I never thought that Boris Johnson would win the Conservative Party leadership. Indeed, I predicted in my book that he wouldn’t make the final two. But I was wrong in that I expected he would stand.
Is Boris Johnson really the person we could see as a future Prime Minister? Is he the right person to negotiate our future trade deal with the European Union? He did go up in my estimation during the referendum campaign, but not enough to suggest that I’d want him as PM.
We need a tough negotiator. We need someone who will understand some fundamental principles of negotiation. Let’s talk about how I buy a car.
Firstly, I don’t take someone with me who’s going to tell me that the car is worth the asking price and I’ll never get a better deal. If I’m trying to haggle down the price, having a friend there telling me not to haggle is going to cost me a lot of money.
A lot of the Remain campaigners told us during the campaign that we could never get a good deal with the European Union. Okay, fair enough, they were campaigning for a Remain vote. Then we voted to Leave and they continued to say it. That’s quite irresponsible actually; it’s making it harder for us to negotiate a better deal.
Secondly, I ask for a better deal than the one I’m actually going to get. If I ask for the deal I really want, then I’ve got no room for manoeuvre.
Thirdly, I play to my strengths. I talk up the value of my trade-in car. If I can afford to pay in cash, I tell them it’s a hassle-free sale. If I’m taking their finance deal, I point out they’ll make profit on the finance deal.
We should play up our strengths in this renegotiation too. When we have 6 of the world’s top 25 universities, and the rest of the EU has none, don’t they want us to collaborate with them on research? When we’re major net importers from the EU, don’t they want to continue selling into our market? When we’re a permanent member of the UN Security Council and global leaders in security and intelligence, don’t they want an information-sharing agreement with us? Don’t they want to be able to trade freely with the world’s 5th-largest economy?
Fourthly, be prepared to walk away. Ultimately if I go to buy a car, and the dealership isn’t playing ball, I have to be willing to walk out of the door. As I leave, they always call me back and suddenly find that they can offer me a better deal.
So, we need to recognise that trading on World Trade Organisation terms would cost the EU more than it costs us. For every £1 (NET) we currently give the EU, we’d be paying 66p in tariffs. I mean hey, we could even pay the tariffs directly from the Treasury and our businesses would be no worse off. But the EU’s businesses would have to pay our government far more in tariffs. We’d be getting the better end of the deal.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s all sorts of reasons why the WTO+ option isn’t ideal. But we can’t be scared by it: it’s a worse deal for them than it is for us.
If we want a really, really good deal with the EU then we need to be prepared to do some tough negotiating.