The current Brexit negotiations do not seem to be advancing well.
One of the recurring themes that rabid Brexit supporters keep coming back to is that the UK should just “walk away” from negotiations.
Leaving aside the utterly deluded ideas that many of them possess about what a “hard” Brexit entails, the idea that one should flounce out of a negotiation or threaten to do so in order to get what one wants is an idea promulgated by somebody with no clue whatsoever about how to negotiate.
The UK lawyer Sean Jones wrote a tweetstorm about this pathology recently. I am sharing it below, merged and edited.
A threat to walk away *can* be effective in negotiation, but it is rarely the *key* to a successful outcome.
Very broadly, that’s because most negotiations are not zero sum. An optimal outcome is achieved through co-operation and creative compromise.
First things first: like any threat it can only be at all useful if it is credible.
That has 2 aspects.
1. Your negotiation partner must believe you’ll carry it out;
2. It must be a sufficiently meaningful threat to their own interests (NOT THE COMFY CHAIR!!)
So if walking away is so disastrous that no rational person would contemplate it, your negotiating partner will conclude…
either (1) you don’t mean it;
(2) you do
If you state publicly that it is a negotiating tactic, that undermines the credibility of the threat as it puts sincerity in doubt.
Equally, If you open negotiations with it in the hope or expectation the negotiating partner will “crumble” you aren’t negotiating, you’re bullying. You may feel “strong” but saying “we can’t be precise about what we want but if we don’t get it, we’re off” is not a constructive or rational posture.
There’s a reason we refer to the tactic as an ultimatum. It‘s best used at what might be the *end* of a process; where positions have closed and each side has reached their respective red lines.
It causes each side to ask whether their “final position” should be sacrificed for a deal that is otherwise within touching distance.
My hope is that the UK’s negotiation team is less fixated on this tactic than the Press and the public appear to be.
It’s usually a sign of a failing negotiation and using it as principal leverage is much more likely to be self-defeating than people assume.