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21st Jul 2018

US and Japan warn UK on EU trade

  • Tusk arriving at the G20 summit (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The US and Japan have warned the UK that trade relations with the EU are more important to them than those with Britain in the context of Brexit.

US president Barack Obama spoke at a press conference with British prime minister Theresa May at the start of the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, on Sunday (4 September).

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He said “we are going to do everything we can to make sure the consequences of the decision [Brexit] don’t end up unravelling what is already a very strong and robust economic relationship” with the UK.

But he said that his main priority would be to conclude a free-trade pact, the TTIP, with Europe.

He said it “would not make sense” for the US to start bilateral talks with the UK if that would imperil the EU deal.

“The first task is figuring out what Brexit means with respect to Europe. And our first task is making sure we go forward on TTIP negotiations in which we have already invested a lot of time and effort”, he said.

Japan issued its warning in a 15-page memo on UK trade published on its foreign ministry website.

“Japanese businesses with their European headquarters in the UK may decide to transfer their head-office function to continental Europe if EU laws cease to be applicable in the UK after its withdrawal”, it said.

It noted that about half of Japanese firms that are active in the EU, such as carmakers Nissan and Mitsubishi, or financial firm Nomura, had chosen the UK as a “gateway to Europe”, adding: “We strongly request that the UK will consider this fact seriously and respond in a responsible manner to minimise any harmful effects on these businesses.”

Difficult times

May, the British PM, said alongside Obama: “As we forge a new global role for the UK, we can and will seize the opportunities that Brexit presents, and make a success of it”.

She told reporters on the flight to Hangzhou that “the reaction of the [British] economy has been better than some had predicted post the referendum”.

But she added: “I won’t pretend it is all going to be plain sailing. There will be some difficult times ahead”.

She also said that one idea on future EU relations - to let in EU migrants on an Australia-type points-based system - might not work. "There is no single silver bullet that is the answer in terms of dealing with immigration", she said,

Speaking earlier on Sunday in a BBC interview, she said the UK could not in future allow free movement of EU workers, but still wanted access to the single market.

She said British voters did not want "free movement to continue in the way that it has done in the past”, but they did “want to see the [EU] job opportunities, to see the economic opportunities, and so getting a good deal in trading goods and services is also obviously important for us”.

She said EU workers already living in the UK could stay there if EU states also let British expats stay in place.

She repeated that she would not trigger the so-called article 50 process of leaving the EU this year, but also said that it would not be “kicked into the long grass”.

Brutal

For their part, the EU’s two top officials, European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council chief Donald Tusk, on Sunday also warned Britain that they would put EU interests first in future talks.

Juncker said in Hangzhou that his views on the UK are “not inspired by any kind of revenge”, but he said that “if you want to have free access to the internal market, you have to respect the basic rules, and those rules include freedom of movement”.

Tusk said: “We need to protect the interests of those members of the EU that want to stay, not the one that wants to leave”.

“It may sound brutal, but it must be obvious to all of us”, he added.

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