Negotiating Brexit

The EU has played a blinder. From the beginning the EU took the position of buyer and so forcing the UK to come up with deals and offers that they would accept or not. 

This gave them the upper hand.

The counter to this would have been the UK adopting the position of buyer instead. This would have required the UK stating it would leave on, and prepare for, a no deal Brexit unless the EU made them a better offer.

Perhaps all the negative press and interfering noises-off this would have generated would have eventually undermined the adoption of that stance and made it untenable. Maybe. But the weakness or incompetence of the UK negotiators was established at that point, or perhaps it just illustrated the lack of desire to leave amongst the political class.

Whatever the motivation or lack of it, as the famous phrase goes, ‘You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate’ and everything that has followed can be seen as an outcome of this positioning. All the disruptive uncertainty would have been removed from day one.

Having established the strength int he relationship the EU has adopted 2 other negotiating ploys all resulting from the Irish Backstop. Firstly, they have made the Irish backstop so complex it acts as a Gordian Knot. It draws in people to trying to unravel it in the clear knowledge that it cannot be unraveled. Like the Gordian Knot, it can only be cut through.

The second use of the Backstop is in the old buyers ploy of distracting focus. In the distracting focus ploy the buyer focuses the sellers time and effort away from what the buyer is really interested in and onto something spurious that can be given up easily without losing the buyers objective. This works on the psychology that the seller spends so much time and effort in winning the buyer over against this issue that the whole deal rotates on reaching agreement on that one point. The rest of the issues that the seller might notice with the buyers deal are subsumed under the weight of this focus to the point that they are forgotten and ignored. 

Now what I must make clear is that the Irish Border as it realtes to the Good Friday Agreement are important and serious issues. However the installation of a hard border is the spurious element. Firstly trade across the border is easily addressable by electronic means with no physical barrier infra structure. Secondly all parties in the discussions, EU, UK and the republic of Ireland, have stated that they have no desire or intention to construct a hard border.

Who-ever built a physical insfra-structure as a result of a -no-deal Brexit would be the party breaking the Good Friday Agreement and would reap the displeasure of various groups within Ireland. So no-one is going to do it. But the EU have pulled off the coup that it is the UK that will be responsible for need for the infrastructure, even if it is the EU who build it.

So what is it that the EU are successfully obscuring by this focus?

There are two things. Firstly, that Mrs May’s deal isn’t a deal. It is called a deal, and everything is focused on solving the backstop so they can sign up to Mrs May’s deal. Solve the backstop and even the ERG have said they will sign up to it. The relief will be palpable.

But Mrs May’s deal contains an agreement to try to find a solution to the Irish Border, to grant rights to citizens of the UK/EU where-ever they are, to put in place a transition period whilst discussions are held to reach trading agreements. Most of us thought that the deal would be a full set of trading agreements, the ones that the EU has kicked firmly into the long grass. With these deals in place no transition agreement would have been required.

So if we peel back all of these elements we are left with the item of true and major importance to the EU- the 39 Billion pounds that the UK will pay the EU for signing Mrs Mays Deal. £39 B for a few items that could be solved in a week with good will on both sides. Without an agreement to Mrs May’s deal there is a chance that the argument over whether the £39B is a legal obligation will delay payment and possibly drag the argument through the courts.

What would the consequences of such an exit be to the EU? Surprisingly there appear to be almost no articles on this that I can find, except this one that explains the detrimental effects for the Euro area and EU countries. The focus seems to be on how the UK will lose and how, according to commentators, this is likely to anger the EU and result in punitive action.

There seems to be much larger potential effects across Europe than are mentioned, given Europe is suffering prolonged outbreaks of civil unrest, the rise of the right wing, diplomatic spats between countries and what seems to be increasing disillusionment amongst significant part sof the population with EU project. A Brexit that results in No deal (no £39 B) may through oil on a fire that is already burning.

So what is likely is that the EU will find a way to remove the open ended backstop from the May deal, the UK will rejoice and pay £39 B and it will be celebrated as a win. That will last until the talks start. Then the UK will find they may get nothing but more uncertainty for several years as the EU plays hard ball, bolstered by winning their game of high stakes brinkmanship. The UK will then “crash out” a couple of years later.

So expect the backstop to be removed, the deal to pass, £39 B to be paid to the EU and then several more years of chaos, regret and recriminations when people wake up and realise what has happened.

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