It speaks volumes about the state of Britain’s political leadership that it takes Trump to come over and state the obvious:
Nigel Farage should be involved in the government’s Brexit negotiations and the UK should be prepared to leave the EU with no deal, Donald Trump has said.
In a Sunday Times interview, the US president was critical of government’s Brexit negotiations, saying it left the EU “with all the cards.”
I think it’s pretty generous to describe what has taken place so far between May’s government and the EU as negotiations. It looks more akin to a conspiracy between both sides to hobble Brexit against the wishes of the majority who voted for it. The charitable view is May was too weak and incompetent to do anything else; the harsher view is she deliberately sidelined her Brexit minister and sent in the odious Olly Robbins who was working for the other side.
Thus far the EU hasn’t done anything irrational: if the May government is incompetent or willing to betray the British people, then why should they not go along with it? However, they ought to understand that the negotiations are not yet over and indeed might just be beginning. One of the basics of multicultural negotiations is to understand who all the players are, including those who might not be seated at the table. This is the basis of the consensus approach to negotiations, where all interested parties must be brought on board before a lasting deal can be struck. If the EU thinks agreeing a deal with May is the end of it, they don’t know much about negotiations.
They were clearly hoping May’s government would ram the Withdrawal Agreement down the throats of the British public, seemingly oblivious to the historical consequences of imposing deeply unpopular and humiliating conditions on whole nations. Not that I’d argue the Treaty of Versailles was unnecessarily harsh on Germany, but one cannot ignore the role the sense of betrayal had on the politics that followed. Now that has failed, the EU ought to understand that negotiations must continue. However, they are sticking with the line that there is nothing left to negotiate.
This might not be a bad move, given how feckless Britain’s political leadership is and how clueless they are at negotiation. They might as well chance their arm that the next prime minister will be a pathetic weasel willing to do their bidding, just as the last few have been. But if someone in the Tory party grows a pair, listens to Trump’s statement of the obvious, and starts preparing for No Deal the EU is going to have to shift position or end up with the dubious honour of being the worst negotiator in this entire clown show.
One of the principles of negotiation is you should focus on interests, not positions. The EU has an interest in stopping Britain’s exit from the EU, and if they can’t do that making it as painful as possible. But their member states – those who are not seated at the table – also have interests, which may differ from those of the EU. If the British want to negotiate a better agreement, they need to make proposals which serve those interests and force the EU to either listen to the member states (and their populations) or explain why they’ve been overridden. If Britain can find a prime minister which wants to leave and is prepared to weather the domestic turmoil of No Deal, they are in a strong bargaining position. If the EU refuses to negotiate further even in the face of sensible, realistic proposals from the British side, they’ll be making the next PM’s job of selling No Deal to the public a lot easier. Whether such a person exists in the British political establishment I don’t know; the fact that Trump has suggested Farage implies he doesn’t think much of the current mainstream party leadership and who can blame him? But if they do, we’re going to get a good look at just how good Barnier et al are at negotiations. Thus far they’ve not been tested, and it’s my guess they’ll be found as wanting as our own side have been. Like wars in which peacetime generals get swapped out in favour of more competent commanders after a series of reversals, negotiations often end up with completely different teams sat opposite each other than at the beginning. I think the phony war is drawing to a close and the real one just beginning. If Britain can find a proper leader, I’m betting the next major casualty will be on the EU side.