Chris Kendall is a European civil servant (a ‘eurocrat’) who works in foreign policy and has 20+ years’ experience working in the EU and Whitehall. This week he published an article Brexit negotiations: how is the UK doing? which I highly recommend. Here follows an extended summary of the article. Chris has been informed that the article will be published today and hopefully he will have time to respond to queries.
As a negotiator with years of experience he boiled tips for successful negotiation down to three golden rules. He says this is not rocket science and the three rules seem to me at least to be almost so obvious that they shouldn’t need stating. Sadly they do not seem obvious to our Brexit negotiating team!
1 Goodwill is your most valuable resource, hoard it and spend it sparingly.
“From the outset, the UK has burned through goodwill as if it were an inexhaustible, ever-renewable resource. It is not. Compiling a list of examples demonstrating how the UK has damaged goodwill since the referendum would take me all day and fill far too much space. Just off the top of my head: accusing the EU of meddling in the UK’s election; ad hominem attacks on Juncker and Barnier; treating EU citizens living in the UK with contempt; telling the EU it can “go whistle” for the money which the UK had already committed to spending; threatening to withhold cooperation on security and counter-terrorism… the list goes on and on. None of this was necessary, none of it did anything whatsoever to advance the UK’s negotiating objectives, all it has done is squander goodwill where we most desperately need it”.
Sadly much of this was for a domestic audience and beating the patriotic drum goes down well with the right wing of the Tory party. My view is that it is treasonous to put narrow political advantage before the good of the country. Possibly it has always been thus with the Tories. Edward Carson, the founding father of Northern Ireland, said in his later years “What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power.” These events happened about 100 years ago.
2 Know yourself.
There are two main themes Chris explores here. Does May really speak for the whole country or understand the UK? Given May is only in government because she is being propped up by the DUP this rings very true:
“…The UK is hopelessly divided. And yet not only have British leaders done nothing to try to mend that schism, they have repeatedly and consistently denied that it even exists. The country is coming together behind Brexit, says Theresa May, again and again, against all the evidence. This comes across as panglossian self-delusion because it’s plain to everyone else, inside and outside the UK, that it’s not true”.
For a successful negotiation it is imperative to know the desired endpoint and know at the outset what one wishes to achieve. Sadly this does not seem to be the case.
“…policy papers take an eternity to see the light of day, and when they do they are contradictory, implausible, short on detail, or just plain vacuous. Positions are taken, then reversed, then reasserted. Stakeholders cannot trust anything they are told because they are told very little and what little they are told is demonstrably false or contradicted by previous and subsequent statements”.
3 Know your negotiating partner.
The UK has been part of the EU (or previous incarnations) for over four decades and have many excellent people who know the EU intimately. However these have largely resigned or been ignored.
“…So how is it that the UK shows again and again that it doesn’t really understand the EU and even that it doesn’t have much interest in understanding the EU?”
Possibly the best answer to this has been given by Prof Nicholas Boyle
The problem with the English: England doesn’t want to be just another member of a team
” ‘The UK has had enough of experts’ we are told. The German car industry will ride to the rescue, we are told. We will have our cake and eat it, we are told. We can be in the Single Market and yet not in the Single Market, we are told”.
And possibly most worrying of all:
“The UK government seems to be dealing with a fantasy EU that resembles the caricature presented in British tabloids, not the real EU of which it has been a core member for over four decades”.
And some paragraphs in summary.
There has been a continual confrontational framing of the negotiations:
“Boris Johnson … has said ‘Nobody ever beats the EU in a negotiation’ … it’s odd that he worked so hard to put his country into a negotiation with the EU, and then to frame this negotiation in needlessly confrontational, zero sum terms, so that the UK can only win if the EU loses.”
Framing a problem in zero sum terms may appeal to your core base. The DUP are very adept at doing this in Northern Ireland (as indeed are SF) but ultimately it is a losing strategy and NI is rapidly falling further and further behind its southern neighbour. It is deeply worrying that this methodology is coming to England.
It didn’t have to be this way.
“…the EU’s default approach to negotiations is to find a way for both sides to win. This is the best guarantee of success. By spurning this approach from the outset, the UK has engineered its own probable defeat”.
“It is this, I think, that has most shocked and alienated the EU side. Cooperative, collegiate, consensus building is so baked into the way we work that it has become a reflex”.
He finishes with this depressing statement:
“There was a widespread assumption that the UK would implement the referendum result in its typically sober, intelligent way to minimise shock to itself and the rest of the EU and build a solid foundation for a mutually advantageous future relationship. The opposite has happened. This is simply shocking and will have a lasting impact on the country’s influence and reputation”.
Indeed, even if Brexit can be reversed the reputational damage will be long lasting. I had long thought that whilst the EU were playing chess the UK was playing draughts. But Kevin Breslin put it better “much of the time the UK is playing solitaire and still managing to loose”.