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When you let “the boss” get involved in the negotiation when they are not prepared.

John McMillan
Negotiation Boss Negotiates [Converted]
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This story is from Politico political website in 2021, when Boris Johnston was king. He got involved in a negotiation which was not his remit. Ever keen to show that Brexit benefits were more than just being able to buy our vegetables in stones, pounds and ounces, he was hosting a dinner at No.10 for the Australian Prime Minister and made an unplanned concession with huge ramifications for British beef farmers.

One must assume that drink was taken. Boris told the Prime Minister that he would agree to Oz beef imports being measured by weight of the cut meat rather than the (heavier) full carcass. This was a major concession that had not been agreed by the negotiators, or by the International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss (more of her in a future blog).

According to Adam Frost’s report in The Independent, “Australian high commissioner, George Brandis, scrawled down the unexpected bonus on a napkin and fled to the loo. On the way he gave it to an aide to scan and turn in a trade document – before it was returned to the dinner for Mr Johnson to sign; which he did.

Ms Truss was said to be “livid” when she learned of Mr Johnson’s concession over breakfast the following morning. “Your boss has already conceded the whole kingdom,” Australia’s chief negotiator Dan Tehan told her, according to a former minister involved in the talks.

Brexit negotiator David Frost was at the dinner with Mr Johnson and Mr Morrison. One former Truss adviser “Frost was over the detail, but I don’t think Boris was,” adding that the dinner “was very slapdash – and ultimately ended up giving more on beef.”

Advisers said Ms Truss wanted the talks reopened after Mr Johnson’s concession – but Mr Morrison threatened to “tell the media the UK was going back on its first post-Brexit trade deal”.

A spokesperson for the NFU added: “We know the government gave away much more than they needed to, and this illustrates it.”

This illustrates two negotiating principles:

Don’t let the boss near the negotiation unless they are fully briefed and are effective negotiators,

and

If you win an unexpected concession, summarise it, and record it as soon as possible; agree what is ageed.

John McMillan
More by John McMillan:
Preconditions
A Fine Line
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