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Brexit: A history of poor negotiation

May 2, 2017

The negotiating plans and positions for the UK’s departure from the European Union are starting to emerge. What lessons should we be drawing from them and the entire EU experience?

First we should reflect on factors that have contibuted to the current situation and the decision by the UK to withdraw. Several of IACCM’s ‘top pitfalls’ clearly apply. For example, Pitfall number one – lack of clarity over scope and goals – lies at the heart of the problem. Throughout the recent referendum campaign, it was obvious that there was no consensus over the vision or direction of the EU. It has been a classic example of unplanned ‘scope creep’ which shows every sign of continuing.

Pitfall number three – failure to engage stakeholders – is another endemic issue. The major changes in scope were not subject to democratic review and few efforts were made to explain how and why they benefited the overall population. Again, there is nothing about the EU’s structure or methods that suggest this will change.

Third, the EU provides a classic example of a ‘joint venture that cannot fail’. History is littered with situations where the parties decided there should be no defined exit provisions – and that invariably creates major problems. Brexit is forcing development of the terms for departure, but in an environment of acrimony and fear. EU leaders are terrified that others may want to follow the UK’s lead so they need to make departure a painful and punishing exercise.

The exit negotiations now show every sign of continuing these poor practices, working against the interests of both parties. That is because they are based on power rather than principle. This is (apparently) generating insistence by the EU that negotiations must be sequenced – ‘the divorce’ preceding any discussion over future arrangements. There is plenty of evidence that such an approach leads to a poor conclusion and most likely an arrangement that is not sustainable.

A perspective ….

Mr B joined a club. It had an initial set of rules and offered benefits that appealed to Mr B and his family. But over the years, those rules changed and the goals and benefits altered. Mr B continued to pay his dues and subscriptions (even though most other members had a free pass). He even welcomed large numbers of people from other member families who rather liked Mr B’s home and the opportunities it offered them.

The problem was, no one had asked Mr B’s family what they thought of these arrangements and one day, when they were asked, they said they didn’t like them. They declined continued membership.

The other members reacted with shock and horror, especially since they were afraid that many members of their own family might feel the same way. Lacking a clear vision or consensus about the purpose of their club, they realised that they had better punish Mr B in case others wanted to follow suit. So they started to introduce a whole new set of rules associated with leaving the club and called it ‘a negotiation’ …..

One Comment
  1. Daniel Thompson permalink

    Unfortunately a vote leave biased view of proceedings.

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