UK should stop Brexit ‘chest thumping’ and concentrate on building European support, says former diplomat

Written by Brian Johnson on 3 April 2017 in News

Jonathan Powell launches Industry dialogue initiative in bid to bring ‘voice of business’ into Brexit talks.

Britain is in a tough negotiating position on Brexit | Photo credit: Press Association

Jonathan Powell, the ex-chief of staff to former UK Prime minister Tony Blair, has called for an end to what he terms “chest-thumping” by the UK’s Brexit negotiators.

Writing in the Financial Times on Friday, Powel, who was also Britain’s lead negotiator on the Northern Ireland peace talks under Blair, said the UK’s “extraordinarily weak hand” placed Britain in a tough negotiating position.

“The objective of any negotiation is to build trust between the two sides, not to undermine it. At the moment, we are going in the other direction,” he warned.


“Threatening to jump off a cliff into World Trade Organization measures if we do not get what we want is comparable with someone threatening to shoot themselves unless you do what they want. It cuts no ice; so stop with the threats.

“Brexit is without doubt the most difficult negotiation I have seen in my lifetime. It is mind-bogglingly complex, structurally — how can you persuade the others that the divorce, the new deal and the transitional measures are negotiated in parallel rather than sequentially? The UK has an extraordinarily weak hand.

“Unless the voices and views of the whole of the UK are engaged in the process, the final outcome of the negotiations will be worse for jobs and businesses, citizen, consumer and employment rights, environmental standards and effective regulation. And, therefore, worse for Britain.”

In a bid to safeguard jobs and protect future working and trading conditions, Powel is establishing a platform that will allow businesses to exchange views with policymakers and negotiators on both sides of the English Channel.

‘Brexit Exchange’ is an international dialogue for business which, according to Powell, will bring together advocates from all sides of the Brexit debate at a series of transnational summits.

“It is only by listening to the real effects of Brexit that Britain’s interests can be advanced. And it is only by ensuring that engagement is transnational — across all EU member states — involving enterprise, entrepreneurs, importers and exporters, employers and employees that Britain’s negotiators can obtain such a deal,” said Powell.

“This will require the support of a qualified majority of the European Council, and the consent of the European Parliament. That is why I am establishing this international dialogue; to allow business to exchange views and for politicians to listen”.

The new platform has received the backing of Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat, whose country holds the current rotating EU council presidency, who said, “I would like to welcome the Brexit Exchange initiative. An international dialogue with business – to inform the negotiations, protect jobs and promote enterprise - is vital and essential to securing the continued prosperity of all the citizens of Europe. I wish you well.”

Steffen Kampeter, co-chair with Powell on Brexit Exchange said, “Brexit is about more than the future of Britain. It is about the future of Europe. About how, where and with whom we do business.

“The Single Market is an integrated European supply chain with the U.K. currently an integral link within it. Maintaining that link is in Britain's interest and Europe's interest too”.

Kampeter, who is also the Managing Director of the German Employers Association (BDA), added, “That's why Brexit Exchange is so important. Letting Europe's politicians hear directly from European businesses about our common concerns and shared vision for trade, employment, productivity and enterprise”.

The initial Brexit Exchange summit, in London on 18 May, will identify gaps in thinking and strategy and look to develop shared priorities through specially produced ‘communiqués’ that can be fed into the formal negotiations.

About the author

Brian Johnson is the managing editor of the Parliament Magazine

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