Evening Standard Comment: A deal with Boris Johnson is not Joe Biden’s priority

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 (Christian Adams)
(Christian Adams)

Former Bill Clinton adviser James Carville once quipped that if there were reincarnation, he wanted to come back as the bond market, because you can intimidate everybody. The US Trade Representative (USTR) would surely come a close second.

At their meeting at the White House yesterday, Joe Biden poured cold water over the idea of a speedy trade deal between the US and UK. This should not have come as a shock.

While in the 2016 referendum campaign, Boris Johnson called on Britain to break free from Europe in order to strike a trade deal with America, it was Barack Obama who stated that the UK would be at the “back of the queue” for such a deal.

Furthermore, then USTR Michael Foreman also confirmed that Brexit Britain would face those same tariffs and trade friction as any other non-EU nation.

Attention now seems to have turned to Britain joining USMCA — the trade deal between the US, Mexico and Canada, but this is littered with problems.

It is not clear how accession would be achieved, whether it would smooth over the difficulties inherent in any bilateral agreement with the US, and the extent to which it would boost the UK economy, given its focus on goods when services comprise 80 per cent of our economy.

Britain has left the EU — our closest and most important trading partner — and is now seeking to join trading blocs around the world, from North America to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The intellectual argument and economic benefits to these are weak, relative to being a member of the bloc next door. One trade expert predicts that joining USMCA would boost UK GDP by 0.1 to 0.2 per cent.

Biden has made it clear that his priority is to prepare for great power competition with China, and to fix economic problems at home. A deal for Boris Johnson does not feature.

The day was not without positives — at the UN, Biden committed to working with Congress to double the US’s funding for low-income nations to confront climate change — a key Johnson goal.

Yet leading Brexiteers told the British people that a trade agreement with the US would be one of the major benefits of leaving the EU. Johnson now insists it is more important to get a good deal than a quick deal, cloaking his misjudgment as mere strategic patience.

This is not about remoaners versus leavers. Brexit is our reality — we have to make it work. But its impact — on living standards in Britain, consumers’ access to goods or the ability of our businesses to export to Europe and around the world — these problems cannot be wished away or obscured by amorphous talk of a Global Britain.

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