On the day the Brexit deadline was extended to 31 October 2019, the webinar, ‘Brexit – where do we go from here?’ was particularly timely.
Hosted by the Director of the Oxford Programme on Negotiation, Paul Fisher, and Janet Smart, Reader in Operations Management, it examined how many of the fundamental principles of negotiation have been followed (or not been followed as the case may be) during the Brexit talks.
The webinar opened with an acceptance that whilst the negotiations themselves have not moved forward over the past three years, operationally we are better informed on the details and practicalities of what is involved.
‘Preparation is a fundamental aspect of successful negotiations and, while well documented in the press, has been sorely lacking from the very beginning of the negotiation process. There has not been enough effort on the side of the British government to really understand the motivations, needs and requirements of the EU – with too many red lines established early in the process and, in Theresa May’s case, significantly limiting her options. There has been a lack of focus on viewing the situation from the other party’s perspective, or indeed those of other stakeholders such as business and trade unions,’ said Paul.
However, both Paul and Janet believe the situation is salvageable, as long as the large sunk costs of time, effort and resources that have already gone into the talks do not determine that negotiations continue on the same path, and more fundamentally because of the importance of finding a solution that works for both the UK and EU.
It was argued that the most difficult and technical parts of trade negotiations lie ahead. A customs union is increasingly talked about but will only solve some issues and itself will take time to negotiate with many other areas outside the customs unions, such as intellectual property, public procurement, and data and regulatory barriers all subject to negotiations. It is certainly not an off-the-shelf solution. Additionally, the potential effect on, and solutions for the UK services sector, a massive part of the economy, have not really been looked at.
Janet and Paul explained that since 1975, the UK has not had to negotiate any trade deals on its own. As a result, there is an urgent need to increase the skills and capabilities amongst relevant agencies. In addition, operational procedures also require more focus. For example, it appears that there has been minimal modelling or scenario planning around possible cross border solutions.