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You Couldn’t Make It Up

Published: Jul 14 , 2016
Author: Robin Copland


You really couldn’t make this up.

Prior to the recent Brexit referendum, there was a negotiation between David Cameron, the UK prime minister and Jean-Claude Juncker, the former Luxembourg prime minister and current commissioner of the European Union.

Cameron, a very bright man indeed but with limited negotiating experience, went into bat against Juncker, a very bright man indeed but with limited negotiating experience.  Their careers had been remarkably similar – early days as parliamentary aides, followed in Cameron’s case with a stint in the commercial world working for Carlton Communications, followed by election to their respective countries’ parliaments.  Juncker studied law but had never practised.  Neither had much, if any exposure to the cut and thrust of commercial negotiation.  I sometimes wish that our politicians had more such experience, but there we are.

So we have Cameron, who had publicly – never a good idea to go public before a negotiation – outlined the shape of the deal he wanted to come back with.  On the other hand, Juncker, a committed federalist who has little time for Cameron personally – he lobbied against Juncker’s appointment to commissioner - or Britain for that matter, waited in his lair for battle to begin.

Both of them are politicians who have reached the top of their respective trees; they are surrounded by people of similar background, opinion and philosophy.  They are in charge; they are not used to push back, though to be fair, Cameron did have to compromise with his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, for four years.  Anyhow, Cameron came blustering in and Juncker was ready for him.

Any negotiator worth their salt will tell you that you need to give the other side the ability to go back to their organisation with enough ammunition to claim a victory and make it as easy as possible for them to sell the deal into their organisation – or in this case, country.  The deal that Cameron brought back with him has been likened, somewhat cruelly to the piece of paper that Chamberlain returned with from his meeting with Hitler.  Its contents were not good enough to sell to a sceptical middle Britain (the bit between London and Northern Ireland over the water and Scotland north of the border).  Juncker was dismissive the next day; he felt that he won the battle.  Maybe he had, but I wonder if he has lost the war; the fact that Britain will soon leave the EU has already alerted other disaffected people that they could do the same.  Is he presiding over the death throes of what was once a trading bloc?  Classic case of “lose-lose”.

So what happens in the meantime?  Well the seemingly unopposed Tories will elect a new prime minister who, at some stage fairly soon, will effect Article 50 and Britain and Europe will begin on perhaps the most difficult and complex negotiations ever undertaken.  These negotiations will be conducted by politicians just like Juncker and Cameron, aided by unelected civil servants.  Hang on; wasn’t that what the Brexiteers were complaining about?

As I say, you could not make it up.

Robin Copland


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Robin Copland

About the author:

Robin Copland
I come from a sales background, firstly selling brands like Del Monte, Campbell’s and Nabisco to the grocery trade, then working in the hotel business, selling and marketing top-end brands like Gleneagles Hotel and the St Andrews Old Course Hotel to an international market.

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