With Britain about to embark on a negotiating process to determine its future relationship with the EU, Andrew Woodcock sets out three essential negotiating rules we must not forget.

With Article 50 triggered after due Parliamentary process, the die is now cast.  We must face the fact that it is now all about a bargaining process.  Including, perhaps especially, those like me who genuinely view a whole continent's peace, stability and prosperity as one of the European project's remarkable successes and who remain profoundly concerned about a future with Britain outside the EU.  In looking forward, we must understand three cardinal negotiating rules.

Firstly, the Government must not be forced to tip its hand.  What its precise pay-offs and priorities are should be known only to itself.  Better to keep negotiating partners guessing, and on the back foot. Discretion is needed. Or as Churchill put it, precious truths attended by a bodyguard of lies.

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Secondly, as in any negotiation, they must be able to walk away. So, the Prime Minister would not be wrong to imply that no agreement might just be better than a bad agreement, painful as this might appear.  In the meantime, the Government must work on their best alternatives to no agreement.  The more attractive the alternative options they can conjure up, the more credible the threats of walking away, the better the negotiating position.

Thirdly, the Government must be given the means to manage the inevitable emotional turbulence.  Tempers at the negotiating table may fray. Political hype and a focus on personalities away from the table may risk scuppering potentially fruitful avenues.  The process will require patience, discipline and cool heads.  And above all, realism about what a successful deal might look like.  Cries of protest, repeated calls for more information or continual criticism from concerned Brits will not help.

For sure, after the negotiation it is only right for the Government to be held accountable for the results of its decision and its actions.   If they are seen to have got Brexit and the negotiations seriously wrong, there may be a huge electoral price to pay (and equally well, rewards if they clearly get it right). But for the good of our country, we must all now give the Government the best possible chance of success. Respecting these cardinal rules will help.

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