LONDON — The Brexit talks are going online because of coronavirus — but trade experts see trouble ahead.
The U.K. and EU are discussing how to set up videoconferencing after the virus put an end to the face-to-face negotiations that were due to take place in London next week. “Both sides are currently exploring alternative ways to continue discussions, including if possible the use of video conferences,” a joint statement released on Wednesday revealed.
But trade experts argue that setting out demands to an opponent on a screen is no match for looking into the whites of their eyes.
Andrew MacDougall, who was head of communications for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper during seven years of trade talks with the EU, said it “sounds possible in theory but its not practical.”
“People are fooling themselves if they think they will have the same kind of chemistry and ability to get things done over a screen as they will in person,” he said. “So much of this is on intangibles like trust and sentiment and those are really only things that build up from being around the people, being literally across the table from them and having coffees with them in the breaks.”
“Its not that it absolutely cant be done but the dynamic is much slower than having lots of people together” — David Henig, former U.K. trade negotiator
MacDougall, who now works for political communications firm Trafalgar Strategy, added that some practical elements like breaking off to have a one-on-one conversation with an opponent would not be possible over video.
Former U.K. trade negotiator David Henig said a Brexit trade deal could be done over videoconference but the process would be much slower. Negotiators are discussing a range of different topics all at once and playing them off against each other. But Henig, who is now a director at the European Centre for International Political Economy, said that might not be possible online.
“Instead of running 11 things simultaneously you can make some progress by doing one in turn,” he explained. “Its not that it absolutely cant be done but the dynamic is much slower than having lots of people together.”
He added that keeping minds focused is more challenging during a video call compared with a face-to-face meeting. “People find it difficult to concentrate on the dynamics of a screen and sort of float away into different places,” he said.
A Downing Street spokesman has insisted the Brexit transition period will not be extended | Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images
One senior business representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity, raised technical issues: “Do you really want to negotiate on a line where not only might the sound and picture keep cutting out, but it might not be secure?”
A Downing Street spokesman said, “Secure calls take place across the government estate all the time.”
William Draffin, technical project manager at Eclipse Global, an events management firm, said modern video link systems could use end-to-end encryption or other features to ensure lines cannot be tampered with. “Solutions exist to do completely secure communications,” he said.
Draffin argued that the IT infrastructure for a large conferencing event would prevent any technological glitches, although the challenge Read More – Source