Can Theresa May expect to be good at the Brexit negotiations? Not according to our old friend Craig Murray:
In fact she would be an appalling negotiator. She becomes completely closed off when contradicted. She is incapable of thinking on her feet. She is undoubtedly the worst performer at Prime Minister’s Questions, either for government or opposition, since they were first broadcast. Why on earth would anybody think she would be a good negotiator? As soon as Michel Barnier made a point she was not expecting across the table, she would switch off and revert to cliché, and probably give off a great deal of hostility too.
All this may be true. But in a negotiation process dragging over several years led mainly by experts the ability to ‘think on one’s feet’ is not the core skill needed. Dogged determination and an overall Plan count for far more.
The delusion she would negotiate well has been fed by the media employing all kinds of completely inappropriate metaphors for the Brexit negotiations. From metaphors of waging war to metaphors of playing poker, they all characterise the process as binary and aggressive.
Interesting point here. What metaphor might best characterise the Brexit negotiation process? Tag-wrestling in a snake-pit? A marathon race where you don’t know where you’re running? If you have an outcome you really want, don’t you have to be ‘aggressive’ to get as close to it as possible? Isn’t the outcome of a negotiation always ‘binary’ – either you get what you want or you don’t?
In fact – and I speak as somebody who has undertaken very serious international negotiations, including of the UK maritime boundaries and as the Head of UK Delegation to the Sierra Leone Peace Talks – international negotiation is the opposite. It is a cooperative process and not a confrontational process.
Experience indeed. But it depends. Some negotiations are ‘cooperative’ but even then (perhaps especially then) it may turn out that being ‘confrontational’ gets the best result for you.
Almost all negotiations cover a range of points, and they work on the basis of you give a bit there, and I give a bit here. Each side has its bottom lines, subjects on which it cannot move at all or move but to a limited degree. Sometimes on a single subject two “bottom lines” can be in direct conflict. Across the whole range of thousands of subjects, you are trying to find a solution all can live with.
This shows that Craig does not understand negotiation at all. There are always a RANGE of outcomes that ‘all can live with’. That’s not the issue. The skill lies in reaching somewhere in that range where the outcome for YOU is the best YOU can possibly get, regardless of what others get. See eg Greece’s intransigence within the EU on the name of Macedonia. An extended case-study in using the power to block a deal to maximise one’s own result. Selfish? Idiotic? Yes. Effective? Yes.
International negotiating in this sense is like a room full of self-inflating balloons. Some balloons expand to squeeze others. The result is a room full of balloons (‘an outcome everyone can live with’), but some balloons get to grab for themselves far more space than others.
So empathy with your opposite number is a key requirement in a skilled negotiator, and everything I have ever seen about Theresa May marks her out as perhaps having less emotional intelligence than anybody I have ever observed.
Simply not true. Many cultures simply see ’empathy’ as banal weakness. Try negotiating with North Koreans or Iranians.
Bonhommie is also important.
What is bonhommie? Yes, in some cultural contexts propping up the bar and chatting informally to one’s negotiation counterpart is one way to build ‘trust’. In others it’s another sign of weakness.
Genuine friendship can be a vital factor in reaching agreement, and it can happen in unexpected ways. But May has never been able to strike up friendships outside of a social circle limited to a very particular segment of English society, excluding the vast majority of the English, let alone Scots and heaven forfend continentals. The best negotiators have affability, or at least the ability to switch it on. It is a vital tool.
Again, simply not true. ‘Affability’ makes sense for some cultures. But it can come across to others as lacking purpose or seriousness. If big interests are at stake, why be ‘affable’ as opposed to say ‘unbending’?
That is not to say occasionally you do not have to speak and stare hard to make plain that one of your bottom lines is real. But that is by no means the norm. And you need the intelligence and sharpness to carry it off, which May does not. That is one of the many differences between May and Thatcher.
Occasionally? Why only then?
Frankly, if I had the choice between sending in Jeremy Corbyn, with his politeness and reasonableness, or Theresa May, into a negotiation I would not hesitate for a second in choosing Corbyn. I am quite sure there is not another diplomat in the World who would make a different choice. May’s flakiness and intolerance of disagreement represent a disaster waiting to happen.
Wait … what? J Corbyn is ‘reasonable’? Someone who has sucked up to almost every form of deranged anti-Western fanaticism for the past four decades or so? A professional useful idiot?
Here’s part of what I posted on Craig’s site:
Most people would say that the Russians and Chinese and in a strange different way the North Koreans and Iranians are expert international negotiators, yet it’s not clear that they exude empathy, give-and-take, and some new hitherto unknown phenomenon called ‘bonhommie’. Affability? Exactly not. Emotional intelligence? HAHA.
Imagine Corbyn up against Putin showing ‘politeness and reasonableness’. Corbyn would be a wretched negotiator on Brexit and anything else as he is gullible, dim and vain, stuck in a timewarp of grotty 1970s prep-school socialism.
Negotiation boils down to some simple propositions. It depends on what’s at stake, and how one chooses to tackle it. Objective negotiating weight/options and ‘subjective’ determination/steeliness. Plus (perhaps above all) what options are available for Just Saying No: how much can you get paid not to block a deal.
On Brexit, the broad negotiation outcome options are these: https://charlescrawford.biz/2017/05/03/brexit-outcomes-all-change/