Brexit: a classic in how not to negotiate

Published: 03 Sep 2019 Average Rating: 5 / 5 Print

Author: Tim Cummins

Negotiating something as fundamental (and emotive) as Brexit was never going to be easy. In the end, it has turned into a fascinating case study that will doubtless be used and cited for decades to come.

What happened to BATNA?

Establishing a 'best alternative to a negotiated agreement', or BATNA, is a well established principle in every negotiation handbook. It is fundamental to each party's power. So what happened with Brexit? In their wisdom – or perhaps determined to undermine the process – the UK Parliament promptly removed any possibility of a BATNA by insisting that there must be a negotiated agreement.

Any incentive that the EU may have had for meaningful negotiation was thereby removed.

And what about stakeholder management?

A second key to successful negotiation and a positive outcome is to understand and manage stakeholders. In the case of Brexit, this was perhaps an insurmountable task, given the multiplicity of agendas that needed to be considered. This was again evidenced by the UK Parliament where three years of debate yielded plenty of insight to what they didn't want and very little on what they did want. Again, scarcely a backdrop for effective negotiation and not a credit to the democratic process.

In the EU, stakeholder management is a process of building internal consensus through compromise – a process that results in little flexibility and a culture of last minute decisions.

A lack of vision

Ultimately, the big problem with Brexit is the absence of vision. Without a meaningful goal, it is impossible to unite people in its achievement or to undertake a mutually acceptable negotiation. On this score, both the EU and the UK are at fault. It was in both party's interests to establish a vision for the future relationship and the positive aspects this might bring, but neither could bring themselves to this level of maturity. Ironically, it was this very issue of 'lack of vision' that in my opinion led to the Brexit vote in the first place.

But that is another story!


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