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Brexit Negotiation Blowout


Brexit has been fascinating to watch, but hard to follow from North America. It has led to multiple resignations on the U.K. side and it’s still not over. Since the referendum, the Brexit negotiations team has been unable to negotiate a satisfactory deal for Parliament. They are reaching crisis status. After multiple extensions from the EU, the U.K. is in danger of being ejected from Europe without having an exit strategy in place.

I asked Duncan Brock, the director of customer relationships at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply to participate in a recent episode of Negotiations Ninja and explain the details. His immersion in Brexit as a procurement professional living in the U.K. gives an accurate depiction of events.

On June 23, 2016, the majority of the U.K. voted to leave the EU. Withdrawing from EU regulatory bodies has been complicated and Parliament has rejected three deals. The U.K. negotiations team has seen excessive turnover and even the Prime Minister, Theresa May, resigned. On the other side, 27 countries have remained behind Michel Barnier, who has brilliantly negotiated on behalf of the European Union.

The U.K. is now a leaderless country, fighting amongst themselves as the latest EU extension deadline of October 31, 2019 looms in the distance. They have to agree on their exit strategy by then, or risk leaving the safety net of the EU and back into stringent World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.

From Duncan’s perspective, the staff turnover on the U.K. side is part of the exponential failure. Other factors have been a lack of following rudimentary negotiation tactics, or poor implementation of those tactics.

When a team negotiation is taking place, it is critical you prepare. Team negotiation is the most difficult and preparation cannot be skipped. Planning who has authority to act, consistency of messaging, and who will be speaking to the other side are crucial steps.

Instead of ensuring clarity of negotiation process, Duncan says the U.K. tried to gain favor from the other side by going around Michel Barnier to EU leaders from Germany, France. All deferred back to Michel Barnier in a brilliant show of solidarity. The U.K. learned a hard lesson. A team in disarray cannot negotiate with a team that is in solidarity.

The biggest problem if the U.K. leaves without a deal is WTO rules building borders between nations that will create supply chain delays for business owners. Businesses will fail waiting for goods to clear. Not to mention currency losing value, inflation, and unemployment.

Although Brexit is fascinating, it’s been a negotiation disaster. The impact is bigger than most people realized and leads to an excellent piece of advice from friend of the show Chris Voss: yes, means nothing without how.