A tough negotiation

A tough negotiation

A tough negotiation

Rule 1 when negotiating is to have the odds stacked in your favour. Rule 2 is to believe in what you are negotiating for. Rule 3 is to have a clear idea of (a) where you want to end up, (b) where you are willing to end up and (c) where you are absolutely not prepared to end up.

As part of Rule 3 you need the conviction and support of those on whose behalf you are negotiating. Getting all these rules in your favour is unlikely. If you do, order champagne to be placed in the cooler. The negotiation is already won.

Getting all three rules against you is called rotten luck and is a bad basis for negotiating. Unfortunately it does happen sometimes; for example, David Davis trying to Brexit Britain. The three rules are against him in a big way. More than half the voters now wish they hadn’t been so foolish. Blair is stirring it up that we might abandon Brexit altogether. The recent report condemning him as untrustworthy over the Iraq war has left a lot of doubt about him – and there was plenty even before the report. A majority of the members of Parliament are against Brexiting. Party whips are seeing that they don’t revolt. So much for democracy.

Davis’s prize if he wins is not, of course, a glass of champagne but the Prime Minister’s job. So he is very motivated. How should he approach the European Union? Should he be meek and petitioning or assertive and demanding? Should he play what few cards he has at the start or wait until near then end? Should he mix seduction with aggression and have two faces to offer the Commission?

If he is wise, Davis will negotiate in a very Chinese way, extremely pragmatically and with a hint of ruthlessness that is not simply charade. His first and possibly his most important move will be to stamp on the fingers of his colleagues who have so far shown less loyalty and support than a donkey’s kick. It’s no good talking about Britain believing in itself with half the cabinet jockeying for position for when MayDay arrives. We’re talking about the country, not their future careers. Pity they don’t see that so clearly.

Commissions, committees, groups of all sorts end up having a face or two as the people you really have to deal with. Michel Barnier, the French Republican Politician appointed European Chief Negotiator for Brexit in December 2016, is a tough man. He will respect a tough stance from Davis. However, both men know how the cards are stacked and Davis will have to work with rather than against him. The EU is in serious trouble with Britain leaving and if there were a world economic downturn in the next two years the EU would probably fall apart. Nobody wants that, especially Britain.

Davis should establish the basis of negotiation privately with Barnier before the inevitably public discussions start. He should make it clear that he is prepared to be very tough about the rights of Europeans remaining in Britain to the point where Barnier knows that it is not just words. Britain’s social services, especially the National Health Service, are seriously overloaded. Selling a tough stance to the British voter is already half done.

I would prefer a friendly divorce but between countries this is not possible. If it is to go ahead the Brexit divorce would be painful and expensive even if everyone wanted to.

Doing so when you aren’t sure is a real test of will.