A Brexit simulation (for when you don’t know what’s going to happen)

Moi non plus… (as I imagine Dubya would have said)

I’m doing some training on negotiation in Belgium this week, building on what the organisers imagine is my expertise in this subject and Brexit.

Of course, when I said ‘yes’ to the offer six months ago, I had to hedge against making too many promises that reality might break all too obviously.

What I’d not banked on was finding myself just a day or two beforehand still not being sure what might happen by the time I found myself in front of the group.

With that in mind, I made a little negotiation exercise that tackles Brexit, but at a distance, to protect against the vagueries of it all. The text of the scenario is below and you’re welcome to comment on, and use, it as you see fit.

The group will get this text at the start of the session, having had a more conventional class about the negotiations and their operation: I envisage that this’ll work best with small-ish groups (c.6 people apiece), to allow for more efficient and effective production of a document.

Not only does the scenario side-step the need to match the real-time progress of talks, but it also focuses attention on one of the more neglected aspects of Brexit: namely that it’s not only a British thing. By asking about how another country might pursue this course, it opens up broader reflection on European integration, political action and the more generic motors of political attitudes.


It is mid-2021 and you form an advisory group to the leadership of a political party contesting an unexpected general election in a member state of the EU.

The UK left the EU on 29 March 2019, having signed the Withdrawal Agreement in December 2018. Ratification was difficult for the UK government, with a final vote in Parliament having to be made a motion of confidence in order to manage Conservative rebels. Negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship only began in November 2019, after the election of the new European Commission, so use was made of the one-off extension to transition, to make the latter last until the end of 2021. However, it remains unlikely that a new treaty text can be signed in time for the end of this period, so there is much uncertainty about what will happen when transition ends.

Your party stands on a policy of withdrawing your state from the European Union, and stands a very good chance of forming the dominant part of a government coalition.

Your state has seen a significant turn in public opinion against the EU in recent years, for a variety of reasons, despite the loosening of economic policy as austerity comes to an end. A Eurozone and Schengen member, previous governments (including the one that has just fallen) had increasingly criticised ‘Brussels’ for economic and political problems, but your success in these elections will mark a very significant change in policy: comment on the elections from the EU institutions has been minimal, but there have been several messages of support for other parties in the election from other member states’ governments.

To make sure that this key policy is more defensible, your group has been asked to produce the following briefing note:

  • What were the fundamental mistakes of the UK and the EU in the way they handled the Article 50 process?
  • What should be the approach of the party to avoid the UK’s mistakes and to capitalise on the EU’s mistakes? What timetable and sequencing of activity should the party propose?

The note should be no more than one side of A4 in length and should represent your collective view as a group.