One of the main arguments being used by the UK Government for wanting to use the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 rather than hold a parliamentary debate is that debating the matter in parliament would reveal the government’s hand and its negotiating stance. It’s an argument which at first sight appears to be a statement of the obvious - until one starts to question what it actually means.
In this case, what is it that the government doesn’t actually want to reveal in advance? What mysterious cards does it have in its hand which it doesn’t want to show the other side? And to what extent would a parliamentary debate really reveal anything at all?
I’ve been involved in commercial negotiations in the past, and I know that there are two key things that anyone entering into a commercial negotiation will never want to reveal. They are:
· What is our minimum acceptable end-point?, and
· What are we prepared to concede to reach an agreement?
Now, if that was what May and her team were trying to keep quiet, I could understand it. I’m not sure that I’d believe it – I don’t think they have a clue on either question – but I could at least understand it. But the one thing that anyone entering a commercial negotiation has no choice but to reveal at the outset is ‘what is our initial starting point for what we want?’. It’s impossible to negotiate anything without a starting point. In some cases, of course, it’s reasonable to wait for the other side to say what it wants, but when the other side is entirely happy with the current situation, and you’re the one who wants to change it, that’s a hopelessly unrealistic expectation. The initial pitch has to come from those who want change.The problem with holding a parliamentary debate isn’t that it would reveal the government’s end-point - it is that it would force the government to reveal its starting point. And since it doesn’t have one, I can understand why they’re putting so much legal effort into avoiding revealing the fact.