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U.K. lawmakers are so stressed by Brexit they're getting counseling

"It's hard to maintain your sanity and keep a clear head when you have competing pressures," one former government minister said.
Image: The Houses of Parliament is reflected in an puddle in London, England.
The U.K. Parliament is reflected in an puddle.Leon Neal / Getty Images file

LONDON — For one lawmaker it had all become too much. To escape the tumultuous and fractious environment that Brexit has created in Parliament and across the U.K., he has taken to hiding in his office.

“I close the door, turn the light off and put my jacket over me. It’s quite dark,” Andrew Percy told the BBC’s Brexitcast podcast this week.

“I voted for no deal twice. I voted for the prime minister’s deal three times," he said. "Whatever you do you still get shouted at."

Percy is a member of Prime Minister Theresa May's ruling Conservatives who represents an area in northern England where 66 percent backed leaving the European Union in the 2016 referendum.

But he is hardly alone in feeling stressed by the U.K.’s lengthy and messy divorce from the bloc of nations it’s been part of for more than 40 years.

And with European leaders this week allowing May to delay to the final departure date until as late as Oct. 31, the U.K. looks destined for months more of argument and strife.

Huw Merriman, another Conservative lawmaker, has admitted to receiving counseling due to stress caused by the Brexit process and the abuse he has received from voters.

He’s also lost four inches from his waistline as a result of worry.

“I've decided that I need to make sure that I'm properly looked after and that we look after our mental health," he told the BBC.

Norman Lamb, an opposition lawmaker and former government minister, told the Financial Times that the 24/7 nature of Twitter may be making the problem worse.

“It’s the first time we have been through a trauma like this in Parliament in the era of social media, where there is this constant barrage of criticism,” Lamb said. “It’s hard to maintain your sanity and keep a clear head when you have competing pressures of party, constituency and your own moral compass — all of which may be in conflict.”

Lindsay Hoyle, the deputy speaker of the House of Commons, last week wrote to lawmakers to remind them that Parliament has a 24-hour counseling phone line available.

“It is vital that in times of heightened stress in the workplace we can access the necessary health and well-being support,” he wrote.

A recent poll of more than 2,000 Britons by research company Britain Thinks found that 83 percent were sick of seeing Brexit in the news every day while 64 percent thought it had been bad for mental health. More than two-thirds of respondents said they Brexit more confusing the more they learned about it.

"I think it’s quite fair to say that the amount of confusion and uncertainty caused by Brexit is having an impact on people’s mental health," Dr. Layla McCay, a psychologist, told Euronews.