US trade deal "totally up in the air" after Theresa May’s Brexit customs deal

A trade deal between the UK and the US is “totally up in the air” after Theresa May’s Brexit customs plan.

The US Ambassador to the UK has said the potential bilateral trade deal has been thrown into question because of the plan which the Prime Minister hammered out at Chequers.

But Robert ‘Woody Johnson’ said there would be “all hands on deck, so we’ll get it done”.

On Friday the Cabinet spent around 12 hours at the Prime Minister’s country retreat discussing the plan.

But, although there was initially consensus from government ministers, Brexit secretary David Davis and his minister Steve Baker have since resigned.

The ‘third way’ plan for UK customs rules proposed keeping the UK closely aligned with the EU in a new "free trade area" for goods.

This will include sharing a "common rulebook" for all goods including agricultural and food products – and a possible compromise on migration.

The Ambassador said the lack of detail at this stage makes it difficult to guarantee a deal.

But he confirmed that the President would be talking with Theresa May about the potential bilateral trade deal during his visit this week.

Speaking on BBC Radio Five Live, he said: “The President has stated very clearly that a bilateral with the US is something that he’s in favour of.

"He also respects sovereignty. He’s talked about sovereignty.

"He’s looking at it in our country as well. So I think the bilateral will be an important discussion that he’ll have with the Prime Minister.”

Chequers Brexit deal explained – and why it’s forced David Davis to resign

Theresa May agreed a major shift to soft Brexit at her country retreat Chequers – prompting her Brexit Secretary David Davis to quit.

The ‘third way’ plan for UK customs rules proposed keeping the UK closely aligned with the EU in a new "free trade area" for goods.

This will include sharing a "common rulebook" for all goods including agricultural and food products – and a possible compromise on migration.

To appease Brexiteers, Parliament would keep the right to block future changes to the trading rules. But David Davis said this olive branch was meaningless in practice.

The deal also proposes a "common rulebook" with the EU on state aid rules, and agrees to "step up" backup plans for a No Deal Brexit. A full White Paper was due to be published on Thursday 12 July.

But, following Friday’s Chequers agreement, Mr Johnson said: “I think that there was a briefing that came out, as I understand it.

"It was very short, a couple of pages. This is a lot more complicated than a couple of pages. I would say that the bilateral agreement, whether we have one or not, is totally up in the air at this point.”

When asked whether he thought a deal could be done at some point, he said: “Absolutely, from the US standpoint, yes, we’d love to do a bilat, and the President said he’d like to do it quickly, and all hands on deck – so we’ll get it done.”

Mr Johnson added this about President Trump’s views: “I think he looks at Brexit as an opportunity.”

Speaking about President Trump’s visit, Woody Johnson said: “It’s important just that he be here as well. I think that’s going to be very symbolic.”

He denied that it was too long to wait for the visit: “He’s had a fairly full schedule up to now. This is actually a perfect time for him to come.”

With regard to potential protests, he said: “The President respects free speech in both our country and here. He’s really focussing on his objectives. Those objectives are well-publicised at this point. He’s gonna get a lot done in a 24-hour period.”

He added that “this trip is all about the special relationship that we have with the UK. It’s about shared security and prosperity. Those are the overriding themes that he’ll be talking about, and putting everything in that context.”

When asked about President Trump’s controversial meeting with President Putin in the light of the poisonings in Salisbury and Amesbury, the US Ambassador said: “I don’t think it’s a provocative act at all.

"It’s talking with one’s adversary.

"That is – always can be good. There’s almost no downside to it.

"If they can come up with any kind of harmony, or any way to get closer to peace rather than closer to the opposite direction, I think it’s probably better.”

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The US Ambassador reiterated that he thought the special relationship was not just alive and well, but growing: “I think it’s more special today, and it’s growing. And that’s what I feel when I travel around this country.

"Despite what you read and what you hear, that’s not what I see, when I’m meeting the people everywhere.

"Whether it’s in shopping centres, or the politicians, or the people in culture or the fishermen, I feel it totally differently. So I think the special relationship is alive and well and stronger than ever.”

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