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Brexit and the negotiation fallacy
27 Jan, 2019

Brexiters seek conflict, not trust

Charles Parselle, a lawyer, shows how the EU carries on being the EU even after the UK leaves. It will not change its nature to accommodate an ex-member.  The UK must choose a relationship with the EU that exists.


Peter Lilley, formerly a Tory minister, supports Brexit and claims in a recent op-ed that “no business would enter into negotiations without being prepared to walk away – losing a no-deal Brexit option would weaken our position.” This is a view of negotiation as a poker game, of bluff and secrecy, of “not showing your hand” or “giving away a bargaining chip,” in which ever other player is an adversary. But Brexit isn’t poker; if an analogy is needed, the closest is chess, in which every piece is visible to both sides.

The EU’s position has been not only visible but also consistent; it has to be because it consists of 27 (other) nations that must all agree, so it is far too cumbersome to play games of bluff and secrecy. The UK government has practised a form of secrecy so extreme that when the Prime Minister went to visit Chancellor Merkel in Germany, she repeatedly requested Merkel to “make an offer’ but refused to make one herself; Merkel was naturally confused. Theresa May’s secrecy fetish has mostly served to hide her (political) nakedness from Parliament and the media.

It is not strength to threaten serious damage to oneself as a bargaining ‘chip.’ That kind of posturing was definitively satirized in Mel Brook’s iconic Blazing Saddles, in which the new Sheriff, a black man, finds himself surrounded by hostile gun-toting whites. He pulls out his own gun and holds it to his neck:

            Sheriff: “Hold it, the next man makes a move, the n----- (himself) gets it.”
            Nearest gun, a white guy: “Hold it men, he’s not bluffing.”
            Next nearest gun, another white guy: “He’s just crazy enough to do it.”
            Sheriff: “Drop it or I swear I’ll blow this n----- ‘s head (his own) all over this town.”

In the movie it was a laugh, but in real life it is simply laughable. Lilley also claims that Britain would be “at the mercy” of the EU if it gave up the ‘no-deal’ option; but the EU has repeatedly stated it wants and needs Britain.  Indeed, the EU has neither a strong nor weak negotiating position; it is barely negotiating at all. It has simply waited for Britain to make clear what it wanted, provided that was within the EU’s permissible limits defined by treaties. It is still waiting.

It is sad but also pathetic to hear Mark Francois MP’s fearful yet bombastic defiance: “My father Reginald Francois was a D-Day veteran, he never submitted to bullying by any German, neither will his son,” published on the same day as the likely next German Chancellor, with numerous German politicians, made a heartfelt plea in a letter to the Times: “Britons should know, from the bottom of our hearts, we want them to stay…Britain did not give up on us after the second world war and welcomed Germany back into the European community…Germans have not forgotten and we are grateful…more than anything else, we would miss the British people, our friends across the Channel.” My father did not take part in D-Day because he was in a POW camp, having been shot down during a bombing raid over Germany in 1943, part of the bombing campaign that flattened more than 200 German cities. It is just bizarre and even pathological for Mark Francois and his fellow Brexiters to act as if we were on the losing side.

Lilley then claims that ‘no-deal’ would save £39 billion. Certainly Britain could renege, but considering Britain’s GDP exceeds £2000 billion, and government spending exceeds £700 billion, would it be worth it for 39? It would bode ill for future negotiation; Britain’s word would be trash.

The EU is like an atom surrounded by electrons, representing a finite number of possible positions. The most favourable is to be within the nucleus of 28 countries, which is where Britain is now, at least until March 29th, with 4 smaller countries in the nearest orbit - Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Lichtenstein - which combined have about the population of the London metropolitan area. In an outer orbit are fifty countries that have bilateral treaties with the EU, with about seventy more pending, and in the outermost orbit is the rest of the world trading on least favourable WTO terms. That is what Lord Lilley says he wants for the UK.

In a climactic moment in the Iliad, Achilles lends his bronze armour to his beloved Patroclus who longs for glory: “Let me go out and help the Greeks, Achilles…me dressed as you…the sight alone will make Troy pause.” “And so he begged for death,” says the Iliad. Likewise now as the wheels fall off the mendacious Brexit bus, Brexiters unmoved by reason are acting like self-harming teenagers, reveling in the idea of coming hardships, yelling “there’ll always be an England,” chanting “never, never, never” surrender like the defiant passengers in “Darkest Hour,” welcoming food and medical shortages as necessary props in their nightmarish drama, yearning for all-or-nothing showdowns, and in different ways expressing their antique xenophobia that fortunately England’s young people today so emphatically repudiate. It’s as if Brexiters are all too ready to go down with the ship. It also seems the Prime Minister may be ready to oblige them. 



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