Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Who's got the ball?

According to the Prime Minister, having made a few of what she calls concessions in her speech in Florence, the ball is now in the EU’s court; it’s their turn to make concessions.  It makes me wonder whether the PM and her government understand the nature of the negotiations in which they’re involved.
Actually, in most types of negotiations, she’d be right.  Typically, a negotiation between two parties sets out to improve on the current situation in ways which benefit both parties – the infamous and over-used phrase ‘win-win’ applies.  In such a circumstance, both parties know that allowing both sides to gain something means that both have to concede something, and they take turns in the process of negotiation.  And if they can’t reach an agreed position acceptable to both, then they can simply walk away from the talks, and the current situation continues.
In the case of Brexit, however, one of the parties has effectively said “we want to renegotiate this deal so that we’re considerably worse off, and we want you to change your rules to weaken your single market in order to mitigate the effects of our decision, oh, and by the way, we’re cancelling the agreement between us regardless of what you say”.  Not so much seeking ‘win-win’ as demanding ‘lose-lose’, accompanied by a degree of puzzlement as to why the other side doesn’t immediately see this as a brilliant idea. 
In return for committing a massive act of economic self-harm, the UK demands that the EU makes it possible for states to enjoy all the benefits of the single market with none of the costs, thereby threatening the integrity of both the single market and the EU itself.  In this context, the part of the Florence speech floating the idea of a two year transitional phase amounted to saying, “We’re going to reduce the amount of self-harm that we do to ourselves, but in return, we want you to start making changes which damage your single market”.  ‘Meeting in the middle’ when both sides gain is one thing; but ‘meeting in the middle’ when both sides are expected to lose is another thing entirely – especially when one side’s view of ‘fairness’ is that it lessens the impact on itself whilst increasing it for the other.
A normal part of any negotiation is to understand what ‘the other side’ want to get out of it, and ensure that what you offer them is attractive.  It may well be that May, Davis et al really do believe that weakening the rules around membership of the single market will be a good thing for the EU27 as well as for the UK.  I think they’d be wrong, but I could understand such a viewpoint from people who wish that the EU didn’t exist at all.  But they’ve not only failed to understand that things might not look the same from the other side, they’ve made no effort at all to explain to the EU27 why this is such a good idea, or how it will benefit them.  Instead, they merely demand concessions and call out the EU27 as bullies and dictators if they fail to give them.
When I read about the ‘progress’ being made in the Brexit negotiations, I’m reminded of the old story about a trade union negotiator who returned to his members and told them, “I’ve got some bad news and some good news.  The bad news is that I haven’t been able to get us a pay rise; in fact I’ve had to accept a pay cut.  But the good news is that I’ve managed to get it backdated”.  The way things are going, I suspect that even that trade union negotiator would get the UK a better deal from Brexit than the current team.

1 comment:

Gav said...

It's not that hard to draw up a payoff matrix for the 2 sides in these negotiations, to see where the best possible outcome* is likely to sit. I'm sure that our Government's civil servants, who by and large are not stupid, will have done this even before the outcome of the referendum was known, as a contingency plan.

Sadly, this kind of approach requires "intelligent rational decision-makers" and there's very little evidence to date that our civil servants' political mistresses and masters fit this description.

* not to be confused with a good outcome.