New US-UK trade deal not possible under draft Brexit plan, US ambassador says

A Downing Street spokeswoman commented, "We want an ambitious trade agreement and we stand ready to conclude such an agreement as a priority after we leave the European Union." [Shutterstock]

A new trade agreement between London and Washington doesn’t look possible under the existing draft Brexit arrangements with Brussels, the US ambassador to London told BBC radio on Monday (31 December).

“We are still going through the stages of deciding where exactly the country is going,” US diplomat Woody Johnson, who served as US President Donald Trump’s envoy to the UK for a year.

Asked whether a US-UK trade agreement was possible under the current existing draft Brexit terms, Johnson added that London’s draft Brexit arrangements with Brussels appeared to rule out the possibility of a separate deal with Washington: “It doesn’t look like it would be possible.”

The comments constitute another blow to Prime Minister Theresa May, who has argued that Britain will be able to strike new and more advantageous trade accords without the EU.

Three months ahead of the planned British exit, May’s government is ramping up preparations to avert chaos should Britain split from the EU without an agreement on future trade ties.

A year of blundering in the dark

A wasted year ended with the UK no clearer about its future relations with the EU but with the clock rapidly ticking down to the 29 March date when she will formally leave the bloc.

The UK leader also insists that her teams are busy negotiating new trade agreements with major trading partners such as the United States.

A Downing Street spokeswoman commented: “We want an ambitious trade agreement and we stand ready to conclude such an agreement as a priority after we leave the European Union.”

Britain will remain closely tied to EU trade rules for a transition period running through the end of 2020 under the draft agreement, which parliament is set to vote on in January.

These preclude states from striking their own deals with countries outside the EU.

In November, Trump warned that May’s deal with the EU might hamper a US-UK trade deal if it went through. “We have to take a look at seriously whether or not the UK is allowed to trade,” Trump said at the time.

“As the deal stands, they may not be able to trade with the US and I don’t think they want that at all.”

In an interview with EURACTIV Poland on 18 December 2018, Manfred Weber, the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) Spitzenkandidat for the EU elections, said the UK was not a market-oriented country anymore.

“Some would say that the UK is traditionally a very liberal country, a very market-oriented one. So, the economic voice of London has always been there. But frankly speaking, I do not see it anymore, because they have decided to leave the biggest open, free trade area in the world,” the German politician said.

Lack of leadership

In his comments to the BBC, the US ambassador also said Britain was “in need of leadership”.

“I’ve been all over Wales, I’ve been all over Ireland and Scotland and also England – and I am feeling that the country is in need of leadership,” Johnson noted.

He added that some of the blame rested with parliament, which has balked at backing the draft withdrawal agreement May has struck with Brussels.

May was forced to abort a December debate about the arrangement after admitting it faced heavy defeat.

“You can see the frustration in the members of parliament in trying to navigate what the people wanted when they voted on the referendum,” Johnson said.

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