Over the last 40 years I have observed more than 5,000 hours of negotiation in over 30 countries and that has taught me the about the fatal errors that cause negotiations to fail. For the purpose of this blog I shall limit myself to the top five and see how many of these might be present in the UK’s attempt to extricate itself from its 43-year relationship with the European Union.
1. A strong leader and a united team.
The new prime minister is Theresa May. She has appointed high profile “Brexiteers” to lead the exit negotiations. Boris Johnson is the Foreign Secretary and David Davis heads up the “Brexit“ department; his proper job title is Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Just how much of a committed “Brexiteer” is Boris Johnson is open to some debate – many argue that he decided to lean that way for political self-gain. 185 of the ruling party MPs were for Remain and 128 for Leave, so it hardly seems that unity will prevail.
From a purely political perspective, you might argue that May has played a bit of a blinder; it the negotiations go wrong, she can always hide behind her own view on the subject (see point 2).
2. Belief in the negotiating position.
The main negotiators voted to leave the EU, so there is continuity there, though see point 1 for further thoughts!
3. An experienced support team.
Has the UK Civil Service got the experience of external trade negotiations? A resounding “No” as they scrabble for external consultants to assist the 20 or so who have. They will be up against 600 in the EU alone, never mind all the other global trade deals that need to be negotiated.
4. A clear set of objectives.
We are led to believe that the “Leavers” didn’t expect to win and so have no clear objectives, or indeed a strategy, for the forthcoming negotiations. Without clear guidelines on Must Achieve and Must Avoid any negotiators will be operating in fog.
5. Realistic expectations of the achievable outcome.
A negotiator who promises his supporters to expect 50 and then delivers 10 and tries to sell it as a win will be condemned and risk their constituents voting against the agreement. The Leavers are understood by voters to have promised, amongst other things, that £350 million a week would be diverted from the EU to the National Health Service, that immigration would be stopped, that the UK would be exempt from the European rulings on Human Rights and that the economy would boom.
Unfortunately none of this will come to pass: the £350 million figure was a falsehood; access to the single market is firmly linked to freedom of movement; there will probably be a bigger financial contribution to the EU budget than hitherto and, of course, the UK will have no say in making the rules. Oh yes, and we will still be bound by our treaty obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights.
Honestly? I feel that I am watching a train wreck in slow motion.