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Can a future prime minister’s personality be enough to secure changes in the Brexit negotiations?

Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson are the two candidates running to be the next leader of the Conservative Party Credit: PA

With Theresa May on her way out of Downing Street her successor will have to find a way to break the Brexit impasse.

Current frontrunner Boris Johnson has suggested he will be able to secure changes to the current Withdrawal Agreement, despite the EU saying it is no longer up for negotiation.

Critics have claimed that Johnson is relying on his personality, a tactic they say that will not be successful.

Whether Johnson or Jeremy Hunt takes the top job they will have to either negotiate with the EU or with MPs to get the current deal passed through the House of Commons, even though it has been rejected multiple times.

ITV News asked some of the UK's top negotiators whether a leader’s personality is enough to help secure a different deal.

  • How can a new prime minister reopen the Brexit negotiations?

The European Union has repeatedly said that the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for renegotiation, but Mr Johnson in particular believes changes can be secured.

Robin Hoyle, who has worked as a negotiator for Huthwaite International and has trained upwards of 10,000 negotiators across the world over the past 20 years, said it was “quite possible” that a new prime minister could present a valid case to change the current situation.

“There are three conditions required before any kind of negotiation can take place, agreement and disagreement on what is and isn’t on the table, scarce resource (whether that’s the divorce bill, security cooperation or future trade arrangements) and thirdly there should be the ability of both parties to vary the terms,” Mr Hoyle told ITV News.

It is this last condition that a new Prime Minister might be able to influence. Mr Hoyle did however say there would have to be a “significant new offer” to secure any changes.

“The focus on re-open ‘or else’ is unlikely to shift their thinking.

"Experienced and skilled negotiators (like Michel Barnier) never concede, they always trade,” he added

Steve Bullock, who was a British negotiator in the EU, said a new Prime Minister is unlikely to make a difference at this stage.

“A new Prime Minister does not change that a Withdrawal Agreement exists, or that it is the only agreement there will be under Article 50,” he told ITV News.

"There’s just no reset button on the Withdrawal Agreement.”

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are vying for the Tory crown. Credit: PA
  • Will a new leader be successful in securing new changes if negotiations are reopened?

Georgina Hamblin, top divorce lawyer from law firm Vardags, represents ultra-high net worth clients.

She is currently working on a £1 billion divorce and she said “sometimes fresh blood, a new direction or a renewed sense of purpose can work miracles".

“Often this can be helpful with a fresh approach being taken to problem areas and a new lease of energy and enthusiasm allowing stalemates to be broken.

"It is so often about finding a new way or perspective of looking at things,” Ms Hamblin told ITV News.

“High level negotiation takes a team, but in every team you need a strong leader to steer the strategy and grab the bull by the horns.”

She did however say it “remains to be seen” whether a new prime minister will be able to make any difference in the Brexit negotiations.

  • Can a new personality be the big difference in the negotiations?

There has been some talk that a change in personality, with a new bold prime minister, could be enough to make the difference.

Mr Hoyle said it was more about “trust” than just personality.

He said if the new Prime Minister was “at least more trusted than the predecessor, then there may be some potential for movement on the other side".

Clive Rich, author of The Yes Book: The Art of Better Negotiation, said that personality “can make a positive difference” but it depends on if the behaviour in question is suited to the negotiation.

“In this case, Boris Johnson [who is the current front runner], is dealing with technocrats who focus on the detail and are unlikely to be impressed by 'big picture' statements or 'bold' behaviour,” Mr Rich told ITV News.

“For his kind of personality to be effective he would need to be dealing with someone who is more like him on the other side - eg. it would be more effective if he was negotiating with Trump on a UK/US trade deal.”