown itself, as yet, unable to resolve Brexit.
Finding something to agree on
Amidst uncertainty over Brexit a resounding question bellows: is there something upon which we can all agree—or at least agree enough to enable the country to move on?
In one of her final interviews as Prime Minister, Theresa May acknowledged that she had underestimated the entrenched views of her fellow parliamentarians on Brexit. Negotiating with her own party had proved harder than negotiating with the EU. Recounting their experiences of negotiating the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, leaders in Northern Ireland later confessed that the hardest part of ending thirty years of conflict was convincing their own constituencies to come along. To a mediator, these are fundamental insights.
Part of the crisis is that national consensus has broken. Whether or not everyone agreed, over the past 40 years Britain’s membership of the EU was part of a national consensus.
The challenge of reconstituting national consensus, once broken, can be complex. But there are experiences of political transformation from which Britain could draw lessons—including Tunisia since its uprising in late 2010.
What Westminster can learn from Tunisia
Tunisia has been praised for its inclusive approach to overcoming political upheaval. After the Ennahda party won elections in 2011, its supporters worried the old regime could not be trusted. If Ennahda relinquished any power, they feared, forces would find a way to put…