Whatever one’s views are about the Brexit referendum and its outcome, it will be fascinating to watch the progress of the negotiations and the actions of the negotiators.
What is happening
It looks as if there are already pre-Brexit negotiation gambits at work. Here are some examples:
Good cop – bad cop: the different views expressed by EU officials around the timing of Article 50 activation suggest that there is disagreement about this within the EU. Some appear to want the process to start immediately, others appear more relaxed. Given that markets hate uncertainties it would make sense that the process should get going at some reasonable point in the not so distant future.
Another apparent difference is the position to be taken in terms of how “hard” the Brexit negotiations will be. Again some EU spokesmen suggest that an example needs to be made of Britain. Others, on the other hand, are using softer language, emphasising the need to come up with an agreement that will benefit both sides as much as possible.
It is quite possible that these (and other) differences reflect genuine differences of opinion how to react to Brexit. After all, 27 states, their respective political parties plus the EU bureaucracy make for very complex relationships and interactions.
I am minded however to interpret these public differences as a means in which leading politicians are deliberately positioning themselves as the good cops so as to generate a negotiation advantage for when actual Brexit negotiations are underway.
Objectively speaking it is clear that the two-year negotiation deadline is highly ambitious – it took Greenland three years to complete their exit negotiations and to quote a politician “all they had to worry about was fish“. Getting prepared will take quite a number of months if not years given the complexities and scope of the topics that have to be covered by Brexit. Allowing some (reasonable) time to pass before starting the clock is no bad thing – after all – artificial deadline pressures are likely to undermine any efforts at creative solutions.
What to look out for in the Brexit negotiations
Over the next months and years I will be looking out for signs of the following gambits:
Framing – showing what the ultimate worst case scenario could look like so as to encourage the other side to agree to something less drastic. This will also include making concessions sound attractive or unavoidable
Creating alternatives – both sides will want to show that they don’t really need the other side’s co-operation on various points. This will help improve the other side’s perceptions of the vetoes available
Reducing the other side’s alternatives/ setting precedents – it is likely that the EU will use pending negotiations and past precedents to push negotiations in its favoured direction.
As the UK and the EU will maintain relationships with one another it will be very interesting to watch the Brexit negotiations unfold through a relationship negotiator’s lens. The future welfare of Europe (EU), the UK and all their citizens will ultimately be driven by the quality of the negotiations and the negotiators. Lets hope for the best.