Video killed the Brexit-negotiating star

EU heads of state have already started to use video conference rather than face-to-face meetings | Pool photo by Michel Euler/AFP via Getty Images

Video killed the Brexit-negotiating star

Talks will move slower if negotiations are held virtually, experts say.


3/13/20, 7:52 PM CET

Updated 3/16/20, 8:16 AM CET

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 it’s 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.”

“It’s not that it absolutely can’t be done but the dynamic is much slower than having lots of people together” — David Henig,

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