Brexit negotiations got nastier last week. At the conclusion of the third round of talks, the European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier complained about lack of progress and accused the UK government of trying to wriggle out of its financial responsibilities.
And it got worse, Barnier was widely reported to have a told a conference at the weekend that he wanted to “teach the British people and others what leaving the EU means”.
It’s a menacing statement, so it’s worth reflecting for a moment on the impact of such language on the people whose interests Barnier is supposed to be upholding – EU citizens, and notably EU citizens who are working in the UK.
If you are one of the many people who have come to the UK to work in logistics and supply chain, how are you going to feel when you hear that the country is about to be taught a lesson? And if your company relies on a pan-European supply chain, how confident are you going to be in the future stability of that operation?
In a tweet on Monday Barnier was clearly distancing himself from the reported statement: “I said: Brexit = occasion to explain single market benefits in all countries, incl my own. We do not want to ‘educate’ or ‘teach lessons’,” Barnier tweeted.
It’s obvious that the EU negotiators are determined to put the UK government under pressure – it’s a pretty standard negotiating tactic.
Nevertheless, this episode highlights the damage that ill-considered language can do. And supply chain and logistics operations are the first places that such damage will be felt.