Make me an offer

Published: Mar 05 , 2018
Author: John McMillen

A woman, let’s call her April June, knocks on a neighbour’s front door; let’s call her Angel Merkin.

“Yes,” says Ms Merkin, “what do you want?”  “Make me an offer.” says Mrs June.  “But what is you want?” Repeats Mrs Merkin.  “Make me an offer.” responds Mrs June. “I don’t understand.  You come knocking on my door. What is it that you want?” “Make me an offer.” 

No this isn’t a scene from an old Monty Python.  According to press reports is the nature of the dialogue between Angela Merkel and Theresa May about the UK’s desire for a bespoke trading arrangement with the EU. 

For over 40 years now we have been teaching people that the best way of getting what you want is to ask for it; be realistic and be specific. The UK government’s approach is the complete opposite; unrealistic and non-specific.

Of course, there will be times where “make me an offer” might be appropriate. For example, in an antique shop where you might have no idea of the price or value of an item you might ask “How much is that?”, but one would hope that the UK government has at least some idea of the specifics what it wants.

Experience over the years has clearly demonstrated that the supplicant in a negotiation who adopts “make me an offer” approach will be offered nothing in over 40% of occasions, much less than they want in another 50% of occasions, leaving a very small chance that might receive a better offer that they hoped for.

In the UK’s Brexit negotiations “make me an offer” is like to produce one of three scenarios called Norway, Canada or World Trade Terms; all of which have been rejected as unacceptable.

I suspect that Mrs May’s reticence in making a specific proposal lies in the slender majority the government commands and the deep divisions in the government ranks. A “soft Brexit”, which involves obeying the EU rules and paying into their budget without having any say at the top table, will infuriate the hard brexiteers who are likely to try to depose Mrs May. Equally a “hard Brexit” which means walking away with no special access to the single market is likely to bring the wrath of the “Remainers”, industry, the finance sector, agriculture, aviation, health care etc etc down on the government; damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Never the less it is time for the government to spell out its proposal and to seize the initiative in the negotiation. It probably won’t get anything close to what it wants, given the weakness of its negotiating position, but at least the negotiations can begin.

It is a shame that those conducting the Brexit “negotiations” never attended the Scotwork course.



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John McMillen
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