|Barack Obama may have warned that Brexit would leave the United Kingdom “back of the queue” in the United States’ eyes for a prospective trade deal, but his successor Donald Trump is chomping at the bit to hammer one out – waxing lyrical about how “tremendous” it would be. |
Today, the United Kingdom is keen to show how much it agrees as it formally outlines – after months of talks scoping out what is possible before Brexit – what it wants to secure an agreement on.
EU’re not the only game in town
The UK’s trans-Atlantic overture does not mean it has lost interest in agreeing anything with the European Union, as talks only got going on that front officially last week. But the timing for their pitch to America is intended to show that Brexit Britain does not see Brussels as the only game in town – thereby blunting the potential leverage Michel Barnier will be able to wield.
However, trade experts have regularly warned that the importance of UK-EU trade means it will be hard for the British to agree a deal with anyone outside Europe until they can see the concessions they have made to their continental allies.
But that may not phase the UK, as their negotiators evidently hope to use the simultaneous talks to play their partners off against each other.
Our opening pitch
So how is the UK proposing to tackle its talks with America? Boris Johnson has indicated that Britain will “drive a hard bargain” with Donald Trump’s crack team of negotiators, and has talked about how both sides could drive down prices by “trading Scottish smoked salmon for Stetson hats”.
The Government will make clear, in defence to the often repeated red line, that the NHS will be kept out of any deal. Given how feverishly Jeremy Corbyn sought to argue the contrary, making the most of leaked internal Whitehall documents to boost his argument, the precise wording of the UK’s language about the NHS will inevitably be closely scrutinised.
The UK will also indicate its continued desire to uphold British standards on food and animal welfare, meaning it will reject any attempt to sell chlorinated chicken or hormone-fed beef. That may well reassure farmers, although the reported remarks from a government adviser that UK farming was “not critically important” will ensure their nerves still persist.
Show me the money
Writing in today’s Telegraph, Liz Truss predicts that the UK economy would grow by £3.4 billion on signing a deal, with the North East, Midlands and Scotland reaping the biggest dividend. One might say, in the government’s jargon, that would help “level up” those parts of Britain
The economic uplift would translate to a £1.8 billion pay rise for tens of thousands of workers, with ceramics factories, the car industry, food and drinks producers and professional services standing to benefit.
Over to Lighthizer
America’s trade negotiators made clear last year their intended objectives for talks with the UK, so the British are finally catching up.
How will Team Trump respond? We won’t have to wait long to find out as in remarkable timing the US trade representative Robert Lighthizer is speaking at the Oxford Union this afternoon at around 5pm.
Obviously, these talks will not be carried out indirectly through Oxford Union stints, as negotiators plan to shuffle back and forth from the UK and US. But today marks the formal start of a process which both President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson will hope produces a deal they can both proudly sign at the end.
Time will tell which side ends up delivering more of their original negotiating objectives.
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