Saturday 23 April 2022

No refresher course needed


There is an old story about the trade unionist who was sent in to negotiate a pay rise but returned to his members to tell them that he hadn’t got them a rise at all, and in fact had been forced to accept a pay cut on their behalf. The good news was that he'd got it backdated. Perhaps in later life he became a teacher at Eton, instructing the likes of Boris Johnson in negotiating skills.

This week, the PM went to India, and the trip was billed in advance as an opportunity to get India onside with sanctions against Russia for its attack on Ukraine. By all reports, they didn’t quite get around to discussing that in detail, but Johnson did manage to agree to a relaxation of the rules on export of British military equipment, one of the consequences of which is that it will now be easier for such equipment to reach Russia via India. He promised to plug any ‘loopholes’, seemingly oblivious to the fact that avoiding such loopholes was precisely the objective of the licensing rules he’s just removed.

In other talks whilst he was there he pushed for an expedited timetable for a trade deal with India, to be concluded by a wholly arbitrary date, apparently forgetting that the details of the last trade deal he signed in a rush are still busily unravelling. Responding to a question on that matter while he was there, he helpfully reminded the world that his response to any deal signed in a rush is to unilaterally opt out of the bits he doesn’t like. For good measure, he also managed to demonstrate in successive interviews that he can’t even negotiate successfully with his own MPs. It’s an approach guaranteed to fill the Indian negotiators with confidence about the integrity and dependability of their interlocutors, to say nothing of the likely longevity of Johnson's term of office. Or maybe not. It may be significant that in calling for a trade deal "by Diwali in October", no year was specified.

He has, though, clearly shown that he doesn’t need to go back to that trade union negotiator/ mentor for a refresher course – the lessons are all still quite clear in his mind.

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