22 January 2016

Gaming the UK’s future in Europe

By Raoul Ruparel

Debate around the EU referendum is heating up. There are a number of questions on people’s lips but the first one is often, what will be the outcome of the renegotiation? The second one is often what would be the relationship between the UK and the EU in the event of a Brexit? The truth is that few people have an idea about the first and almost no-one knows when it comes to the second. Neither is helped by the continued failings of the campaigns on either side. The Remain side continues to struggle to lay out a vision for the UK inside a reformed EU – something polls show an undoubted majority of the public would like to see – instead focusing on the status quo. Similarly, the Leave side has entirely and deliberately failed to lay out any kind of plan or outline for how life outside the EU might look and what relationship the UK might have with the EU.

In order to try and shed some light on these crucial questions and inform people before they head to the polls, Open Europe will on Monday host a ‘war game’ which will simulate the negotiations over the UK’s EU reform demands and then simulate the negotiation which the UK would have with EU partners if voters decided to leave the EU.

Wargames are used around the world by governments, intelligence agencies and corporations to play out different scenarios and inform their decision making. The idea is that, in this instance, players act as if they were their respective national governments involved in a negotiation. Their responses to different scenarios and their interaction together will hopefully provide useful insights as to how such negotiations might play out in real life. It is essentially a real life manifestation of game theory – sadly, we don’t have Yanis Varoufakis playing Greece.

This is not an exact science and will not yield all the answers but it should help to explore in more depth the two key questions people often ask when it comes to the EU referendum. Plenty of people have tried to answer these in lengthy reports (here is ours in case you prefer this approach) but the wargame can help to visualise the complex interactions between states and highlight the personality aspect to all this – ultimately these are emotional discussions between people.

Of course all this depends on the players actually being able to faithfully and accurately represent their respective national governments. In order to make this as useful and accurate as possible we’ve assembled a roster of high level politicians including two former Prime Ministers and eight former senior cabinet ministers (see here for the full line-up). All have first-hand experience of negotiating at the top table in Europe.

The timing could hardly be better (better to be lucky than good as they say). In just a few weeks Cameron will be having this very same negotiation at the February European Council meeting. Furthermore, with the polls showing the race neck and neck the prospect of a Brexit is very real – meaning in just a few months he (or his successor) could be negotiating a new deal for the UK with the EU.

Usually, such games are conducted behind closed doors in plush boardrooms to the benefit of those seeking to make important financial trades or policy calls off their insights. But this isn’t Open Europe’s style. As such ours will be performed under the prying eyes of over 200 people and assembled media. It will also be live streamed allowing everyone and anyone to watch. Ultimately, that is the point. For the very large majority of us, this is the closest we’ll ever get to being inside the negotiating room. We do hope you’ll tune in.

Raoul Ruparel is Co-Director of Open Europe, a contributing author for Forbes and a member of the British Chambers of Commerce Economic Advisory Group.