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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Boris Johnson’s double Donald dilemma

LONDON — For Boris Johnson, G7 will be a tale of two Donalds.

The new U.K. prime minister flies into Biarritz Saturday lunchtime determined to show the world Britain has its mojo back. The centerpiece of his weekend is a meeting first thing Sunday with Donald Trump. Hours later, Johnson will come face-to-face with Donald Tusk.

“My message to G7 leaders this week is this: The Britain I lead will be an international, outward-looking, self-confident nation,” Johnson said in his pre-summit statement. Those who think Brexit — even the no-deal Brexit he is prepared to enact in just 10 weeks’ time — means the U.K. retreating from the world are “gravely mistaken,” he added.

If the Trump meeting is likely to be hailed by Johnson as an exemplar of the U.K.’s new place in the world, the Tusk one will be a reminder of the fractious Brexit process he needs to navigate before he can pursue that agenda with gusto.

In truth, neither head-to-head will be easy. While in style Johnson might appear to share the straight-talking rambunctiousness of his North American ally, in substance many of the prime minister’s policy positions remain closely aligned with those of his Continental counterparts. Play too nicely with one and he risks antagonizing the other — or worse still being stranded, lonely in the middle.

European Council President Donald Tusk | Frederick Florin/AFP via Getty Images

Trump might talk up his good relations with Johnson, choose the prime minister as his first bilateral of the summit and discuss the agenda with him by phone beforehand, and Johnson may enjoy sharing the limelight with a U.S. president, but the two countries are far apart on key foreign policy questions, particularly on Iran and climate change. Regarding a new U.S.-U.K. trade deal, despite public confidence, officials in London are under no illusions about the serious hurdles that need to be overcome.

As for Tusk-Johnson, the European Council president said in February said there was a “special place in hell” for those who championed Brexit without a plan to carry it out. Most thought he was referring to Johnson, the champion of the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, who was then a backbench MP opposing Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

As fellow leaders, their diplomatic relations haven’t been much more cordial. This week Tusk responded to a letter from Johnson requesting that a key pillar of May’s deal — the Northern Ireland backstop — be removed by effectively accusing the U.K. prime minister of wanting to reimpose a hard border on the island of Ireland.

And despite some warm words and mixed messages from Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel this week, a new deal before October 31 that could avert an economically disruptive, crash-out Brexit still looks unlikely, and Johnson knows it.

“I want to caution everybody, OK? Because this is not going to be a cinch, this is not going to be easy. We will have to work very hard to get this thing done,” he told broadcasters on Friday. No wonder then that the other message Johnson intends to convey to Tusk on Sunday, according to officials, is that the U.K. really means it (this time) when it says it will leave with no deal.

Looking both ways

The paradox of Boris Johnson’s G7 agenda is that while the Trump meeting is at its heart, his other key messages could hardly sound more different to those of the U.S. president.

A convinced advocate of global action to combat climate change and protect the environment, the U.K. prime minister joined Emmanuel Macron in advance of the summit in highlighting the seriousness of the “heartbreaking” Amazon rainforest fire.

On Russia, he opposes Trump’s wish to invite Vladimir Putin back into the G7 fold, and on perhaps the most pressing foreign policy issue on the summit agenda — Iran — he stands with France and Germany.

U.K. officials indicated in advance of the summit that there was no change in the U.K.’s support for the nuclear deal, and that London, despite the change of leadership, was still not supportive of the U.S. “maximum pressure” on Iran strategy.

New Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is, one official said, more inclined to a hardline stance on Iran than his predecessor, Jeremy Hunt (Johnson’s vanquished leadership rival), but the overall direction of U.K. foreign policy — on this and much else — has not radically changed.

This much was clear from Johnson’s pre-summit statement.

“We face unprecedented global challenges at the very time when public trust in the institutions designed to address them risks being undermined,” he said. “International tensions and new trade barriers are threatening global growth. Violence and conflict are trapping countries in poverty, depriving children, and particularly girls, of the universal right to education. Climate change is accelerating the devastating and unprecedented loss of habitats and species.”

It’s not a pitch tailor-made to appeal to Donald Trump.

Nor will the two leaders necessarily find an easy path to a new trade deal between their countries. In private, U.K. officials recognize the difficulties involved in securing a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.S. — namely ensuring protection for U.K. farmers and the NHS, while persuading Washington to open up the U.S. market to the U.K.’s services firms.

Boris Johnson (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump greet before a meeting on United Nations Reform at UN headquarters in New York on September 18, 2017. | Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Talk of a series of mini-deals, promoted by Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton on a recent visit to London, is not considered viable in London, and Downing Street is downplaying any suggestion of a timetable for negotiations emerging from the Trump-Johnson meeting.

“The prime minister and president have both repeatedly expressed their commitment to delivering an ambitious U.K.-U.S. free-trade agreement and to starting negotiations as soon as possible,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.  “Of course we want to move quickly, but we want to get the right deal that works for both sides.”

Johnson’s real fight back home

And then, of course, there’s Brexit.

Angela Merkel’s suggestion on Wednesday of a 30-day timetable to find a solution briefly raised hopes in the U.K. that the EU might climb down from its refusal to countenance a re-opening of the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement struck with May.

However, EU officials have been clear that there has been no change of position and that it is still up to the U.K. to come up with what Tusk on Monday called “realistic alternatives” to the Northern Ireland backstop plan.

While Macron hinted on Thursday at more talks led by the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, the EU has not dropped its insistence that the backstop stays in the Withdrawal Agreement.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

As Merkel in particular emphasized, the non-legally binding Political Declaration on the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU — the second element of the Brexit deal — can be changed, and Barnier is authorized to start talking about that. But without changes to the Withdrawal Agreement the U.K. won’t be at the table — so deadlock looks likely to persist.

EU leaders also have half an eye on Johnson’s home front. MPs return to parliament in little over a week’s time, and opposition parties and Conservative rebels are expected to fight tooth and nail to block Johnson from taking the U.K. out of the EU on October 31 without a deal. While it is not yet a public position, many government officials are convinced Johnson will seek an election to prevent the House of Commons — where he has a majority of one — standing in his way.

For now, that is where Johnson’s real fight lies, and until he wins it, his fellow G7 leaders will be justified in wondering how long his tenure as a member of their exclusive club will be.

David Herszenhorn and Gaby Orr contributed reporting for this article.

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Nancy Pelosi says no UK-US trade deal if Brexit risks Irish peace

LONDON — Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, warned Boris Johnson and Donald Trump that Congress will block any trade deal between the U.K. and U.S. that threatens peace in Northern Ireland.

According to a statement from her office, Pelosi said Brexit “cannot be allowed to imperil” the Good Friday Agreement that ended decades of conflict.

British Prime Minister Johnson has demanded the EU scrap the backstop plan to keep the Northern Irish border open, which was negotiated by his predecessor Theresa May. But Brussels has refused to budge, increasing the possibility of a no-deal Brexit and border checks.

Pelosi, a Democrat, issued her warning after U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said during a visit to the U.K. on Tuesday that Britain would be at the “front of the trade queue” with Washington after Brexit.

She said in a statement: “Whatever form it takes, Brexit cannot be allowed to imperil the Good Friday Agreement, including the seamless border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, especially now, as the first generation born into the hope of Good Friday 21 years ago comes into adulthood. We cannot go back.”

She added: “If Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be no chance of a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement passing the Congress.

“The peace of the Good Friday Agreement is treasured by the American people and will be fiercely defended on a bicameral and bipartisan basis in the United States Congress.”

It comes after senior members of Congress vowed to block any trade deal between the U.K. and U.S. that jeopardizes the 1998 pact.

Bolton also said during his U.K. visit that the Trump administration would “enthusiastically” support a no-deal Brexit.

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Boris Johnson: UK-US trade deal will be a ‘tough old haggle’

Brokering a transatlantic trade deal won’t be easy but can be done, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday.

“It will be a tough old haggle, but we’ll get there,” Johnson told Sky News.

“In my experience, the Americans are very tough negotiators indeed,” he said, adding that the U.S. market “is growing very fast for the U.K., but they still ban haggis, for heaven’s sake.”

Johnson also said reaching a post-Brexit deal with the EU will be most important.

“The single biggest deal that we need to do is a free trade agreement with our friends and partners over the Channel.”

Johnson’s comments come a day after John Bolton, U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, said during a visit to the U.K. that the two countries could broker sector-by-sector deals to reach bilateral agreements “very quickly, very straightforwardly.”

Bolton’s comments have been dismissed by trade experts, who say piecemeal deals based on tariff reductions in one sector would not comply with World Trade Organization rules.

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Trump envoy: US would ‘enthusiastically’ back no-deal Brexit

America would “enthusiastically” support a no-deal Brexit, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Monday during a visit to London.

“If that’s the decision of the British government, we will support it enthusiastically, and that’s what I’m trying to convey,” Bolton told reporters on the first day of his two-day visit to the British capital, according to the Guardian. “We’re with you, we’re with you.”

He said the U.S. would consider striking sector-specific deals ahead of a full-scale trade pact.

“The ultimate end result is a comprehensive trade agreement covering all trading goods and services,” Bolton said. “But to get to that you could do it sector by sector, and you can do it in a modular fashion. In other words, you can carve out some areas where it might be possible to reach a bilateral agreement very quickly, very straightforwardly.”

Bolton also took aim at Brussels, saying: “The fashion in the European Union is when the people vote the wrong way from the way the elites want to go, is to make the peasants vote again and again until they get it right. There was a vote — everyone knew what the issues were. It is hard to imagine that anyone in this country did not know what was at stake. The result is the way it was. That’s democracy.”

He added: “Britain’s success in successfully exiting the European Union will be a statement about democratic rule and constitutional government. That’s important for Britain. But it’s important for the United States, too. So we see a successful exit as being very much in our interest, and there’s no quid pro quo on any of these issues.”

Bolton also said he couldn’t see a threat to the Good Friday Agreement as a result of Brexit, the Guardian wrote.

Bolton was expected to urge Britain to align more closely with America’s stance on Iran and on Huawei’s involvement in 5G telecoms networks, but he told reporters that Washington understood Brexit was the priority, given Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson had promised to exit the EU by October 31.

“The U.S. government fully understands that in the next 80 days the U.K. government has a singular focus on the Brexit issue, so that we’re not pushing for anything on these broad and complex questions,” he told reporters.

The comments came after Johnson joined a meeting with Bolton and senior officials on Monday.

Bolton said Johnson’s relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump had “got off to a roaring start,” with the two having shared multiple phone calls since he assumed the British prime ministership. Their most recent conversation was on Monday, when Trump “expressed his appreciation for the United Kingdom’s steadfast partnership in addressing global challenges,” according to the White House readout of the call, and said he “looks forward” to meeting Johnson “personally in the near future.” Trump and Johnson are both expected to attend the G7 summit in Biarritz, France at the end of the month.

This article is from POLITICO Pro: POLITICO’s premium policy service. To discover why thousands of professionals rely on Pro every day, email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.

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Australia’s UK envoy sees hope of trade deal by end of 2020

Assuming Britain leaves the EU October 31, Australia is optimistic it can strike a trade pact with London “before the end of 2020” or even sooner, according to its U.K. envoy George Brandis.

“The reason I take that date is that it only took 15 months for Australia to complete our very, very ambitious FTA [free trade agreement] that is with the U.S. some 15 years ago,” the Australian high commissioner told POLITICO’s London Playbook. “The political will to do it is there.”

Whether the U.K. managed to strike a deal with the EU before leaving the bloc likely wouldn’t change things, Brandis said.

“I think myself that the shape of an FTA between the U.K. and Australia will be pretty much the same whether it is a no-deal Brexit or a Brexit with a deal, assuming that, as I think we may, that that deal doesn’t include a customs union or other trade restrictions on dealing with third-party nations,” he said.

Brandis urged the U.K. to take a positive view of its trade future after leaving the EU, telling pessimists to “look at the Australian experience.” Australia conducts 70 percent of its trade with countries with which it has trade agreements. “My advice to the U.K. government is to be bold and not be afraid of free trade agreements,” Brandis said.

Brandis pointed out that commodity trading between Australia and the U.K. is still “relatively modest” — though the biggest trade is wine. His favorite? “You can’t go wrong [with] a Penfolds — at whatever price point.” But what about British wine? “Some of it is very nice,” he conceded, but “I think the United Kingdom wine industry would have a way to go to match an Australian shiraz.”

Brandis, a former Australian Liberal Party senator who served in the conservative Howard, Abbott and Turnbull administrations, said he was a fan of the new British prime minister.

“What excites me about Boris Johnson is if anyone can rekindle that spirit of optimism in the British people, which I think has taken a bit of a hammering in recent years, it is him,” Brandis said. “If ever there was a nation which needed a good dose of optimism and encouragement not to be fearful of the future, but to embrace to restore that Carpe Diem spirit, it is the new prime minister.”

Brandis also defended the way British MPs have handled Brexit, saying that his own “shouty” parliament would not have coped as well.

“What has impressed me … is at a time when these profound and even existential issues are so acute, that the debate has been conducted with civility and maturity, and intelligence which bespeaks a very mature and sophisticated political system and a very mature political community,” Brandis said.

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