Congratulations, Boris!

Dear Boris,

I could hardly sleep last night. Many scenarios played in my head: Corbyn the new PM, a hung parliament, endless parliamentary sessions, battles about prorogation. What a relief this morning: you had secured and you had strengthened your position as the democratically chosen PM.

It was certainly not easy to get there. No other British politician had to spread so many flagrant lies as you did, but they were absolutely necessary to secure this spectacular victory, to finally “GET BREXIT DONE”.

Your political enemy, Mr Corbyn, turned out to be your best friend, after all. His complete lack of popularity was a gift from heaven. Not only is his physical appearance a guarantee for instantaneous distrust, his completely outdated Marxist class struggle theories and his entirely unclear Brexit position were enough to undermine Labour’s political credibility. Congratulations, too, Jeremy!

Of course, many of your critics envy your great success and keep nagging about problems you will encounter when implementing your Brexit strategy. Industrial investments, already declining at an alarming rate, will dwindle even more rapidly. Large parts of the automobile industry, which depend on flawless supply chains, will move to Germany and other European countries. Head Quarters of many international companies will prefer Dublin or Amsterdam. Labour shortages will haunt many organisations, especially in the service and health sector. Serious conflicts will threaten peace in Northern Ireland again. Scotland’s motivation to leave the Union will strongly increase. The money for all the beautiful presents you promised during your campaing will not be there. After all, the net payments to the EU are many times lower than you said: you tactically forgot to include agricultural payments from the EU to the UK, for example.

These critics tend to forget two important things. First, they seem two assume that Brexit was and is your main political goal. It is not. Your political goal is to collect power, as much power as possible. Brexit is not your first goal. Brexit is your means to your end. Second, they seem to assume that you have a Brexit strategy, but you haven’t. You certainly have a beautiful collection of Brexit slogans and these were exactly what you needed until today. The slogan “GET BREXIT DONE” was more than brilliant, but you can only admit that you do not know at all what it means. The same for “GETTING BACK CONTROL”: psychologically superb as it refers to basic human needs and fears. Who does not want more control? The critics will ask: “control over what, for whom, etc.?”, but these are irrelevant questions. The important thing is that you managed to strike exactly the right chord in large parts of the UK population with the right political result: Boris PM with a large majority, Boris getting back control.

Now that you have secured your power position, you can get to work and even think about how to get Brexit done. I wish you lots of success during the 2, 5 or 15 years this will take.


Reinier de Man




Voor of tegen Europa? Wat een onzin

Iedereen die verder kijkt dan ideologische vereenvoudigingen van de werkelijkheid zal moeten bekennen dat de EU niet alleen veel voordelen heeft gebracht voor veel (maar niet alle) inwoners van de lidstaten, maar ook heel veel nog onopgeloste problemen heeft veroorzaakt. De invoering van de Euro – een politiek gemotiveerd maar economisch weinig doordacht experiment – heeft bijvoorbeeld heel veel ellende gebracht voor mensen in landen als Griekenland en Spanje. In de Europese verkiezingen heb ik D66 gestemd, een partij die de noodzaak van goede Europese samenwerking in het vaandel heeft geschreven. Toch heb ik me nogal geërgerd aan de verkiezingsleus “Vóór Europa!”. Daarmee spiegelt deze partij met een even simplistische leus de simplistische leuzen van de rechtse of linkse populisten, allerlei variates op “Tegen Europa!”: de SP met “Laat Brussel niet de Baas zijn” en de Nexit-leuzen van Wilders.

Als we de slogans van de politici willen geloven, gaat het er dus om vóór of tegen Europa te zijn. Maar wat betekent dat eigenlijk, voor of tegen Europa zijn? Ik zou het niet weten. Ook ik ben niet enthousiast over alles wat er in Brussel gebeurt, maar een Europa zonder EU lijkt me een heel gevaarlijk scenario. Als we de EU slopen, dan is er nog steeds een Europa, hoe zeer wij ook “tegen Europa” zijn. En ik vermoed dat dit Europa armer, gevaarlijker en onrechtvaardiger zal zijn dan het huidige Europa. Toen ik onlangs het hokje D66 met mijn potlood rood maakte, was dat niet omdat ik zo enthousiast ben over Europa. Dat ben ik echt niet, maar dat is geen reden om voor de Europese zelfmoord met PVV, SP en Forum voor Democratie te kiezen.



The Brexit Mess is in the UK’s political genes

Brexit Negotiation Errors

A Harvard Professor

In December 2018, Deepak Malhotra, a Harvard Business professor and expert on negotiation, wrote an interesting article in the New York Times opinion section: “I’m an expert on Negotations and I Have Some Advice for Theresa May”. He quoted his own article, written in 2016 not long after the Brexit Referendum, in which he addressed basic negotation errors and predicted what could happen next as a result:

“The EU might come to the conclusion that since any deal is going to fall short of the extreme promises made in the UK, it is not worth giving any special concessions at all. I hate to say it, but this is precisely where we are today.” [1]

His prediction was 100% accurate. In his 2018 letter to the editor he addresses May’s basic negotation errors: ignoring the ‘red lines’of her negotiations counterpart and “her refusal to manage expectations from the beginning”. Rather optimistically Malhotra concludes: “It may not be too late for the prime minister to rescue the negotiation process. But to do so, she must first stop negotiating like an agent and start negotiating like a mediator.” [1]

Winning is the Game – Losing is the Result

I tend to fully agree with Malhotra on this conclusion, but only on one condition: it only makes sense in case May and her government really want to negotiate based on a clear understanding of the need for negotiating. I am afraid this understanding is completely absent. Nothing in the development between the 2016 referendum and today is pointing at even the slightest sign of a willingness to negotiate. All the games point at one thing: winning. May has been fighting on many fronts: UK versus EU, Conservatives against Labour, May against hardliner Brexiteers, May against her Ministers and finally Government against Parliament. She has lost 99% of all fights, but still it is difficult to discover any real trend towards negotiation and consensus building.

My Dissertation (1987): I could not believe what I heard

Of course this is nothing unexpected. Reading about the unbelievable Brexit tragedy, I had to think about my dissertation (1987) for which I studied policy processes in both the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. It was about the formation of energy policy, the use of technical and economic information and styles of negotiation. After studying our Dutch debates on nuclear energy, energy saving and low energy scenarios, I took the ferry to Harwich and travelled through the UK to interview key people in policy debates and policy formulation during the early 1980s. The questions in the UK policy debate were not too different from the questions discussed in the Netherlands. My ‘zero hypothesis’ for my UK interviews was that I would find processes in the UK similar to those in the Netherlands. No hypothesis could have been more naïve. In many interviews, I could not believe what I was hearing. Whereas in the Dutch debates there were continuous attempts at bridging divergent views and interpretations, the UK landscape of positions remained fragmented. In the Netherlands, relevant minority positions were taken seriously. In the UK, minority positions simply lost against majority positions.

British Style Majority Rule

In my dissertation, I wrote about the forecasts in the low energy debate:

“The British style in the low-energy debate caused a relatively fast institutinal reassessment of energy forecasts. … .. …. (T)he debate was highly effective. It could be effective because it did not entail extensive negotiation procedures involving powerful minorities, such as were seen in the Netherlands and in Western Germany. In this respect, the energy forecasting case is just an example of the effectiveness of majority rule politics versus the time-consuming procedures in countries which organize their political decision making on the basis of the proportionality principle.
On a different level however, this British style may prove highly ineffective, as it does not solve any of the underlying societal conflicts.” [2]

Negotiation Skills Deficiency Genes

Today, 32 years after I defended my dissertation, not too much has changed in the UK policy tradition. Governing by simple majorities is still in the UK’s political genes. It may still work in certain situations to a certain extent, but its limits are becoming painfully visible, not only because of the gradual breakdown of the UK two party system and the imminent crisis in the conservative party. Governing by simple majorities was not any realistic option after the Government lost its majority in parliament after May failed to win the 2017 elections, which were meant to strengthen her political basis.

Majority rule politics does not provide solutions for the UK’s complex policy issues today that intrinsically require superior negotiation skills, including skills for creating majorities in an increasingly fragmented political landscape. Such skills are scarce among the current elite.

Moreover, in the area of trade relations, skills that may have existed before the UK joined the EU are completely gone.  At the time of the Brexit decision, the UK did not have any trade negotiator. Already in 2017, the Norwegian prime minister said:

“We do feel that sometimes when we are discussing with Britain, that their speed is limited by the fact that it is such a long time since they have negotiated.” [3]

The UK has a political culture that does not foster negotiation skills. The present political elite is therefore completely incompetent to deal with their huge tasks ahead. In principle, the problem could be solved by sending all top politicians to a 10 day course with professor Malhotra at Harvard. But so long as the absence of elementary negotiation skills is not being recognized as a problem, this will remain sheer phantasy.

May 24: Exit May

Finally on May 24, May announced her exit. It was not surprise at all. Another scenario would not have been possible. It was clear from the outset, on the basis of a very small set of parameters that her strategy was bound to fail. In her own party, she did not have any majority of any plan that could have been accepted by other parties that were essential to create a majority. By moving into the direction of the radical Brexiteers, she would lose support from Labour and others. By moving into the direction of less radical voices in Labour and elsewhere, she would lose support in her own party. There was no other scenario possible. She should have resigned right after the 2017 elections or she should have chosen a completely different role from that moment on, a mediating role (see above) in which all responsibilities for the outcome of the negotations should have been transferred to the political parties. But,  in the UK context, this may be a far-fetched illusion.

Postscript December 2019: Boris wins

Boris Johnson’s ample majority has restored a situation that British politics can much better handle. Johnson has a majority now. Johnson can rule, and even deal with some dissidents within the Tory ranks. There is no need for complicated coalitions and negotations between British parties. It’s one party rule as usual again. However, the government will have to negotiate its relationships with the EU from the position of the weaker party. Negotation skills remain essential. 


[1] Deepak Malhotra, I’m an Expert on Negotiations, and I Have Some Advice for Theresa May. Maybe there’s still hope. NYT 20 Dec. 2018.

[2] R. de Man, Energy Forecasting and the Organization of the Policy Process, Disertation, Amsterdam 1987

[3] Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg says long membership of EU has left Britain without key skills for successful trade talks. The Guardian, 5 Jan. 2017,