Steve Bullock+ Your Authors @GuitarMoog New Album, One Thousand Days, out now exclusively through @EUCitizensChamp (link below). 100% of proceeds fo to @the3million. Aug. 14, 2019 2 min read + Your Authors

The understanding of negotiations as a poker game seems to have persisted throughout at the highest levels in the UK, and, as many pointed out early on, that was a key error. It is an incorrect, damaging and self-defeating understanding of the process.

Srcrecy does have a role in negotiations, but it is a specific one. Your fallback positions - what you will be willing to accept if you cannot get a primary objective - cannot be public or your oppos will look to move things on to them quickly.

This relies on you having fallback positions (which should be designed to be tempting concessions but that maintain as much of the outcome you want as a possible) though, and that relies on you having any semblance of a serious plan in the first place.

The Poker approach though meant that such plan as there was relied not only on obvious bluffs with nothing to back them up when they were called and no fallbacks, but a secrecy about even the outcomes that were desired.

If your negotiating partner does not know what you actually want, there is no way they can give it to you. It’s as simple as that.


The constant position shifting, lack of collective positions in cabinet and its members’ public pronouncements, and inconsisency between elements of policy positions meant that EU27 never knew what UK really wanted. Neither did the UK, so, predictably, it didn’t get it.

Not only that, but, as DAG pointed out, having no sense of the overall objectives, people who needed to know the desired and likely outcomes to prepare have been unable to do so effectively.

Honesty and realism about what UK wanted, and what if was possible for it to get, was needed, but the poker-method that UKGov had shoved in all its chips to follow meant that none of that was possible.

The backstop is the perfect example. It was never wanted by UK, but the lack of honesty meant that policies were initially (and now again) pursued that were fundamentally incompatible (UK not in SM or CU and an invisible border). This made it inevitable.

But UKGov did not have a proper fallback designed (they didn’t need it, they thought. Their poker strategy would work) and so had to make do with a proposal from their oppos.

And the fallback to that was something else that they didn’t want - the all-UK Backstop - so UKGov had to extract a concession out of EU27 that they didn’t really want anyway.

I think the reality is that the Poker-strategy and the secrecy that went with it wasn’t really a strategy at all. It’s more likely that it was an ex-post-justification to act as cover for the fact that UKGov could neither establish what it wanted, or what it would accept.

But, like all unchallenged beliefs, it became a hollow dogma that could not be questioned.

And now we’re just approaching the very pinnacle of its failure.

And the inevitable PS. The other area where their is a case for some secrecy is in the internal wrangling that lead to a policy position. This process was played out between ministers very much in public, leading to a total breakdown of collective responsibility.

You can follow @GuitarMoog.


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