Brexit: EU Negotiators Roll Up Sleeves

The clock is ticking… One year and counting until Britain leaves the EU. Recently I focused on the prominent figures representing the UK in the next round of negotiations. This week I am taking a look at the key characters on the European side of the divide.

In the UK we have a rich tradition pantomime (or ‘panto’). For those not acquainted with this British cultural pastime, a pantomime is a theatrical telling of a fairy tale which uses a mixture of childish humour, adult innuendo and a generous dose of slapstick.

Crucial to every panto is the pantomime villain – there to suck up boos and hisses from the audience.  The English press love a panto villain and as Brexit negotiations intensify the EU negotiating team will increasingly fulfil this mantle – the Comte de Rochefort and Cardinal Richelieu counterparts to the intrepid 3 Brexiteers.

So here’s a roundup of the public figures staking out European claims in the Brexit negotiations:

Michel Barnier: As the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator this French politician has a reputation for playing hardball.  M. Barnier has been described as having  ‘a dash of vanity’ and a ‘lack of attention to detail’, and carries himself with a swagger.

Since the negotiations began he has shown a penchant for sound bites that would not be out of place in a Terminator movie. Picks of the crop –  “Brexit is not a game” and “I hear no whistling, just a clock ticking” in response to another Bojo gem/clanger telling the EU to “Go whistle” over the divorce bill (that the UK has now agreed to pay).

Verdict: The EU big hitter has the charisma and charm to outflank David Davis (Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union), but if he plays to the spotlight it could also be a vulnerability. Were this a boxing match, this match up would definitely be the main card. Whenever the two stride out to the podium one half expects them to square up for a stare down!

Guy Verhofstadt: Although the Chief Brexit Negotiator for the European Parliament has a more minor role on paper, the former Belgian PM brings charisma to the EU team. A committed Europhile, he has a long history of slugging it out with the Farage faction of Europhobes on the floor of the European Parliament and is battle hardened.

A big fan of Twitter, Mr Verhofstadt is the closest the EU team have to a brawling bad cop of Lethal Weapon ilk. When the going gets tough, he gets rough as attested by sound bites such as, “Cameron, Johnson and Farage behave like rats fleeing a sinking ship” and “The more Boris Johnson talks, the more the UK economy crashes.”

Verdict: He has a flair for the oratory and a commitment to the European dream. If the negotiations begin to hit the fan and it all gets nasty, Mr Verhofstadt is likely to roll up his sleeves and start slugging.  He will land blows but his pugnacious streak could put the British public’s backs up too.

Donald Tusk: The former Polish PM is President of the European Council and in this role is effectively the EU’s representative on the world stage. Known for being unassuming yet with an icy edge, Mr Tusk is ardently pro-European but has also revealed a soft spot for the Brits.

The good cop to Mr Verhofstadt’s bad? He has certainly been less confrontational with his language.  ‘You may say I am a dreamer — I am not the only one,’ he crooned last June, quoting John Lennon, and wistfully urged  ‘a change of heart’ from the Brits earlier this year.

Verdict: Having had his poetic prose spurned by the Brits, there has been a hardening in his resolve of recent times. With a lack of identifiable hurled insults to focus on, his subdued demeanour makes him a perfect panto villain in the James Bond mould!

If this has whetted your appetite for improving your negotiation skills, do get in touch to find out more about our Negotiation courses.

Luan de Burgh

April 2018

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of de Burgh Training – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.