US President Donald Trump offered the UK on Tuesday (4 June) the prospect of a “phenomenal” trade deal that would more than double trade flows between the UK, but warned that in such a deal, everything would be up for discussion.
Speaking at a joint press conference with outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May on the second day of his state visit to London, Trump praised May’s handling of the Brexit talks and said the two countries shared the “greatest alliance the world has ever known”.
Earlier, the two leaders had held talks on future trade, defence and intelligence co-operation.
Trump also repeated his call for NATO members, which include the UK, to keep to their long-standing commitment of spending 2% of GDP on defence.
However, the prospect of a trade accord with the US is scarcely less controversial for the UK public than the now abandoned deal between the US and the EU.
The UK inserted a clause in the EU-Canada trade agreement to clarify that its state-funded national health service would not be forced to open up contracts to Canadian firms, and the government has promised that the NHS will be left out of any future trade deals.
The May government is also divided on whether US agricultural produce should have increased access to the UK market.
That did not deter Trump, who commented that “I think everything with the trade deal is on the table. When you’re dealing on trade, everything is on the table. So NHS or anything else. A lot more than that. Everything will be on the table.”
“Not on my watch”, retorted Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who is one of the contenders seeking to replace May.
“It would be a catastrophic error for the government to rush into negotiations with the US without a comprehensive trade strategy,” warned Angus MacNeil, the chair of the House of Commons international trade committee.
He added that the UK Treasury’s own figures suggest that a UK-US trade deal could only deliver small gains to GDP of as little as 0.2%.
Trump gave a restrained performance alongside May on Tuesday, praising her for having put the UK in “good place” in the Brexit negotiations.
Trump has previously been an enthusiastic supporter of the UK’s exit from the EU, saying that it would be “a wonderful thing” during May’s visit to Washington DC in January 2017.
For her part, May said she had decided not to take the US President’s advice to sue the EU, and was more guarded on the prospects of a new trade deal.
Trump also took aim at Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who refused to join the state banquet with the US president hosted by the Queen on Tuesday. Corbyn was “somewhat of a negative force”, said Trump, adding that he had refused to meet Corbyn during his visit.
A short walk away in central London, Corbyn was the headline speaker at a demonstration against Trump’s visit attended by tens of thousands of protesters, accusing the US president of having “created a greater sense of hate and hatred”.
Booing and jeering by protesters outside Downing Street could be heard while Trump while speaking alongside May.
Never a stranger to controversy, Trump described London Mayor Sadiq Khan as a “stone cold loser upon his arrival to the UK on Monday.
In keeping with his reputation, the US President played down the significance of the protest against his visit outside Downing Street as “fake news”, and claimed, erroneously, that thousands had lined the streets to cheer him.
Meanwhile, he also dismissed suggestions that the US could impose limits on sharing intelligence with London if the UK used infrastructure from Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, insisting the countries would reach an agreement on the issue.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]