Tuesday

22nd Oct 2019

US offers Johnson helping hand on Brexit

  • British prime minister Boris Johnson (r) took office in July (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The US wants to help the UK cushion the blow of Brexit with a bilateral trade deal, a senior White House official said in London on Monday (12 August).

US president Donald Trump "wants to see a successful British exit from the European Union", the official, who asked not to be named, told British press.

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The former British government "didn't want" a US trade accord, but "this government does. We're very happy about it," the official said, referring to the new British prime minister, Boris Johnson.

The senior US official also joked that "when it comes to trade negotiations, the EU is worse than China, only smaller".

That was the message when Trump's national security advisor, John Bolton, visited the British capital the same day to meet with a galaxy of pro-Brexit hardliners in Johnson's ruling Conservative Party.

The US also wants things in return.

Bolton was to press British MPs to abandon an EU-backed nuclear arms control deal on Iran, American sources added, and to join a US-led maritime security operation in the Gulf instead of a European one.

Bolton's trip to the UK is the highest-level US visit since Johnson took office in July.

The new British PM has yet to meet the US president or French and German leaders Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel in person to discuss the US special relationship or Brexit.

He has pledged to leave the EU on 31 October no matter what, even though his own justice minister, Robert Buckland, has said a "crash-out" would bring "chaos".

And Downing Street has drawn up plans to pull out British diplomats from EU Council meetings in the near future in a symbolic step, British newspaper The Guardian reported on Monday.

The 150 or so diplomats at the UK mission to the EU would stop attending Council "working group" and other meetings within a few days' time, the report said.

The US overture and Johnson symbolism come amid uncertainty on whether he can deliver on his central pledge, however.

The opposition Labour Party is eying the first week of September for a potential no-confidence vote in Johnson - a move which could trigger a general election.

Labour and rebel Tory MPs are also eyeing a parliamentary debate on Northern Ireland due on 9 September for a chance to legally bind Downing Street to avoid a no-deal Brexit, a senior government source told The Guardian and The Times newspapers.

For their part, European medicines producers added to the tension in a warning on Monday on supply shortages in case of a Brexit mess.

"Despite intensive preparation by industry for every scenario, a no-deal Brexit risks disruption to the supply of medicines" throughout the EU, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations told the Reuters news agency.

Luisa Porritt, a British MEP from the opposition Liberal Democrats party, noted that Johnson's EU Council boycott would already cause damage.

"Haughty grandstanding like this undermines our place in the world and will be treated as a snub by our European neighbours and allies, who we should be working with to address shared challenges," she said.

"They were once the most respected diplomatic corps here ... the UK representative's position was always important. Even in areas where the UK did not have a strong national stance, they would have ideas to solve a problem," an EU diplomat told The Guardian, referring to the UK mission to the EU in friendlier times.

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