The much-vaunted post-Brexit US-UK trade deal could be years away, Prime Minister Liz Truss admitted on Tuesday, as she touched down in the US ahead of her first official bi-lateral meeting with President Biden.
The new British prime minister, en route to the United Nations General Assembly, told reporters: “There aren’t currently any negotiations taking place with the US and I don’t have an expectation that those are going to start in the short to medium term.”
Ms Truss, a former foreign and trade secretary, said her priority with International allies was to “collectively deal with Russia aggression” as she told reporters that her focus for trade deals had moved eastwards, citing her desire for a trade deal with India. Her predecessor Boris Johnson pledged in June to secure one by the end of this year.
Ms Truss also wants a deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The third target is to achieve UK accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) grouping of nations that takes in Australia, Canada and Japan and is one of the world’s largest trading blocs.
“Those are our trade priorities,” she said. “The CTPPT, India and also the GCC.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol question
Her remarks come after the White House warned earlier this month that any attempt to undo the Northern Ireland Protocol, which governs trade rules between the EU, Great Britain and Northern Ireland could hurt chances of a bilateral trade agreement.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said there is “no formal linkage” between the two issues but also said any effort to undo the Northern Ireland Protocol “would not create a conducive environment, and that’s basically where we are with the dialogue”.
President Biden made similar remarks a year ago when he told me in the Oval Office – then PM Mr Johnson seated next to him – that while the issues of a US-UK trade deal and the Northern Ireland Protocol were “separate”, he felt “very strongly” that he does not want a change to the Irish accords resulting in a closed border.
Minister says UK’s focus is peace in Northern Ireland as US warns trade deal at risk over protocol change
The UK and EU remain in dispute over the trading arrangements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with the UK insisting physical checks on farm produce and other goods are removed.
The UK has also insisted it will act unilaterally if a solution cannot be found and has drawn up legislation to enable the UK to tear up part of the protocol.
The bill was tabled by Ms Truss earlier this summer and is expected to reach the House of Lords in mid-October, and threatens to further escalate tensions between the EU and potentially the US as well.
Mr Johnson and his government had championed a US trade deal as a big Brexit bonus, while President Trump insisted in 2017 the UK was “at the front of the queue”.
But the former prime minister was forced to admit in 2021 that the US has “a lot of fish to fry” and that a trade deal might not be secured by the 2024 general election. “The Americans do negotiate very hard,” he said.
Ms Truss now appears to have mothballed a free trade deal with our closet ally and the world’s largest economy and wants to use her trip to the UN to focus on Ukraine and collectively tackling Russia aggression.