Come with me on a wee journey, if you please. Imagine, if you can, that you are running a company that has been in a partnership for a number of years with a conglomerate. The business has been going well; yes, there are the problems associated with merging two different systems; yes there have been the odd disputes between the two organisations, but by and large, you have rumbled along to the profit of both.
External circumstances dictate that there has to be a parting of the ways and you are charged with negotiating the, for want of a better term, mutually beneficial divorce; the splitting of the one into two; the exit of your business from the conglomerate. You desperately want to retain good relations because, going forward, the bulk of your business will still be done with the conglomerate – let’s call them the EU for the sake of argument.
But you have a problem. Some of your colleagues are acting against you; they speak ill of your plans; they want input to setting your objectives; they want lines in the sand; they want their cake and – they want to eat it too. And here’s another problem. You have no idea what a negotiation actually is. You don’t know that it is a trading process; you don’t know the difference between your objectives and your strategy; you don’t know that to get, you may have to give. You believe that all you have to do is to talk shrilly and look as if you mean it and the other side – well, they’ll just cave in. And no matter how shrilly you talk, your erstwhile lieutenants still want more!
Now let’s imagine, just for another minute, that you on the other side, that you are the EU. You are, frankly, a bit miffed that the UK has voted to leave. Why should you have given anything to that nice posh man who came begging for some concessions before the decision was taken to leave? Scottish name. Cameron, that was it. You told him politely – always politely – to go whistle in the wind. So he went. And he lost. What now? Well, the last thing you want to do is make it easy for the UK; they’ll all want away if you make it too easy and you enjoy your club and all its trappings. Why wouldn’t you? Prime minister of Luxembourg to the head of all of Europe – what’s not to like?
I’ll tell you what could go wrong if you are not very careful, Mr Juncker. The whole lot could come crashing down around your head if you don’t wise up. Just because the other side are falling over themselves to make their job as difficult as possible; just because they don’t know the end of the word negotiation from the beginning – that doesn’t mean that you can continue with your non-engagement. We all know that you want to protect the status quo so why, you might argue, should you make a counter-proposal to the Chequers deal?
Let me answer that question with a suggestion. Go and talk to BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen Audi and Airbus. All of them have significant business interests in the UK. You go for a “no-deal” Brexit and they’ll come after you; through that nice lady Mrs Merkel, right enough, but they’ll come after you. And the other big net-contributing countries will come after you as well. If the UK leaves under “no-deal”, they will have to pay for all of your programmes from a less secure financial base and – well, they might just want out as well. Carry on with your negotiations with North Macedonia if you want, but who is going to pay for it?
Be very careful; start negotiating; start trading; start making concessions in order to protect what’s important from your perspective. Engage. You only have six months left.
And as for the bit players baying in the wings on both sides. Could you please get back in your boxes for a couple of months and put the national interest before venal self-interest?
And could someone give that nice Mrs May a crash course in negotiating? Goodness knows she needs it!