The Great British Brexit tantrum

As we enter decisive weeks for the Brexit negotiations, it is important for European negotiators, including Ireland, to understand the psychology of the British government.

I speculated 18 months ago that the United Kingdom might be pursuing a Brexit madman strategy, a recognised theory of negotiations whereby an implied thread of mutually assured destruction will elicit concessions from a frightened interlocutor. It seems to me now that British negotiators may be dabbling with a more novel tantrum strategy, whereby a combination of indignation and stubbornness will enable them to get their ice-cream before they have eaten their broccoli.

Accepting the principle of sovereign equality contributes nothing to the direction or outcome of the negotiations

Bobby McDonagh is a former ambassador to London, Rome and the EU

It falls to those at the coalface of negotiations, on both sides, to handle the complex detail and, if possible, shape subtle compromises. However, the underlying frame of mind of the British government is now broadly discernible from afar. It has six notable characteristics.

First, the UK has taken to emphasising that the Brexit negotiation is one between sovereign equals. This reflects a sensible enough recognition of the principle of sovereign equality, even if has taken the UK a few meandering centuries to plump definitively for the principle. All countries are, by definition, sovereign equals: the UK, Ireland, Finland, Germany and so on. Insofar as the EU is negotiating, in this context, on behalf of 27 countries it could be said, in current London parlance, to be the UK’s sovereign equal. However, that is merely the context of the negotiations. Accepting the principle of sovereign equality contributes nothing to the direction or outcome of the negotiations.



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