MEPs have poured cold water on the prospect of a speedy post-Brexit US-UK trade deal.
This comes after senior Donald Trump aide John Bolton said during a visit to the UK last week that Britain would be at the “front of the queue” for a trade deal once it leaves the EU.
Chuck Schumer, head of the Democrats in the US Senate, promptly warned President Trump that congress will vote against any trade deal with the UK if the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) is threatened.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s letter on Monday to EU leaders appealing for the controversial Irish backstop to be scrapped from the withdrawal agreement has once again thrust the GFA and the peace settlement into sharp focus.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke with the American leader also on Monday, after which Trump tweeted, “We talked about Brexit and how we can move rapidly on a US-UK free trade deal. I look forward to meeting with Boris this weekend, at the G7, in France.”
The two are due to attend the G7 summit in Biarritz at the end of the week.
“Congressional leaders have been clear that they will protect the peace process in Northern Ireland” Molly Scott Cato (Greens, UK)
On Tuesday, we spoke to British MEPs and others about the prospects of a US-UK trade deal and also the threat of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit to the GFA.
Greens member Molly Scott Cato told us, “Although President Trump operates like an authoritarian leader, he is actually subject to a system of checks and balances, meaning that Congress, rather than Trump, will decide what sort of trade deal we will have with the US if we proceed with Brexit.”
“Congressional leaders have been clear that they will protect the peace process in Northern Ireland and have joined the UK’s most important trading partner, the EU, in indicating a willingness to block trade talks that might mean a hard border on the island of Ireland.”
“It now transpires that there will in all likelihood be no deal at all with the US. Going ahead with Brexit would be a hammer blow to the UK economy” Richard Corbett (S&D, UK)
Her comments are partly echoed by veteran socialist MEP Richard Corbett who told us, “The idea that Britain could suddenly shift the bulk of its trade to the US was always a fantasy, compounded by downplaying the weakness of Britain’s negotiating position.”
“It now transpires that there will in all likelihood be no deal at all with the US. Going ahead with Brexit would be a hammer blow to the UK economy.”
Former British ALDE MEP and constitutional expert Andrew Duff said, “If Johnson takes Bolton’s counsel, he is even more deranged than I take him to be. Ideological wishful thinking tends to let people down.”
Further comment came from Denis MacShane, a former Europe minister in the UK, who commented, “With the leaders of the Democrats in the House and the Senate saying they will veto any Trump proposal for a Brexit trade deal with Johnson, unless it keeps the Irish backstop and guarantees the Good Friday Agreement, it is hard to see the UK getting help on trade from America after we cut or massively reduce trade links to Europe.”
“Johnson takes Bolton’s counsel, he is even more deranged than I take him to be” Andrew Duff (formerly ALDE, UK)
“It is the US Congress not the White House that decides US trade deals and Johnson will have to wait many years of negotiations and fights on Capitol Hill if he betrays Ireland and a hard border is reintroduced.”
Elsewhere, experienced EU commentator Paul Taylor warned, “A UK-US trade deal, which despite all the politically supportive noises from the White House, will probably take years to negotiate and ratify.”
“For example, South Korea’s US deal, a bipartisan priority, took a decade. I’m more interested in how politically, financially and economically dependent the UK is going to become on the US if there’s a no-deal Brexit, and what price the Trumps, Boltons and Pompeos will exact.”
“It is hard to see the UK getting help on trade from America after we cut or massively reduce trade links to Europe” Denis MacShane, former Europe minister in the UK
He explained, “The reality of the US is that the national security adviser doesn’t make trade policy, let alone handle trade negotiations. Trade deals involve an array of players including Congress, farm and industrial lobbies and different departments of the executive.”
“Ratification requires a bill approved by both houses of Congress. Politics on both sides of the Atlantic will make trade negotiations a long and fraught process.”
“Issues such as food safety standards (chlorine-washed chicken, hormone beef, GMOs etc) and medical/pharma (provision of drugs and services to the NHS etc) will be intensely controversial.”
“Trump may be politically supportive of Boris Johnson, not least because a no deal Brexit would weaken the EU, but he’s 100% transactional.”
“The reality of the US is that the national security adviser doesn’t make trade policy, let alone handle trade negotiations” Paul Taylor, commentator
“For nothing, you get nothing. The question is how big a price a desperate UK government, facing an economic crisis of dramatic proportions, will be willing to pay for any US trade deal.”
Renew Europe MEP Chris Davies said, “The desperate enthusiasm for a US trade deal shown by the Conservative government just emphasises the mindset of the people now running the country.”
“At best it would be worse than our existing arrangements within the EU. At worst it would reduce the status of Great Britain to that of an American lapdog.”
"All this crazy talk must reinforce the impression among people across Europe that Britain has lost its senses. My country's leaders seem intent on demonstrating their hostility to the European Union at every opportunity."