The Brexit negotiations present a puzzle for scholars of international bargaining, who tend to assume hard bargaining follows from advantages in bargaining power. In spite of its relative weakness vis-à-vis the EU27, however, the UK’s negotiating strategy bears all the hallmarks of hard bargaining. Drawing upon a series of elite interviews conducted in late 2017, this working paper argues that British hard bargaining is a consequence of three ideational factors particular to the UK case: the dominance of a conservative ideology of statecraft, a majoritarian institutional culture, and weak socialisation into European structures. These three factors not only predisposed UK policymakers to favour harder bargaining strategies, ceteris paribus, but also contributed to a misperception that Britain possessed more bargaining power than was actually the case. This paper argues that the UK’s bargaining strategy comes with a high risk of immediate failure, as well as longer term self-harm.
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Keywords: Bargaining strategy; Brexit negotiations; United Kingdom; constructivism; ideology; institutional culture; socialisation