We predicted Brexit would happen because we thought differently – now we have some advice about the Brexit talks

Many years working in law, diplomacy, and yes even the military, have taught us that in negotiations and operations defeat is certain if one thinks of only one’s own perspective..

“Time spent in recognisance is seldom wasted”, is a phrase well known to military planners. Likewise, good lawyers and diplomatic negotiators know what their side wants out of a negotiation so spend most time thinking about the other side’s negotiating position and possible strategies. They look to the other side’s strengths and constraints to determine how to get the other side to agree to the outcome our side wants.

With the Brexit talks looming, have the British Government, the British people and British business thought enough about the other side’s view, or have we focussed too much on our own view? Are we ready?

Well, first there was the Brexit referendum, then summer, then Christmas and now the election and its aftermath. British politicians have had to lead the British people in discussions about ‘what Britain could look like’ and ‘our negotiating position’, often assuming our negotiating position will be the ‘negotiated outcome’, ignoring the dynamics on the ‘other side’.

At a recent legal event, we heard that Germany has billions of euros of insurance underwritten in Britain every year. ‘Therefore,’ the speaker said, ‘Germany has to give us a fair run as the Germans can’t afford to lose that business.’ It is an optimistic British view but that is where the discussion stopped.

If the discussion had have continued, thinking from the German side, another option would look viable. We all know that large businesses like the insurance companies are planning for a ‘Plan B’ option of moving at least some of their business to mainland Europe should Brexit negotiations not protect ‘passporting’. We know this because the businesses have said that this is what they are doing.

The Germans know this too.

Wouldn’t it be a viable position for the Germans to think ‘if we play hard-ball then we trigger the companies’ plan B, they move to Europe and then some of that business will come to Frankfurt’?

Likewise, some say we can replace the German trade with Commonwealth trade anyway. But over 50% of the UK’s trade is with or through Europe and less than 10% is with the Commonwealth.

Hence a 10% drop in EU trade requires a 50% increase in Commonwealth trade. A British views is that ‘of course the Commonwealth will trade more with us’.

But look from the Commonwealth perspective. Where does that extra trade come from?

How much of existing Commonwealth trade exists because Britain is the front door to Europe? More importantly how much Commonwealth trade is being held back because of EU membership and could start as soon as Britain leaves the EU?
Take Australia for example. The five main parts of their economy are resources, agriculture, tourism, financial services and international education. Britain doesn’t buy Australia’s iron ore, it doesn’t buy much Australian agriculture, Aussies already flock here as tourists, and the financial services and education sectors compete more than collaborate. From where does the trade growth come?

The apron strings of the Commonwealth countries looking back to the motherland were cut many years ago and cannot be re-stitched easily. We need to start thinking in the Commonwealth’s shoes, not just ours. In order to boost trade with the Commonwealth, what do we need from EU negotiations to look more attractive to the Commonwealth? What are Commonwealth countries thinking?

If one look at other people’s perspectives more than your own, then surprising opportunities can arise.

As the founders of Brexit Advisory Services, we took opposite side in the Brexit debate. One a strong Remainer, the other a strong Brexiter. We sit on opposite sides of the political fence but we listen to and respect each other’s perspectives – a skill many people are losing in these days of ‘echo chambers’.

Because we listened to each other’s perspectives and campaigning experiences, we were amongst the few who predicted a Brexit win. Not only did we predict it, we prepared for it by doing things such as buy domain names like BrexitAdvisoryServices.co.uk.

We understood that while large businesses have the inherent capacity to lobby government, small business needs help. We only saw this opportunity to help small businesses because we each understood and respected the other’s perspective.

Britain needs a similar thought process.

With Brexit negotiations starting, perhaps British discussions have been too inward focussed and we are not yet searching for the opportunities that will arise when looking at other people’s perspectives, be they the German perspective, the Australian perspective or even understanding the dynamics of our own small businesses.

To help government our people and businesses, particularly small business, must help government by sharing multiple perspectives of both opportunities and threats. Today we are building Britain in a new image. Are we ready?

First published in The Independent, Sunday 18th June

Andrew MacLeod

Non-Executive Chairman at Griffin Law
Andrew MacLeod is a visiting Professor at Kings College London and a Non Executive Director of Cornerstone Capital in the US. He was a Remain campaigner and has now combined with Brexit campaigners to form Brexit Advisory Services at UK's Griffin Law. He can be followed @AndrewMMacLeod.

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