Deliberate disregard for basic negotiating principles will come back to haunt the governmentby Steve Bullock / March 14, 2018 / Leave a comment
It’s fair to say that the Brexit negotiations are not going well. Stalled over the lack of a credible solution to the Irish border issue, and with the prime minister touting a vision of a future relationship that had, at the point it was announced, already been ruled out by the EU27, the clock ticks ominously.
Donald Tusk rightly said there is no cake on the table for anyone from Brexit, just salt and vinegar for everyone. All will lose from any Brexit, and the UK will lose much more than the EU27. A no-deal Brexit though would harm the UK and its people in ways we haven’t even realised yet. Without a serious change in policy from the UK though, that is again a possibility.
One of the main reasons we are in this position is that the UK government has continued to have a total and apparently deliberate disregard for the fundamental negotiating concepts of trust and goodwill.
It’s wrong to think, as many in government seem to, of the Brexit negotiations as a poker game. Being unwilling to “show your hand” in negotiations is a route to failure. In poker, you use secrecy, misdirection and uncertainty to stack the odds in favour of you winning and, crucially, your opponent losing. Negotiations, in contrast, are about finding ways for both sides to be happy, or, in Brexit, at least not lose out too badly. If you won’t tell your opposite numbers what you want, it is impossible for them to give it to you.
Establishing and maintaining trust and goodwill is not about being nice or giving in. It’s in your own self-interest. To get anywhere near the outcome you want, you’re going to need to get concessions from your opposite numbers and will have to be able to offer the same to them. They also need to know they can take you at your word and that you will honour the agreements you make.
When I was negotiating for the UK, I would keep two annotated lists pinned above my desk. One was the list of our primary and secondary objectives, so I could see easily what had been agreed so far and what was still to be done. The other was a list of my opposite numbers, and…