The U.S. ambassador to the UK has warned that a bilateral trade deal between the two countries is “totally up in the air” after Prime Minister Theresa May revealed her soft Brexit plans — and remainer politicians are already celebrating its demise.
Ambassador Robert “Woody” Johnson told BBC Radio 5Live that whilst the Trump administration would “would love to” strike a bilateral trade deal with the UK, the Prime Minister’s ‘third way’ deal — which favours continuing some arrangements with the European Union over forging new trade relationships with the wider world — has made the issue “complicated”.
“The President has stated very clearly that a bilateral with the U.S. is something that he’s in favour of,” he told the BBC on Monday.
“He also respects sovereignty. He’s talked about sovereignty.
“He’s looking at it in our country as well. So I think the bilateral will be an important discussion that he’ll have with the Prime Minister,” Ambassador Johnson said, in relation the President Donald J. Trump’s upcoming visit to the UK later this week.
When asked about his opinion of the briefing document, the ambassador said: “It was very short, a couple of pages. This is a lot more complicated than a couple of pages. I would say that the bilateral agreement, whether we have one or not, is totally up in the air at this point.”
Prior to May’s pressuring the Cabinet to accept the White Paper over the weekend at Chequers, Ambassador Johnson was keen to say without reservation that a bilateral trade deal would get done, saying just last week a trade deal was a “major priority” for the President.
Ambassador Johnson attempted to remain positive — as he has urged Britons to be over the opportunities afforded by Brexit — saying that the U.S. intends to pursue a deal with the UK: “From the U.S. standpoint, yes, we’d love to do a bilat, and the President said he’d like to do it quickly, and all hands on deck – so we’ll get it done.”
The White Paper would see the UK effectively remain inside the EU’s Single Market for industrial and agricultural products by signing up to a free trade area regulated by a so-called “common rulebook” dictated by the European Court of Justice as well as the country agreeing to remain subject to the EU’s employment, environment, consumer protection, and social regulations.
Addressing the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, hardline Europhile and Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable praised the Prime Minister for putting a future trade deal with the U.S. in jeopardy, telling the House: “I congratulate the Prime Minister for effectively ‘killing off’ the United States/UK trade agreement by agreeing to retain EU regulatory convergence which of course the Americans cannot accept.”
Meanwhile, pro-Brexit MPs have criticised the Prime Minister for favouring continued relations with the European Union over a new relationship with the United States — which would be crucial for post-Brexit trade — with one unnamed Member of Parliament telling The Sun: “Donald Trump is going to turn up on Thursday, ask about a trade deal and find out that one is now unlikely to ever happen because we’re staying so close to Europe.”
David Davis MP resigned as Brexit secretary on Sunday night, writing in his resignation letter that May’s plan “hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense”.
Mr Davis’s resignation was followed by that of foreign secretary Boris Johnson on Monday afternoon, making Mrs May look increasingly vulnerable to a vote of no confidence.