On Tuesday 17th January, Theresa May set out her long-awaited negotiating objectives for the Brexit negotiations that will be triggered when Article 50 is invoked.
These were received uncritically by the media and the political parties as negotiating objectives, even though they disagreed with some of them. In fact, nine of them are not negotiaitng objective at all, and three at most may be considered as such, although singularly ill-framed.
Given the fact that political commentators and politicians are almost always given to talking arrant nonsense about negotiation, that comes as no surprise. What does surprise - and frighten - is the fact that a British PM, with access to top intellects and expertise (although not in either her Cabinet and least of all in her Brexit team) could come up with such nonsense.
Negotiating objectives are the items/topics on which a negotiating party seeks agreement with another party or parties. The negotiating objectives from all parties on which agreement are reached ultimately constitute the Heads of Agreement, once a deal is reached. A full negotiating objective has a broad topic header - e.g. agree price, agree quantity, agree delivery aspects, agree cost, agree quality - and will contain target measures of achievement necesessary to satisfy them, expressed both quantitatively and qualitatively. The confidential strategic and tactical negotiating plan – the “hand you do not show” - will the contain entry and exit points, i.e. the best level for the deal and the lowest acceptable level at whihc agreement can be reached.
(The above is partial and simplified outline of a complex behavioural and strategic skill, and I cannot and won’t go into more detail in a blog.)
PM’s stated 12 negotiating objectives
1. Certainty wherever possible
Not a negotiating objective - a bland motherhood statement of the obvious in any negotiation.
2. Control of our own laws
Not a negotiating objective - an inevitable consequence of invoking Article 50 and exiting EU
3. Strengthening the UK
Not a negotiating objective - banal and obvious. No one plans to weaken themselves in any negotiation
4. Maintaining the common travel area with Ireland
Not a negotiating objective with EU but with Republic of Ireland.
5. Control of immigration
Not a negotiating objective with EU but simply a consequence of exiting EU, one that UK can exercise.
6. Rights for EU nationals in Britain and British nationals in EU
This is a negotiating objective: Brexit has put both groups at risk.
7. Enhancing rights for workers
Not a negotiating objective since UK forfeits EU rights and must decide if and how to replace by UK law. Brexit has put existing rights at risk. It could be an attempt to negotiate rights for UK worker in EU countries. Brexit and Article 50 eliminates these rights.
8. Free trade with European markets
Negotiate what with EU? What Brexit has forfeited? Negotiable only with non-EU countries.
9. New trade agreements with other countries
Not a negotiating objective with EU, but as stated, with other countries.
10. A leading role in science and innovation
How do you negotiate a leading role in an EU you are exiting? Patent nonsense.
11. Co-operation on crime, terrorism and foreign affairs.
This an urgent negotiating objective since UK has placed them all jeopardy.
12. A phased approach, delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit
Another totally bland statement, applicable to any negotiation.
PM is fielding a Brexit negotiating team - already with uncertain grasp of facts - with 12 “negotiating objectives", nine of which are not negotiating objectives at all, or are not with EU..