Theresa May was forced to push back the meaningful vote on her Brexit deal – with the Commons vote now expected to happen on or before Tuesday, March 12. The delay aimed to buy the Prime Minister extra time to secure concessions from the EU, in a bid to persuade MPs to vote in favour of her deal. Now Geoffrey Cox, Britain’s attorney-general, has less than a week to secure a deal with Brussels – but can he do it? Express.co.uk spoke exclusively to a negotiations expert to find out just how far Britain has to go to secure a deal.
Geoffrey Cox is leading the way in talks with the EU, which are aimed at tweaking the Mrs May’s deal – which had been rejected by MPs in the last meaningful vote.
He has pared back demands made by the UK for changes to the deal, however, Brussels still suggests Britain’s stance exceeds what can be agreed.
The EU insists the exit agreement – which spans over 585 pages – cannot be rewritten.
But Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, is adamant there could still be a way to secure a deal. – sparking fresh hope for the British negotiators.
Brexit news: Is it too late for Geoffrey Cox to bag a deal?
But is it too late for Geoffrey Cox to bag a deal?
Tony Hughes, CEO of global negotiation specialists Huthwaite International, told Express.co.uk many politicians may feel trapped between a rock and a hard place – but there is still scope to secure a deal.
He said: “In a new wave of Brexit drama, Geoffrey Cox has been said to have ‘ditched demand for a Brexit backstop end date and unilateral exit clause’ due to the stipulations being ‘too blunt’ for the EU to accept.
“With these being the two main considerations Mr Cox and his team have been asked to press on by UK MPs, it leaves one question hanging thick in the air, and unanswered – where does the UK negotiation stance move from here?
“Whilst we’ve already experienced many twists and turns throughout the duration of the Brexit plot it seems Mr Cox’s recent revelations may just see the storyline thicken, as UK MPs are left with difficult decisions to make amid a tirade of party politics.
“At this late stage, many politicians are feeling trapped between a rock and a hard place – considering voting the deal down, and in turn risking what is perceived by some to be an equally risky ‘no deal’.
“The answers lie in both parties’ abilities to negotiate well, in less than ideal circumstances.
“To avoid a deadlock that forces the hand, the key is for Mr Cox, Mrs May and indeed the EU to reconsider their approach for negotiations and head back to basics.
“This could be to reassess what both parties are looking to achieve when it comes to the backstop and what impact it will have on the island of Ireland should a mutually beneficial agreement not come into play.
Brexit news: Theresa May needs to reconsider her approach says Mr Hughes
“Negotiations are about compromise for both parties and focusing the commentary on what is mutually beneficial is of the utmost importance.”
The way negotiations are approached physically is key, says Mr Hughes.
He added: “It is vital the language and verbal behaviour used from here on remains nuanced, open and flexible in order to create the positive climate a successful negotiation requires – especially in the final stretch.
“A big mistake is to irritate the individual you’re looking to negotiate with ahead of the final signature by making spurious non-persuasive comments.
“We’ve seen this happen many times throughout the Brexit negotiations but it is counterproductive and places the negotiation at risk – not least at the final hour.”
The UK has “a clear lack of power and flexibility”, according to Mr Hughes, which is causing yet more issues in negotiations.
He said: “Mr Cox should be offering concessions in other areas in return, but as it stands, there are no further concessions to be offered without causing serious issue within Parliament.
“In an ideal scenario, before confirming the £39bn divorce bill, the settlement would have included certain guarantees – such as no Irish border and the ability to trade freely with other countries, with the divorce bill being reduced without these concessions.
“However, with the figure pre-agreed before deal discussions could even begin, the UK has very little to offer in return for a unilateral exit or hard time limit on the backstop.
Brexit news: Mr Cox should offer concessions to the EU in return Mr Hughes advises
“Rather than creating an opportunity for conflict, Mrs May, Mr Cox and the wider UK team need to open more opportunities to negotiate with careful and strategic techniques.
“Until the deal is signed, sealed and delivered – negotiations remain firmly on the table.
“The most crucial time for any negotiations is when they’re close to being agreed and signed, this is when both parties will try and change the last-minute rule in their favour, hoping the looming deadline will encourage the other side to agree.
“Mrs May and Mr Cox must remain strong, not openly defeated when it comes to the UK’s interests.
“Whether, after this weekend’s revelations from Mr Cox, it is too late to adopt that standpoint and make it work, only time will truly tell.”