Brexit – What If The Negotiators Can’t Agree?

Posted 11/09/2017

Within the canon of approaches available when planning negotiations is the concept of the BATNA - the Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. The aim here, particularly when aiming for a leverage position with a risk of having to move away from the other party, is to have an alternative position in place which is clearly stated, and known to the other party, and actually available to you, and you’re evidently willing to use it. It can be seen as a threat, but it should, in reality, be a clearly considered and viable alternative approach. If it isn’t, then the power of it when shown to the other party is lost. 

This is one approach which is clearly being developed by the UK government in the preparation for protracted negotiations. There is a clarity of statement about the so-called ‘hard Brexit’ position which suggests that it is being prepared as a genuine and manageable alternative to any form of negotiated settlement. 

The challenge here is in the level to which the BATNA is believed. In some respects, the hard posturing of those who believe hard Brexit is not only the BATNA, but the only available alternative, helps bolster the position as a credible alternative. There are a range of positions on whether this BATNA is credible, both within and outside the UK, particularly in regard to the various trade agreements which would be needed if the BATNA is applied. 

Clearly, being willing to work with a hard BREXIT means that the UK government can signal an alternative, and they actually need to ensure that it is seen as a possibility. Unfortunately, many stakeholders within the UK hold an alternative view, that not only is the BATNA unworkable, but actually damages the national interest. Here is a large experiment in stakeholder management running in real time, with the added excitement of having no agreement in stakeholder groups of the right approach. 

Although the negotiators in the form of the UK government need the BATNA, they run a very real risk of individual jeopardy if the approach fails. 

The message from the other side is interestingly balanced; the EU negotiators have the same BATNA, although from their perspective it is being portrayed as the UK cast into the wilderness, damaged and weakened. 

This is an unusual case, in that the BATNA for both sides appears to be the same, although for completely different reasons, and with a perceived completely different outcome. The impact of this on the negotiators has yet to be seen. 

There is an alternative play available to the UK government; that of appearing to negotiate but aiming to implement the BATNA anyway. The current state of play suggests that this is a real possibility, as the positional bargaining approach being adopted could be seen to lead to the early trigger of the BATNA as a realistic end point. In this case, the parties will undoubtedly engage in some protracted blame apportioning to show that it wasn’t their fault. 

Of course, even a BATNA defined as a hard BREXIT has some considerable scope for negotiation within it, as there is no standard hard BREXIT available off the shelf. Even triggering it will lead to another round of protracted negotiations seeking to reach agreement on what the final relationship between the UK and its erstwhile partner will look like. 

More thoughts on negotiation in this fascinating spectacle will be available in coming weeks. 

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Tagged by topic: Negotiation , News

  by Mark Hubbard

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