Where is the Brexit Business Case?

Next week on June 8th there will be new elections in the UK and after this the negotiations around the Brexit between Britain and the EU will start. Michel Barnier, EU’s chief negotiator, has planned these negotiations to start on June 19th but who he will negotiate from te UK side is of course depending on the outcome of the elections.

Theresa May notified the European council of the UK’s decision to leave the EU on 29 March this year, nine months after last years June referendum. According to the Lisbon treaty the withdrawal negotiations as allowed under article 50 need to be finished within two years so the end date is set on March 30th 2019 (unless all parties agree on an extended deadline…). And after this day the actual transition will start and this will probably also take time, this whole Brexit programma will probably dominate the EU agenda for the coming years.

So although te UK had already nine months to prepare before the negotiation phase started, 10 weeks have passed since without any formal or informal negotiations. And with the elections next week even more uncertainty is created because we don’t know who we will need to negotiate with from the UK side after the elections: the latest polls show the conservatives are losing their majority so Theresa May did not get the clear victory she expected from the elections. And when Labour takes over government together with the SNP the whole negotiation process will at least delay and probably soften the negotiations.

With the Brexit negotiations a long and complex negotiation process will start which has never been done before in the history of the EU and with an uncertain outcome, a complex landscape of stakeholders within both the EU as the UK and a rapidly changing political and economical environment.

As a first step the European Council agreed on a set of principles outlined as follow:

“In these negotiations the Union will act as one. It will be constructive throughout and will strive to find an agreement. This is in the best interest of both sides. The Union will work hard to achieve that outcome, but it will prepare itself to be able to handle the situation also if the negotiations were to fail. These guidelines define the framework for negotiations under Article 50 TEU and set out the overall positions and principles that the Union will pursue throughout the negotiation. The European Council will remain permanently seized of the matter, and will update these guidelines in the course of the negotiations as necessary.”

So a fixed end date but not fixed if all agree, basic principles which can be changed along the way and  even fall back scenario in case the negotiations are not successful: from a programme management perspective and change management perspective a big challenge with a lot of risks involved and all indicators for a potential failure most visible in the objective to ge an agreement  in the best interest of both sides.

You can compare the Brexit negotiations with a divorce, key with a divorce is that both parties are saying farewell to the former situation when they were living together  ‘in the best interest of both sides’ and want to establish a new situation where after the divorce you want to take care of your own interest. And as we all know a divorce can become very nasty and give a fight around parenthood and the distribution of material and immaterial assets and pensions: in the end both parties involved will have to pay a price. And just like after a divorce it is also valid for the Brexit: how can the EU and UK separate from each other and share the pain? In this process it is not about who will win but how both parties can quickly come to an agreement and sign the divorce papers, the longer this process will take the more damage will be done on the relationship. After the divorce it will take time to heal and buildup a new relationship: when the settlement of the divorce was not fair this will be more difficult.

So I think it would be best to come to an agreement as quickly as possible and already start with the implementation with parts of the agreements once decided on. It would have helped if EU had already come up with a more detailed plan how they would like to manage the Brexit and the future relationship with the UK including the different possible transition scenario’s, their costs and benefits and a roadmap for the transition. Just like a normal government programme is broken into projects and is based on a proper business case as described in the Prince2 project management methodology especially developed for UK government. This would also be fair for the UK voters because next week they will not know what the objectives and strategies of the political parties will be during the negotiations and will be giving a blanco cheque to the new UK Government next week to do what they think is best.

The Brexit is not about negotiating a contract between two companies who will profit most from the contract but it’s about countries with a long history of working together and establishing great things and need start connecting again and work together as soon as possible!

And as a European not having much influence on this whole negotiation process (we were not asked what we want) and not having elected the current EU leadership directly maybe EU leadership could take the criticism of the UK serious and transform the EU into a more democratic European Union and take out regulation that does not make sense and decrease overhead so we can also benefit from the Brexit business case.

Update June 9th 2017 4:00

Theresa May has lost the elections because she did not get the majority of seats in parlement which will make it difficult for the UK to start the Brexit negotiation process June 19th as planned. When Theresa May should decide to resign as MP, and already members of the conservatives are asking for this, someone else needs to take over: this will have impact on the UK negotiation team and it will take time before this team can operate effectively. This will delay the negotiations significant and weaken UK’s position. The winner of this UK elections is the EU who is now confronted with a divided UK without a strong leader and without a clear strategy.

Update June 19th 2017 20:00

Belgium EU Brexit

Today finally the negotiations started with a UK negotiation team presenting a divided country after the disappointing elections for the tories, the terror attacks and the Grenfell towers fire. The UK government is under a lot of pressure form inside and outside and that is not a good starting point for the negotiations. We will se how this will further develop the coming months…

Looking at above picture of the teams sitting together for the first time I noticed:

  1. It looks like there is no (independent) chair for the meeting;
  2. The delegations are too big, both teams consist of ten people, too much for running an effective meeting;
  3. The two parties are sitting opposite each other with a lot of distance in between, a smaller table could create a more informal atmosphere;
  4. There are a lot of microphones and screens in the middle, probably all what’s said is translated and recorded,  this will not help making creative solutions..

Let’s see how this will work out in time!