US Ambassador Pour Cold Water On May’s Brexit Deal
It is hard to recall just what the point of Brexit was, but supposedly it was going to enable the UK to forge “jumbo free trade deals” with nations around the world and enable “Buccaneering Britain” to unchain itself from the EU making it (somehow) a global leader in free trade, or so Boris Johnson would have you believe. Of course, Brexit believers forgot to mention that all of the frictionless trade with the EU would be imperilled and that all of the bilateral trade deals that the UK enjoys with the rest of the world via its membership of the bloc would all fall by the wayside. Whilst these other “third party” nations could agree to continue to trade with the UK on the terms that it enjoys with the EU, they may decide not to and may wish to renegotiate deals because the UK market is much smaller than the EU’s, but Brexiters it would seem, are eternal optimists.
The supposed “jewel in the crown” of free trade deals for Brexiters is an agreement with the USA and certainly President Trump did suggest that such an agreement would be on offer to Brexit Britain (but on his terms, of course). However, the US has concluded that if the Brexit deal that Mrs May is pushing for is agreed, a US-UK free trade deal may be impossible.
The US ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, has poured cold water on the idea of a US-UK trade deal if Mrs May’s plans go ahead, suggesting in a BBC radio interview that: "It doesn't look like it would be possible." He pointed out that during any transitional period (provided for under the EU-UK withdrawal deal) that the UK would not be able to implement any trade deals with the USA or any other country whilst the UK remained in the temporary customs union. The major fear of Brexiters tempted to agree with the May deal is that the “backstop” for the Northern Ireland border solution could theoretically lock the UK in a customs union indefinitely. Whilst Mrs May is attempting to get reassurances from the EU that such a situation is only temporary, the legal advice from the UK’s Attorney General that the government was forced to release points out that the UK could be permanently held in such a situation and that ultimately, it would require the goodwill of the EU to release the UK from it.
The intervention of Ambassador Johnson is unlikely to make the passage of Mrs May’s withdrawal deal any easier through parliament. Whilst theoretically, a refusal to pass the bill could lead to a “no deal” Brexit which would enable the UK to sign a free trade deal with the USA, the consequences of such a situation to the UK economy are such that parliamentary moves are afoot to block it. This story is far from over!