Article originally appeared in The Telegraph on 23/10/15
Diplomacy is a messy business, but the Prime Minister can maximise his chance of success by following these simple rules. Sir Christopher Meyer, Chairman of the Pagefield Advisory Board, shares his views on the five ways the PM can succeed in his renegotiation as part of a series of blogs on campaigning celebrating Pagefield’s fifth birthday.
There is much rubbish being written about Britain’s negotiation to change the terms of its membership of the EU.
On the one hand, David Cameron is being accused of a “humiliating U-turn” in agreeing to put in writing his wish-list of reforms. This accusation is daft, since no negotiation can move forward without demand and response being written down.
On the other, Mr Cameron is pressed by Eurosceptics to set out in public his negotiating hand. This too is stupid. You don’t show your hand in advance to your negotiating adversaries. These include, by the way, 27 other governments, the monstrous regiment of Eurocrats in Brussels, and MEPs in the European Parliament.
Eurosceptics, of course, mistrust Mr Cameron’s intentions. But they also confuse foreign policy and diplomacy. Foreign policy is what you want to do. Diplomacy is how you do it. Foreign policy – a statement of the national interest – should be openly debated. By contrast, diplomacy – the cut and thrust of negotiation – is rarely successful when conducted in the public eye.
We know, as we should, the broad axes of Britain’s strategy towards EU reform: an exclusion from “ever closer union”; no discrimination against those member states who have not adopted the euro; greater national control over social and other policies; restrictions in practice, if not in principle, over freedom of movement.
Achieving these goals will be prodigiously difficult. So, here are five rules for Britain’s diplomatic campaign. They do not guarantee success. But, if followed, they will maximise our chances of securing a decent result.
Of primordial importance: no deal is better than a bad deal. Make sure from the outset that your adversaries understand that you will walk away if you don’t get what you want.
Of equal importance: before negotiating, decide a bottom line and stick to it. If you do not , you are doomed to be pushed from pillar to post. Of course, successful negotiations always require reciprocal concessions. You must therefore be clear from the outset what you can concede and what you must insist on at all costs.
Your concessions are sometimes known as fallback positions, intended to put pressure on the other side to show equal flexibility and give you defence in depth.
Don’t be afraid to be isolated. If you fear isolation, you get pushed off your bottom line. Margaret Thatcher was never afraid to be isolated; Tony Blair was. That’s why she won a substantial rebate on our contribution to the EU budget, a large chunk of which he later gave away.
You will need allies. Do not behave in a way that alienates the other member states en bloc. Prepare in depth. Understand the interests of each member state. Try to do deals issue by issue. Be nice . Give lavish, but intimate, hospitality at Chequers to presidents and prime ministers who are biddable. Try to involve senior members of the Royal family.
There will be gruelling hours of negotiation, often into the night. Always be sure you have the fuel – food and drink – in your briefcase to keep you going. You cannot rely on the other side to offer sustenance.
Picture Credit: Associated Press