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An economics professor at the University of Warwick, Abhinay Muthoo, has suggested that the UK prime minister’s ‘latest move’, of asking the Queen to suspend parliament, may arguably be a tactical strategy which may be seen as ‘a display of commitment to a potential hard Brexit in a bid to pressure the EU into securing a better deal’. Relating this to game theory, the study of strategy and decision-making, he suggests we should question whether Johnson’s act is one of a credible madman or master bluffer.

Within the framework of game theory, Johnson is said to face a ‘credibility’ problem: he needs to sufficiently convince the various other ‘players’ in the ‘Brexit game’ - including the EU as a whole, Ireland, MPs in the House of Commons, the public and businesses – that, by the October deadline, he will indeed have the UK leave the EU, without a deal in place if necessary.  Muthoo suggests that ‘appropriate action needs to be taken to establish the credibility of his negotiating position’, going on to add that in order to be perceived as credible, this action must be costly in some way. Johnson’s latest action, to prorogue parliament, can be seen as dramatic and potentially costly: if parliament is suspended, it will leave very little time upon its return for any laws to be passed before the Brexit deadline – this may significantly limit the capabilities of MPs opposed to Brexit.

However, perhaps the prime minister is, by adopting this strategy, following Thomas Schelling’s ‘madman theory’ – that is, in conflict situations it may make ‘rational sense to raise the stakes to get the other side to back down’.

Students applying for PPE, as well as applicants for Economics with a keen interest concerning game theory, can consider how applications of behavioural economic theory may be useful in group negotiation and tactical bargaining, such as in the political sphere.

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