Responding to my post on Craig Murray’s footling criticism of Theresa May’s negotiating capabilities, reader Benjamin writes:

You note the importance of a clear plan in long-term negotiations. Is anybody aware what May’s plan is, or whether she even has one?

You mention that different cultures call for different negotiating styles. But what evidence do you have that the cultures of May’s European counterparts would respond better to aggressive obstinacy than “bonhomie”? The cultures to which you refer (Russian, Chinese, Iranian) are vastly dissimilar to the Western European cultures with which May and her team will have to work.

Lastly, I would love to see a more reasoned analysis of Corbyn’s flaws. You resort, like May and the Tory campaign team, to cliché and caricature, whereas you could quite easily make a number of more intelligent critiques. I guess this is just your dislike of reasonableness on display.

Sigh. Read what I wrote.

My point was not that aggressive obstinacy is a ‘better’ general negotiating tactic than bonhomie. Or that obstinacy is the right way to deal with EU partners. Or that what works in one cultural setting is the best ploy in another cultural setting.

Nor (important point) did I claim that ‘different cultures call for different negotiating styles’. I simply noted that there ARE different ‘cultural’ approaches eg to strength and empathy, and that one needs to be aware of them so as to avoid sounding weak.

The point of my piece was to show that on the face of it Craig was making tendentious and inaccurate generalisations about negotiation, drawn from his own frankly modest medium-level diplomatic negotiating experience up to and including FCO Counsellor level.

That said, what about the two exam questions now posed?

Does T May have a clear long-term plan as (if she wins the election) she enters the Brexit process?

Hard to say.

See eg this:

The options for the UK/EU relationship after Brexit boil down as follows:

  • Nothing drastic changes in substance – result presented as nothing drastic changes
  • Nothing drastic changes in substance – result presented as a major change
  • Serious changes in substance – result presented as nothing much changes
  • Serious changes in substance – result presented as serious/drastic change

This matters. Why?

Because everyone opining on whatever noises emerge in London, Brussels and other EU capitals need to think carefully: are those noises really about Substance, or about Presentation?

What do both sides (very crudely defining HMG in London v EU/Brussels as the two sides) in fact want?

… if we pesky Brits want Something Completely Different, what exactly do we want to be Different? Trade? Migration? ECJ jurisdiction? Fishing? Security? Airlines? Whatever happens, none of these things are going to stop dead, once and for all. What differences that make sense do we propose, and what are we prepared to pay or forego to achieve those Differences?

Good questions. The Brexit referendum never answered them. It might even be argued that it scarcely posed them coherently. For that stupid situation David Cameron has a lot to answer for.

The UK’s Article 50 letter gave some clues:

Thus the PM’s core idea:

But we also propose a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. This should be of greater scope and ambition than any such agreement before it so that it covers sectors crucial to our linked economies such as financial services and network industries. This will require detailed technical talks, but as the UK is an existing EU member state, both sides have regulatory frameworks and standards that already match.

In other words, something that looks pretty much like a new Single Market Plus, but wearing different legal trousers? Not unattractive if it can be pulled off – a model for future EU relations with eg Russia and Turkey too? Why, that might turn into something like Europe 2.0 haha.

We should therefore prioritise how we manage the evolution of our regulatory frameworks to maintain a fair and open trading environment, and how we resolve disputes.

In other words, not supreme European Court of Justice jurisdiction as per the Single Market. But, maybe, a way can be found to have the ECJ and UK judges closely cooperating on such things? Maybe not so different from what we have now in terms of likely outcomes and process, but done on a very different philosophical basis?

My sense (but I am not following it all closely and not talking to anyone who is) is that Theresa May can live with almost any outcome that gets rid of direct ECJ jurisdiction and allows the UK to present itself as having new ‘controls’ over the rights of EU citizens to live and work (and vote) in the UK. Note that it could be possible to agree some form of ’emergency brake’ migration controls but then not in fact apply them. In other words, in this and most areas keep much of what we have now, but wearing different legal trousers:

  • Nothing drastic changes in substance – result presented as a major change

One way or the other, we’ll have to wait a few months after the UK election to see how it all starts to shape up.

I would love to see a more reasoned analysis of Corbyn’s flaws … I guess this is just your dislike of reasonableness on display.

It takes a steely nerve to present Jeremy Corbyn as someone representing or articulating reasonableness, when every few minutes more examples emerge of his repellant sucking-up to virtually every anti-Western anti-liberal fanaticism down the decades, something that has not escaped his own Labour colleagues:

“It is almost unbelievable that any Labour MP would participate in a ceremony honouring a man involved in the vicious murder of innocent Israeli athletes … this appears to be part of a very disturbing pattern of behaviour”.

So it’s incontestable that Jeremy Corbyn who managed a mighty two Es at A-Level despite a privileged education is stuck in his own malignantly ignorant prep-school Marxism. He’s proud of it! But insofar as he tries now to justify his lifetime hanging out with IRA, Hamas and other terrorists, he does it by asserting that such contacts promote ‘dialogue’.

This takes us to Corbyn’s propensity to be a good negotiator for Brexit or anything else. And the problem of Bad Leaders:

Offering positive inducements for good behaviour might in fact work, but it almost never happens. It opens the notorious diplomatic conundrum: should Bad Leaders be ‘rewarded’ for behaving less badly?  If they are rewarded, won’t they create more problems to get more ‘reward’ and win undeserved respectability as a problem-solver, as Serbia’s Slobodan Milošević did time and again? Yet if they aren’t rewarded, they have no positive incentive to cooperate.

‘Dialogue’ with the worst extremists/terrorists of the banal obsequiousness consistently exhibited by Corbyn effectively rewards violent extremism/terrorism, and discourages if not betrays moderates and moderation on all sides. This in itself gives away a key negotiation card for nothing. Extremists need legitimacy more than anything else. Make them pay to get it, in blood or political concessions.

It may turn out to be unavoidable to ignore extremists, to the point of bringing them into peace negotiations as ‘normal’ partners’. Why? Because their very extremism and viciousness means that no peace deal can work if they are not given a fat slice of the pie. Yet if the deal includes the worse gangsters responsible for many of the problems on the ground, how can it work? See Dayton and plenty of other examples.

So, in short, not only has Jeremy Corbyn no serious career record in negotiating anything at all, other than dullard wording of declarations put out by the sundry Marxist groupings at the end of a useless meeting, the evidence shows that he has no philosophical understanding of how to manage people with the most odious or intransigent opinions other than to agree with them. No-one can have the foggiest idea of how he would cope with senior EU negotiations. He has never set foot near one and knows nothing about them.

Theresa May by contrast knows how the EU and Whitehall work. She has served as Home Secretary for years, sitting through countless grinding EU sessions on the Justice and Home Affairs agenda after painstakingly working up UK positions across Whitehall. She also has had senior Conservative party roles, working away to craft positions and policies as between strongly diverging views. She knows well many of her EU interlocutors.


It’s not enough to be polite and reasonable in any serious negotiation, let alone Brexit. That in fact counts for nothing much. It may even be a core weakness if it means that your instinct is to concede ground whenever the other side makes a sensible-sounding point.

You need to know what you want, understand the negotiating context, master the issues, know the people, grasp what’s at stake, be able to prioritise under intense pressure, have a strong nerve, be ready to say No, and have a sense when it’s time to say Yes.

Theresa May knows all this and has oodles of EU and wider international experience. But is she up to the challenge? We’ll have to see.

What we can say now is that Jeremy Corbyn would be utterly out of his depth: emotionally and intellectually unfit for purpose.