Once again the UK government has demonstrated how not to negotiate.
First lesson from 4 December is that before a negotiation meeting, it is always important to know your own position and have authority to settle. Otherwise you could end up being the laughing stock when you reach a deal and then find out that your client doesn’t authorise you to settle on that basis.
Once the UK had accepted regulatory divergence, it was too late to turn around and renege on that. It cannot now seek to make a lesser offer. The UK is now in an impossible position, having offered something that it was not authorised to do so by its clients, the DUP. It had not realised that the DUP support that it had paid for could not be guaranteed or taken for granted. The UK was in a much worse negotiating position than it had thought.
Lesson number two is to know your brief and the strength of the arguments. If one party is negotiating on a principled stance, you aren’t going to resolve matters by ignoring those principles or downplaying them. Here, Ireland set out its principled stance that it would not accept a hard border in any event. The EU adopted that argument. The DUP set out its stance that it won’t accept anything that involves regulatory divergence from the rest of the UK, even if economically it would be better off. The DUP expected the UK to support that principled stance, but the UK shows that it is desperate for a deal and will sacrifice its principles to move on to the next stage of negotiations. Clearly it has more to lose from Brexit than the EU.
The UK went into this not knowing its brief and the strength of feeling on both sides. The negotiations moved from being the UK vs the EU to NI vs ROI, with the UK stuck in the middle.