Johnson and Trump eye US-UK trade deal ‘within a year’

BIARRITZ, France — U.S. President Donald Trump wants a trade deal with the U.K. by the summer of 2020, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said following their meeting at the G7 summit.

Acknowledging that a 12-month timetable for a post-Brexit pact with Washington was “very fast,” Johnson nevertheless said he’d “love to” to deliver an agreement that quickly.

“There’s an opportunity to do a great free trade deal with the United States,” Johnson told ITV News. “The president is very gung-ho about that and so am I.”

Johnson made a point of criticizing some elements of U.S. protectionism in his meeting with Trump, acknowledging “tough talks ahead” and highlighting barriers to U.K. food produce entering the American market.

“I don’t think people realise quite how protectionist sometimes the U.S. market can be,” he told ITV. “but what I’m saying to Donald … is, you know, this is a big opportunity for both of us but … we need to see movement from the U.S. side.”

“They want to do it within a year, I’d love to do it within a year, but that’s a very fast timetable”

Johnson also told the BBC that a year-long timetable “is going to be tight” but that suggestions a negotiation could last “years and years” were an “exaggeration.”

A trade deal could face domestic resistance on each side of the Atlantic. While the U.K. government has said it will not change animal welfare standards to allow U.S. products into the U.K., American negotiators will push hard for a deal that benefits their farmers. Senior Democrats in Congress have also warned that they would block any trade deal if the U.K.’s exit from the EU were to destabilize the peace process in Northern Ireland.

The U.K. cannot begin substantive negotiations on trade, or strike new deals, until it has left the EU, which it is currently scheduled to do on October 31.

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Air Boris blasts into Biarritz

BIARRITZ, France — Boris Johnson was quite clear about what he wanted discuss with the president of the United Sates.

“Cauliflowers!” the U.K. prime minister bellowed over the sound of jet engines as he briefed reporters on his Royal Air Force Voyager plane bound for the G7 summit in Biarritz.

Not just cauliflowers: “U.K. bell peppers,” “wallpaper, pillows and other fabrics,” “British-made shower trays,” and — crucially — “Melton Mowbray pork pies.” All face restrictions to entry to the U.S. market, he said, and he had made the point to Donald Trump and would make it again on Sunday when the two leaders have their first face-to-face meeting of Johnson’s premiership.

Reporters had gathered near the front of the plane for a mid-flight huddle. Johnson, suited and with an uncharacteristically neat collar, clutched a few pages of notes — some typed, some scribbled by hand. He went on for several minutes, while increasingly bemused journalists waited to ask questions about some of the more pressing matters on the G7 agenda: Brexit, the Amazon rainforest fires, the threat of a global economic downturn.

Anyone used to Johnson from his days as foreign secretary and mayor of London would have recognized the schtick: distract and divert with humor, and hope to avoid scrutiny. Even Johnson knows his routine has been rumbled. The Q&A would now begin, he said at last, “having cunningly exhausted as much time as I can with this lengthy but very, very important recitation of the problems British exporters face in the U.S.”

“President Trump has pioneered a quite remarkable way of communicating directly with the electorate” — Boris Johnson, British prime minister

In fairness to Johnson, he then fielded questions happily for 10 minutes, his ease in front of the press in stark contrast to his predecessor Theresa May, whose own briefings on ‘May Force One’ were curt, uncomfortable and sometimes difficult to hear over the sound of the engines. Then again, he is a former journalist who has spent a good part of his life talking to fellow hacks and clearly enjoys their company.

Only the imminent landing of the plane stopped him from talking for longer. “We’ll get thrown off the plane if I don’t get you sat down,” said one Downing Street aide to reporters, as the RAF crew politely but firmly requested everyone return to seats for landing.

“Are you getting used to being prime minister?” one reporter asked before heading back to their seat. “Yes!” Johnson replied. “At last. It took a while.”

New captain, same course

Fellow G7 leaders seeking to get a handle on what kind of British prime minister they are dealing with could still leave the summit perplexed.

Johnson with French President Emmanuel Macron at the G7 meeting | Pool photo by Andrew Parsons/Getty Images

Johnson seems to face both ways. His enthusiasm for Brexit, and his free-wheeling diplomatic style appear to place him firmly in the Trump camp. But on other areas of substance, his decisions to maintain continuity with British foreign policy on questions like climate change and Iran put him alongside Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.

The split personality was on display on RAF Voyager. He spoke of his horror at the Amazon fires and listed biodiversity, free trade and girls’ education as his three key summit priorities.

His shopping list of grievances against Trump and U.S. trade policy was in part an attempt to amuse, in part very deliberate positioning of the U.K. in favor of internationalist free trade over protectionism (although he was clear some things were “completely off limits” for the U.K. in any trade deal, including the National Health Service.)

Asked about the U.S.-China tariff stand-off, he delivered a sharp rebuke to Trump (and to China) warning that those imposing tariffs “risk … incurring the blame for the downturn in the global economy.”

But in the same breath he lavished praise on the U.S. president. Asked if he was flattered by comparisons to Trump, he noted that it was “the most important thing for any prime minister of the U.K. … to have a very close, friendly relationship with our most important ally.”

“President Trump has pioneered a quite remarkable way of communicating directly with the electorate. My impression is that is also popular with large numbers of people in our country,” he said. (That’s not what Britons are telling pollsters — according to YouGov, only 21 percent of British people have a positive opinion of Trump and 67 percent negative.)

Brexit battles

But while a meeting with Trump on Sunday is the centerpiece of this G7 for Johnson, the most pressing issue in his in-tray at home, Brexit, still overshadows everything.

He waded into a row with European Council President Donald Tusk, who warned Saturday that Johnson risked going down in history as “Mr No Deal.” Johnson suggested it was Tusk who might earn the label if the EU refuses to agree to the U.K.’s demand to re-open May’s Withdrawal Agreement and scrap the Northern Ireland backstop plan for avoiding a hard border.

Asked about his relations with Tusk, and the European Council president’s comment that those who promoted Brexit without a plan had a “special place in hell”, Johnson joked with reporters that he didn’t want to get into “post-Brexit eschatology with the president of the Council.”

‘Eschatology’ — referring to the field of theology concerned with death, judgment and the final destiny of humankind — is not a word that commonly featured in Theresa May’s clipped press briefings.

For Boris Johnson, Brexit still overshadows the entire agenda | Isabel Infantes/AFP via Getty Images

But while the former prime minister made an art of giving unrevealing answers, Johnson’s own bombastic style can also be a way of dodging difficult questions. Pressed on whether he would bring forward the “credible alternatives” to the backstop that the EU is demanding as the basis for further talks to avoid a no-deal Brexit, he fudged it. There were “a large range of alternative arrangements” which “will be discussed with our friends in the coming weeks,” he said.

Asked what he would do if the U.K. parliament legislated for a Brexit delay, Johnson swerved again. “It’s parliament’s job now to respect not just the will of the people but to remember what the overwhelming majority of them promised to do over and over and over again and that is to get Brexit done,” he said.

Two sides talking past each other on Brexit, and a parliamentary battle waiting at home. May Force One may have made way for Air Boris, the prime minister’s style of communication may be the polar opposite to his predecessor’s — but Britain still faces the same tricky course to avoid a crash landing.

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James Arnell: The conventional wisdom about a trade deal with America is wrong. Trump will want a fair one. Here’s why.

James Arnell is a partner at Charterhouse. He writes in a personal capacity.

I disagree with most commentators who believe that the UK will get a raw deal in any US-UK trade negotiations after Brexit.

I do not underestimate the fickleness of Trump, nor the Irish-American lobby in Congress. I recognise the overwhelming weight of the US relative to the UK.  I know that the US looks after its interests and does no one any favours.

But I don’t think any of that will stop us agreeing a decent trade deal. I believe that the US has major strategic interests in a trade deal with the UK, and that it will decide not to use all the undeniable leverage it has to strike the toughest possible terms.  It will want to strike a fair deal.

The US is in “America First” mode.  Contrary to what most people seem to believe, I believe that means Trump, and the American people, wish to see a global trading system which it sees as fair from its perspective.  There are many senior American business people who believe that the renegotiation of NAFTA was long overdue, and who are throughly fed up with the uneven playing field between the US and China.

Yes, they worry about the effects of the US-China trade war on the US economy, but many of them believe that some fights just have to be had.  There is more patriotism in American business and much more business support for Trump’s China line than the media presents.

The opportunity to strike a trade deal with a long-term ally like the UK is timely.  Agreeing an even-handed trade deal sends a strong message: this is about fairness, not American economic bullying.  I am optimistic that the US, across the political spectrum, will support a fair deal with the UK, because I think that it has a very strong interest in sending that message.

And that is not all.

 

A thriving UK, in a comprehensive free trade relationship with the US, right on the periphery of the EU, will put massive pressure on it.  Other EU countries, fed up with the federal agenda of the EU, will look at the UK and wonder whether they too might be better free and able to strike their own trade relationships.  This threat to the EU will be eyed by the US as great leverage to force the EU into what the US would see as a fair trade deal.  They will want the UK to succeed in its deal with the US.  They won’t want to screw us – because that would make it far too easy for the EU to keep its trade barriers up.

The US’ leverage is greater if any UK-US trade deal is designed to be as close as possible to something the EU could, should and, ultimately, would accept.  There is no leverage in agreeing a deal which does not work for the UK and which certainly would not work for the EU, and the smart money in the US will know it.

Aside from its desire to show an openness to trade with partners who do not play the US for fools, and its desire to pressurise the EU, the US will also welcome a committed ally in the global struggle for a new trade order, binding the three big blocs (US, China, Europe) into a more open, more level world trade regime or, at least, binding the rest of the world into a trading system around an unreformed China.  That is the best chance of America remaining “First”.

At present, we are in the phase of pulling down the old system, which the US sees as rotten and against its own interests.  We should not confuse that with isolationism.  My firm belief is that the US will relish the opportunity to show the world what its new order should look like, by agreeing a sensible deal with the UK.

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Inside the mind of Boris Johnson’s right-hand man

LONDON — Want to know which direction the U.K. under Boris Johnson is headed? Then read the blog posts of the most powerful official on his team.

Dominic Cummings’ writings are a window into the world of the special adviser now shaping Johnson’s premiership, Brexit and the U.K.’s future.

They shed light on Cummings’ motivations for backing Brexit, his obsessions (Otto von Bismarck, the science of probability, chess), and his grudges (against David Cameron, George Osborne, most political pundits). They also point to a revolution in store for the civil service and a political system that, in Cummings’ view, has for too long let process and tradition stand in the way of clear goals, big and small — from fixing the office lifts (or elevators, if you will) to leaving the EU.

Fixing the lifts? Yes. “The [Department for Education’s] lifts were knackered from the start and still are,” Cummings wrote in 2014, reflecting on his first stint in government, from 2010 to 2014, as the right-hand man to then-Education Secretary Michael Gove.

“There were dozens of attempts to have them fixed. All failed. At one point the permanent secretary himself took on the task of fixing the lifts, so infuriated had he become. He retired licking his wounds.”

“I found him very impressive. But also slightly scary. He’s quite intimidating” — Government official on Dominic Cummings

The tale is one of many to be found on the blog. And it wasn’t really about the lifts.

“The insuperable problem of the lifts … gives a clue to what is really happening in Whitehall,” Cummings wrote. “Most of everybody’s day is spent just battling entropy — it is not pursuing priorities and building valuable things.”

Impressive and scary

As campaign director of Vote Leave, Cummings was the back-office mastermind to Johnson’s front-of-house showman during the EU referendum campaign.

Together they were instrumental in delivering the vote in favor of Brexit. Appointed as a senior adviser on Johnson’s first day at 10 Downing Street, the two men have now tasked Whitehall with delivering Brexit — by October 31, deal or no deal, “do or die.”

Together, Cummings and Boris Johnson were instrumental in delivering the vote in favor of Brexit | Pool photo by Ben Stansall/Getty Images

After three years away from frontline politics, during which the blog was his primary means of broadcasting to the world, Cummings has suddenly found himself with more power than ever.

He has taken the office next door to the prime minister’s, and officials say that despite the presence of Johnson’s former London City Hall chief of staff Eddie Lister in No. 10, Cummings is “the most powerful man in Downing Street” and “the one who gives the direction.”

“I found him very impressive. But also slightly scary. He’s quite intimidating,” said one government official.

Cummings himself claims on the blog — not all that convincingly — that his fearsome reputation is over-hyped.

“Contrary to the media story, I dislike confrontation and rows like most people but I am very strongly motivated by doing things in a certain way and am not motivated by people in [Westminster’s London postcode] SW1 liking me,” he wrote in 2017.

He has already won over some inside Downing Street. “I have had no issues with him whatsoever and it’s good to have that focus and determination at the top,” said a government figure who has seen Cummings at work.

His first days in government bear out some of the recurring themes of his copious online writings. He is a believer in the military principle of Auftragstaktik — the idea that leadership means giving subordinates a crystal-clear strategic goal. And the obsessive focus on the October 31 exit date has all the hallmarks of a Cummings campaign. He’s even had a countdown to Brexit clock installed in Downing Street.

Why Cummings wants Brexit

The blog gives some clues about Cummings’ animus toward the EU.

He is not a Brexit ideologue. In a May 2018 post, he said it is “unknowable to anybody” whether the U.K. could “make the most” of Brexit over a “10/20/30 year timescale.”

He describes himself as “not a Tory, libertarian, ‘populist’ or anything else” and in a January 2017 essay outlined his reasoning for joining the Brexit campaign. “I thought very strongly that 1) a return to 1930s protectionism would be disastrous, 2) the fastest route to this is continuing with no democratic control over immigration or human rights policies for terrorists and other serious criminals, therefore 3) the best practical policy is to reduce (for a while) unskilled immigration and increase high skills immigration … 4) this requires getting out of the EU, 5) hopefully it will prod the rest of Europe to limit immigration and therefore limit the extremist forces that otherwise will try to rip down free trade.”

On the day Johnson received the keys to Downing Street, Cummings was photographed inside the most important building in the country, wearing a T-shirt advertising the Elon Musk firm Open AI.

The quote suggests that far from the “dangerous” radical some of his critics see, Cummings sees himself as a counterextremist, seeking to restore public trust in the political system.

War and the historical errors that lead to it haunt his writings (“few realize how lucky we were to avoid nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis”). Another preoccupation is the idea of “branching histories” — the many possible paths that events can take at any given moment. If Bismarck had been assassinated in 1866, would World War I have happened, and therefore would Lenin have come to power, or Hitler?

The principle of branching histories, he wrote, “ought to, but does not, make us apply extreme intelligent focus to those areas that can go catastrophically wrong, like accidental nuclear war, to try to narrow the range of possible histories.”

Instead, “most people in politics spend almost all their time on trivia.”

The science of government

After freeing the U.K. from the EU at the end of October — easier said than done — the blog posts suggest that Cummings’ next target will be the Whitehall machine.

On the day Johnson received the keys to Downing Street, Cummings was photographed inside the most important building in the country, wearing a T-shirt advertising the Elon Musk firm Open AI. It may not have been a throwaway choice of garment.

On the blog, he never misses an opportunity to apply the lessons of science to political decision-making.

In a December 2014 post titled “The Hollow Men ii,” he complained that government institutions “operate to exclude from power scientists, mathematicians, and people from the start-up world — the Creators, in [American physicist Steve] Hsu’s term.”

If he and his boss can navigate the choppy Brexit waters ahead, Cummings now has the chance to make that all-or-nothing gamble | Niklas Halle’n/AFP via Getty Images

In the thousands and thousands of words he devotes to the ills of the Whitehall machine, he laments its inability to respond quickly to errors; the “slow, confused” and usually nonexistent feedback; the “priority movers” system that sees incompetent staff members (“dead souls”) moved into jobs elsewhere in the civil service rather than sacked; and the “flexi-time” working regimes that end up with key personnel missing in action when big announcements need to be planned.

All in all, Cummings decries that Whitehall views failure as “normal, not something to strive to avoid.”

And he suggests having parts of Whitehall “amputated” as one necessary measure, including “firing thousands of unnecessary people.”

To Cummings, quitting the EU will sweep away another roadblock on the path to his vision of the U.K.

While working with Gove, “we cut the department’s headcount by more than a third and halved running costs,” he wrote. “We more than halved the press office, and cut 95 percent of the communication budget. Performance improved rapidly. It would improve further if the [department] were halved again.

In a 2014 blog post, he laments that Margaret Thatcher did not go “for all-out civil service reform with a proper PM’s department,” adding: “If she had been much more revolutionary — then much more could have been done (though such a move would obviously be an all-or-nothing gamble for any prime minister who really tried it and one can see why she shied away).”

If he and his boss can navigate the choppy Brexit waters ahead, Cummings now has the chance to make that all-or-nothing gamble.

Cummings arrives at No. 10 carrying a Vote Leave tote bag | Chris J. Ratcliffe/Getty Images

He’s floated the idea of bringing in Cabinet ministers from outside parliament. He’s also suggested setting up government agencies in the mold of DARPA, the U.S. Department of Defense’s tech development arm, originally founded in response to the Soviet launching of Sputnik; working on a new international lunar base to help world diplomacy; and revamping the Cabinet room and emergency COBRA committee room to look more like the NASA control center.

“Some old colleagues have said ‘don’t put this stuff on the internet, we don’t want the second referendum mob looking at it,’” he wrote in June. “Don’t worry! Ideas like this have to be forced down people’s throats practically at gunpoint.”

But one government figure said: “He knows he cannot do anything like that this side of a general election. Big Whitehall reforms require a strong majority and you cannot get one until you have delivered on Brexit.”

A new UK

Some of the viewpoints aired in the blog posts give clues as to the immediate direction of Johnson’s government. Anyone wondering whether the PM will enter into a pact with the Brexit Party and Nigel Farage will be asking themselves if Cummings still thinks Farage “put off millions of (middle class in particular) voters” during the referendum.

And those trying to guess whether Downing Street is war-gaming for a no-deal Brexit in October, a general election, or both, might look at the lessons Cummings takes from computer chess, and from his hero Bismarck.

“The very best computers seem to make moves [in chess] that preserve the widest possible choices in the future, just as the most effective person in politics for whom we have good sources, Bismarck, operated always on the principle of ‘keep two irons in the fire.’”

But the blog posts are also a blueprint for a wider outlook.

Cummings was not complimentary of Brexit Party chief Nigel Farage’s role in the referendum campaign | Frederick Florin/AFP via Getty Images

In Cummings’ grand vision, the U.K. would take on “a central role in tackling humanity’s biggest problems and shaping the new institutions, displacing the EU and UN, that will emerge as the world makes painful transitions in coming decades.”

But first he must solve Brexit; a Gordian knot that has led to the demise of two prime ministers and may yet claim another, along with his right-hand man.

To Cummings, quitting the EU will sweep away another roadblock on the path to his vision of the U.K.

Whitehall’s failure to achieve it — just like fixing the “bloody lifts” in the Department for Education — highlights the inefficiencies he wants to remove, seemingly by any means necessary.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps per industry, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.

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Why a US-UK trade deal ought to mean us finally getting some sense from Brussels

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already made it clear he will urgently look for a trade deal with President Trump. From a purely political viewpoint, this clearly makes sense in a world where the EU is mortally afraid of what President Trump might do next to it. However, there is also an economic logic to it which is worth spelling out, both for those embarking on the US deal at this end and for those seeking an EU response to our offers of a trade deal.

What a US trade deal would do would be to open up our markets to US goods, both food and manufactures, in return for UK tariff-free access to US goods markets and easier access into US services markets, where we already operate fairly freely in practice. From the EU viewpoint it is the former that matters: US barrier-free supply of food and manufactures into the UK market would mean that UK prices would fall sharply in response to the more or less infinite (relative to the UK market) availability of supplies from efficient and large US suppliers at best world prices. Effectively UK home prices would fall to world levels, a drop of some 20%, this being the scale of EU tariff and non-tariff protection against world competition. From our trade viewpoint this would therefore operate like unilateral free trade, lowering consumer prices and forcing competition on our home suppliers, who would have to meet it by raising productivity. The gain to UK GDP and welfare of even half of this would, we calculate, be around 4%; double that if it all goes through. This makes a US trade deal highly desirable for us in its own terms.

Of course this deal will be fought tooth and nail by all the usual business and protectionist lobbies – the CBI etc. Ministers must be ready for the full litany of objections; they should be in no doubt that for this deal to go through, they must rebut the whole stable of these stale arguments, whether it is the preservation of jobs (read ’existing jobs’ for that – new jobs are constantly being created by our economy); the collapse of manufacturing (only if it cannot raise productivity, which it has done relentlessly for three decades); the disappearance of our farm industry (but it too can raise productivity and will be helped by our new farm support policies); the pollution of food standards (by higher-standard US food?); and so it will go on.

Assume our new government has the determination to get this through. What then happens to EU attitudes? Already no doubt ‘softened up’ by worries about losing the £39 billion promised in the Withdrawal Agreement, these attitudes are now transformed by the new economics of failing to do a trade deal, that’s what. Suppose now no trade deal so that tariffs go up both ways between the EU and ourselves. EU sales to us are bigger and on higher tariff items, so our tariff bill on these would be £13 billion a year. On our sales to the EU their tariff bill would be £5 billion a year. But more importantly, who ‘pays’ these tariffs, in the sense of being worse off to the tune of these amounts? Once a US trade deal is in place and UK prices are at world levels, the apparently surprising answer is that all these tariffs, both ways, are paid by EU traders.

Consider why. First, EU export traders, to sell in the UK market at these world prices, will have to match them; they cannot raise prices when the tariffs go on, or they risk selling nothing at all. So these EU exporters must absorb the tariffs. The UK Treasury will thus receive its £13 billion direct from EU exporters.

Second, EU importers of UK exports. UK exporters can sell their products at home now at world prices, so they will not take less for EU exports; hence EU importers will not be able to ‘pass back’ the EU-levied tariffs to UK exporters. Instead they will add them into EU prices. Will this reduce UK exports to the EU? No, because remember EU prices are above world prices by 20%, the effect of EU protection. So in effect EU importers can well afford to absorb the EU tariffs on UK exports (which average about 5%, much less than that overall 20% world protection inclusive of non-tariff barriers), and still be cheaper than other EU competition. So what all this means is that the £5 billion tariff revenue of the EU is simply taken from EU businesses.

So overall, a failure to do a trade deal will cost EU businesses £18 billion a year in lost profits. £5 billion of this will go to the EU in extra revenue, £13 billion to the UK Treasury. From the EU’s internal viewpoint, these are non-trivial costs to business; the fact that some of it is directly levied by the Commission will add to its unpopularity with business opinion, which is the biggest Brussels lobbying voice. Total gross profits in the EU27 are around €4,000 billion, of which some two thirds is capital depreciation, giving net profits of about €2,500 billion, so implying on a normal dividend payout ratio dividends of about €500 billion. So we are talking here of a significant hit to company dividends in the rest of the EU from a no trade-deal Brexit.

Up to now, the assumption in EU circles has been that no trade deal would be unpleasant in some parts of the EU but the worst effects, such as in Ireland, would be manageable, through some sort of compensation to this small economy. With the UK still a protected market with high prices, EU producers would not face tough competition and so could possibly pass on UK tariffs to UK consumers without too much loss of market share. Meanwhile UK exporters would absorb EU tariffs with their alternative market only being the limited home market or much lower-priced world exports.

This all changes, as we have seen, once a US-UK trade deal is signed. The EU trade deal arithmetic is transformed to a nasty corporate loss across the whole EU business sector.

There is more. When the UK signs the US trade deal, the direct effect on the prices the EU can sell at in the UK market will be a fall of 20%, even with no change in UK tariffs. Similarly our exporters to the EU will now sell to them at those 20% lower (now world) prices, assuming no EU tariffs. As we import some £100 billion a year more from the EU than we export, this 20% price fall will cost the EU £20 billion – even before any action on EU-UK tariffs. This will also come directly out of EU business dividends.

So when we sign a US trade deal, the EU will lose £20 billion at once, and a further £18 billion if there is no UK-EU trade deal so that mutual tariffs are levied – a total of £38 billion a year, nearly 8% of EU corporate dividends. This implies that the EU will be anxious to dissuade us from making a US trade deal by being more obliging in its negotiating approach over Brexit. Of course, in doing this they will risk annoying President Trump; nor is our new Government anyway likely to be dissuaded from such an important strategic deal.

But it all goes to show that the route to getting sense at last from Brussels lies through Washington and President Trump. It is good to see that Mr. Johnson is planning to take this route in short order.

The post Why a US-UK trade deal ought to mean us finally getting some sense from Brussels appeared first on BrexitCentral.

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