When it comes to Brexit, let’s face it, the UK is in deep trouble. We are entering into negotiations with a minority government, cabinet splits and a lack of expertise and experience needed to face the all-powerful, highly skilled EU negotiators. At least that is what many pundits have lead us to believe.

With Brexit negotiations having already begun and Donald Tusk decreeing that divorce comes before trade, it will surprise many to learn that the UK may be just fine, after all. Here are some things to consider:

Negotiations of this scale take time, a lot of time. The EU and UK must come to agreement on topics ranging from immigration, security, defence, the environment, fishing, farming, education and science, to name but a few. To put it in perspective, it took two willing and able partners more than seven years to negotiate the Canada-EU trade agreement (Ceta) and every timeline set was blown. In fact, years after an agreement-in-principle was reached Ceta still hasn’t entered into force. To think that the UK and the 27 other sovereign states of the EU will be able to agree to the terms of their separation by March 2019 is unprecedented and unrealistic, at best. Complex negotiations are never finished on one tank of gas.

Positive outcomes for either side will not be achieved through the skill of the negotiators alone. The behind-the-scenes dynamics are complex and involve an array of actors throughout industry, public interest groups, the media, the diplomatic corps and, of course, political decision-makers. Because of this, neither side will have an edge and predicting the outcome is impossible. For example, during the Ceta talks, Canada’s offer on allowing the EU access to its tariff-protected dairy industry far surpassed what Canadian farmers thought they were giving up and the resulting agreement took the farmers completely by surprise. But in order to secure its wider interests elsewhere (meaningful market access for Canadian beef, for example), Canada needed to give in order to get — shared pain for shared gain in trade-speak. These types of dynamics will play out between the EU and the UK.

Presiding over a minority government, with her cabinet’s infighting splashed across the front pages, doesn’t look great for Theresa May. Add into the mix that until recently No 10 had taken a somewhat hostile stance towards big business and it might look like Britain is on the back foot. Yet, while it’s no secret that Whitehall lacks negotiating experience, the reality is that the UK possesses significant leverage. If this is managed strategically and skilfully, positive outcomes can be achieved.

For example, it is inescapable that the competitiveness of the European economy is anchored to the City of London. UK banks provide the financing for thousands of EU businesses and, from agriculture to manufacturing and autos to aerospace, the entire EU economy benefits from the present configuration of its production platform. Also, the UK is the traditional gateway to Europe for many of the EU’s largest trading partners. Nearly 65 per cent of the EU’s total trade with North America alone comes through Britain. UK-China trade similarly drives commercial links with the wider EU. Disrupting these links would wreak havoc across the Continent and would serve no one.

In terms of security, the UK’s intelligence capabilities, when combined with those of the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand through the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing mechanisms, are the most effective in the world. Germany, France, Belgium and many other countries will continue to rely on this co-operation for years to come as long as severe threats to their internal security remain.

As for the multibillion-euro tourism industry, post-Brexit there has been a steady drop in the number of UK residents travelling to the Continent while British “staycations” have increased significantly. Despite the hard line being taken by Europe entering into the negotiations, there is little appetite at the regional and local levels of European politics to stem the flow of sterling.

The bottom line is this: there’s a reason that the EU didn’t want the UK to leave and that is as much a UK strength as any.

Regardless of what happens with Brexit and barring any catastrophic events in the present geo-political order, the UK and the big European powers will remain close political allies, albeit fierce economic competitors. The histories of Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK have always been intrinsically linked and while there have been major conflicts in the past, Europe remains at peace. While EU politicians may want to hurt the UK on a superficial level, this is simply to deter other countries from leaving.

It is already evident that Mrs May and Mr Tusk will be challenged to marry their hard-line positions with the simple reality that neither side can afford for Brexit to be a zero-sum game. Both sides need to come out of these negotiations with wins that keep the electorate happy while maintaining the status quo as much as possible. During Ceta, Canadian negotiators wanted to appear as though any concessions related to intellectual property for pharmaceuticals was political suicide in Canada, owing to the belief that it would result in higher drug prices for Canadians. In trade parlance, it was a red line. Yet Canada knew from the start that it would move on intellectual property; it simply had to make sure that EU negotiators were not aware of it.

As Brexit negotiations intensify, expect posturing on both sides to go into overdrive. Of course, ultimately there is one thing that will put everything at risk, and that’s the cabinet taking multiple positions on policy issues in public. Despite pressure from the media for a blow-by-blow account of the negotiating process, the UK needs to keep its cards close to its chest.

Fion Anastassiades was senior adviser to Ed Fast, Canada’s minister of international trade during the Ceta negotiations. Giles Kenningham is a former Number 10 special adviser