How many times have you heard the ‘first rule of negotiation’. You must be familiar with the scenario by now when a virtuous expert is wheeled out to proclaim that ‘I’ve been negotiating for 1000 years and I can tell you that the first rule of negotiation is……… ‘

Generally, they are all valid but they are also usually different, suggesting that there are many ‘first rules of negotiation’, but if any of them were to really be at the head of the queue it is this one:

Only negotiate with the guy that can cut a deal.

Our interminable and fruitless to-ing and fro-ing to Brussels or wherever is a nonsense. Because of the ludicrous Article 50, and the Labour Party’s political points-scoring agenda, neither party in this negotiation is able to come to an agreement. Both sides have committed themselves to a higher authority after the deal has supposedly been done, meaning that the deal hasn’t been done, which means what on earth is the point of talking about nothing?

The government spokespeople have no idea what to say and are now mirroring the ‘fictional’ W1A meetings where nobody actually says anything that makes sense, nobody knows what the objectives are, nobody seems to care what they are and nothing seems to change. When David Davis adds a little obvious clarity, his boss immediately muddies the waters again with the absurd notion that wanting something to happen is a cast-iron guarantee that it will.

We have the terminally miserable Tusk talking about defeat and winning; Juncker, true to form, briefing against us; our prime minister unsure at every step, and it shows; and a cock-a-hoop Labour Party pretending that everything is swinging their way when they have just betrayed half the people who voted for them by committing to remain in the EU forever. Methinks they have one enormous shock coming their way. I believe that the Lib Dems have a well-worn copy of ‘how to commit political suicide’, a testament to betraying your core vote and thinking you’ve got away with it.

Whatever we might imagine will happen, or how we think our House of Commons will vote, we are subject to a critical decision by the EU parliament at the end of said negotiations, or even after a ‘deal’ has been ‘concluded’. That means we could be getting on swimmingly with Barnier and co and conclude a wondrous deal with which we are all happy, only for the EU parliament to skewer it for other political considerations or to seek other concessions.

Imagine the turmoil in No 10 when the EU parliament votes the deal down, then issues a statement suggesting that, if we were to cough up €100bn, they would re-consider. Would you put it past them? We then have the double whammy that our own parliament might reject the deal (that is if we had one in time) so neither side can be confident that any agreement they may reach between them will be binding because if it isn’t, it simply isn’t a deal.

David Davis has postulated the ‘bleedin’ obvious’ that, true to EU form, they will only cut a deal at the 59th minute of the 11th hour, creating a situation whereby the terms of the crazy Article 50 and the will of the UK parliament cannot be complied with. From the beginning, this has been a flawed process proving once again, if anyone was in any doubt, that we are indeed led by idiots.

Another first rule of negotiation is to remain in control. As soon as you pass the ball, your opposition can kick it about indefinitely.  After all, in this case, their objective isn’t to score or to go to extra time, it is to maintain the status quo or wait for us to give up and concede. It’s getting dark, tea’s ready and mum will be livid if we are any later, so we’ll concede. In the junior football analogy, that is. In real life, the time, the lateness of the hour and an angry mum are represented by British business, who have been waiting for the results for years, only to realise that the opposition were never interested in playing and we would be back to square one.

There is only one sensible course of action to take.

We cannot assume that a deal will be done, or ratified, whatever the bureaucrats say. It is simply out of their hands. We must, therefore, prepare sincerely and honestly for a no-deal situation. We must develop port capacity, refine and implement processes and procedures to handle the necessary documentation and transportation for those goods that travel between the UK and EU countries. The good news is that all this infrastructure and software already exists.

It is no longer 1972. The way things were done then, the restrictive trade barriers that many countries had in place and the need to check and validate of cargo at the points of departure and arrival have diminished. The UK does far more trade with the rest of the world than it does with the EU, so the practices and procedures in place for this trade would be used for future EU trade under WTO rules. The UK would be just fine with this arrangement, and we also get the ball back.

I’m sure we’ll reach a trade deal with the EU which will mirror exactly the arrangements we trade under now. It will not be, and nor should it be, agreed before we leave. Leaving is paramount and should be the unadulterated priority. We can prosper and continue with EU trade without a trade deal and there are two very good reasons why leaving first and talking about a better trade arrangement later is by far the best option.

  1. Most people are already aware that we run a massive trade deficit with the EU. To continue to trade as we do now, despite not being members, is more to their interest than it is to ours, but better for both.
  2. The obstacle to doing the obvious has been the reluctance of the EU to make it seem easy and beneficial to leave the bloc. As there is no real benefit to remaining a member and actively disadvantageous for a net contributor, their hold on members is tentative, and punishment for leaving is their only way to force countries to remain tied. The dichotomy they are currently experiencing relates to how much, exactly, of their collective ‘nose’ are they prepared to cut off. Fortunately, we can help them here by walking away and saying “call us” when we’ve left. This difficult conundrum then disappears in a puff of smoke, preferably from our exhaust.

Our strategy, therefore, should be to write a nice letter, explaining that we aren’t interested in negotiating anything until after Brexit has happened but would then be willing and open in seeking a better and mutual agreement. Sadly, courage and integrity are in short supply when a Prime Minister is frightened to flap a wing in case she falls off her perch.

Take control, keep control, only talk to the boss. Simple!

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