We have arrived at the position that follows logically from UK decisionsby David Henig / November 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
It is hard to keep track of the theories abounding as to why last week’s proposed binding Withdrawal Agreement, and just-published aspirational statement on the future relationship with the EU do not together represent a good deal. There is the experienced EU negotiating machine against the weak UK one, size mattering in international negotiations, the EU’s desire to punish the UK, UK civil servants conspiring secretly with EU counterparts to keep us close, the Irish border being exaggerated in importance and complexity, incompetence of UK Brexit Secretaries, and we can go on.
All interesting, but all missing the fundamentals of negotiations. Both sides set red lines, that they would not cross. Some turned out to be what we call “soft” red lines, that could be crossed a bit. Otherwise there could have been no deal. But some were more fixed. Essentially the deal is the only one that could fit within these lines. It turns out that having bruising negotiators is less important than defining what you want from a negotiation.
A few months ago over a beer I compared the red lines with an experienced EU negotiator. We had to guess which would be crossed when we couldn’t work out the deal immediately, but what we came up with was not dissimilar to the Withdrawal Agreement. Indeed, commentators had been making many predictions to this effect before summer.
The EU’s red lines were quite simple, no border on the island of Ireland, and preserving the integrity of the single market. The first represented a diplomatic triumph on the part of the Republic of Ireland, which had analysed the issue even ahead of the referendum, and came to the EU with a clear demand. The EU is not always receptive to the needs of small countries but in this case a brilliant exercise in diplomacy in Brussels and other capitals persuaded them. As to the integrity of the single market, this is typically something said and then breached to a degree, but it was strengthened in this case by a desire to ensure the UK did not benefit from leaving the EU.
UK red lines were more elaborate. First and foremost, that we are leaving the EU. Like the EU there was a desire to avoid a border on the island…