US President Donald Trump stated that Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal means that the UK ‘can’t make a trade deal’ with America, which caused Number 10 to refute this claim immediately. Trump made those comments to LBC host and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, arguing that certain aspects of the deal mean Britain and the US cannot increase their trade.
Whilst Trump remains the UK’s best hope for achieving a US-UK trade deal and it is crucial for any British Prime Minister to retain his support as this country prepares to leave the EU, when it comes to Brexit it is counter-productive for any US leader to interfere in this process.
When Obama stated in 2016 that the UK would be ‘at the back of the queue’ for a trade deal if it voted to leave the EU that year, the then Mayor of London, Boris, criticised the former President for making comments biased against the British due to his ‘ancestral dislike of the British Empire.’ Farage also attacked Obama for his pro-EU remarks but has failed to do the same when the Trump administration criticises the current Withdrawal Agreement. This means the Brexit Party leader is vulnerable to being accused of exercising double standards.
Meanwhile, Boris has behaved consistently by disagreeing with both Obama’s and Trump’s opinions on Brexit. His approach is different to David Cameron’s who has since been exposed by former White House staffer Ben Rhodes for asking Obama to aid him during the 2016 EU Referendum. However, Boris is not afraid to disagree with this country’s closest ally.
Like with Obama’s remarks, Trump’s have the potential to backfire on him. Although no polling data has yet revealed how voters feel about the current US President’s opinion on Brexit, in 2016 data compiled by the ICM found that Obama’s intervention increased Vote Leave’s support by two points. A survey conducted by the ORB put the Leave campaign ahead by five points after the former President’s joint press conference with Cameron in 2016. Therefore, the US President’s intervention may help the Prime Minister as he tries to secure support for his own deal. This is why it is wrong for any US leader to interfere in any British election, particularly when it comes to quitting the EU.
Contrary to what Trump believes about Boris’s deal, it does ensure that the UK can sign its own trade deals in the long-term, which this country will be able to do from 1st January 2021. If the Conservatives win a majority on 12th December and the Third Reading of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill is approved, there will be a transition period throughout 2020 which means that once next year has ended, the US and the UK can both sign a free trade deal.
If the Republicans lose next year’s presidential election, it will be interesting to see if the Democrats would support a US-UK trade deal, but considering House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would only block a trade agreement if it jeopardises the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, there is no reason why they should not support one. This is because Boris’s deal keeps the Irish border open, something which the Irish Government and Pelosi have both been anxious to avoid.
Unfortunately, Northern Ireland will have to remain in the EU’s regulatory orbit for goods to ensure frictionless trade continues post-Brexit, but the backstop has been replaced with a Northern Ireland Protocol. This Protocol means Northern Ireland remains in the UK’s customs territory whilst benefitting from trade deals the British Government negotiates once the transition period ends. Also, Stormont can vote to quit the Protocol any time it wants.
Trump was wrong to intervene in the debate over Boris’s deal for two reasons: firstly, it does deliver Brexit in the long-term and he should have learnt from his predecessor that the British never appreciate a US President telling them what to do.