Members of Boris Johnson’s cabinet are pushing for the UK to begin trade talks with the U.S. as the prime minister is set to call for swift trade negotiations with the EU.
International trade secretary Liz Truss and foreign secretary Dominic Raab are reportedly urging Prime Minister Johnson to hold parallel talks with Washington D.C. and Brussels, according to The Times.
Ms Truss wants the prime minister to publish a mandate for U.S. trade talks in the next few weeks. The newspaper reports that there are 70 delegates waiting to begin UK-U.S. bilateral negotiations.
The move would also act as leverage with the EU by demonstrating progress with the Americans in a trade-deal race. Former Conservative Party leader and Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith said dual trade talks could speed up the whole negotiating process.
Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Duncan Smith said: “We must also recognise that the EU will deliberately drag its feet in the first few months of the year as they want the UK to be forced to extend the implementation phase at the end of 2020, giving the EU billions more in contributions to its budget. Which is why we shouldn’t sit waiting for the EU to be ready; we should underline our sovereign position by embarking on parallel trade negotiations with the USA.”
President Donald Trump and his administration have said that the U.S. is looking to “deepen and expand” its ties with the UK, including an FTA.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson is set to pressure the European Commission’s new president, former German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, into completing trade talks quickly.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to host the chief of the EU’s most powerful body on Wednesday at Number 10, Downing Street. While von der Leyen has recently said that she does not believe a UK-EU free trade agreement can be reached in 11 months and that the UK would need to extend the transition period, her German colleagues have said that a basic free trade agreement can be done in that timeframe.
Members of Parliament are set to return to the House of Commons this week, with discussion continuing on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday on the Brexit bill before it moves to the House of Lords for consideration. The legislation is likely to pass by the Brexit deadline of January 31st, given that Johnson secured an 87-seat working majority in December’s general election.
While European politicians may speculate over an extension, Mr Johnson has written into the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill a clause that the transition period cannot be extended beyond December 31st, 2020.
Last week, it was revealed that Mr Johnson is going to personally lead the “Europe Taskforce” — the rebranded Brexit unit that will be dealing with trade negotiations with the EU. The name mirrors that of the Brussels Taskforce 50 group, and comes as Mr Johnson said that he would be effectively banning the word ‘Brexit’ after January 31st in order to move the country forward.