Liz Truss faced stinging criticism on Tuesday after she admitted that talks with the US on a trade deal — seen as one of the great prizes of Brexit — are unlikely to resume for years.
The Prime Minister gave the candid assessment as she headed to New York for the United Nations General Assembly where she is due to hold talks with US president Joe Biden on Wednesday.
The pair had been due to meet in Downing Street on Sunday, before the Queen’s state funeral which Mr Biden attended, but the meeting was postponed due to what one Cabinet minister today called “extreme diary pressures”.
Speaking to reporters travelling with her to the US, Ms Truss said deals with India and other allies are “our trade priorities”. On the prospect of a US trade deal, she said: “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.”
Officials did not deny Ms Truss was effectively conceding it will be years before talks with the White House resume. Responding to the comments, the UK’s former National Security Adviser and ambassador to France Sir Peter Ricketts tweeted that another promised Brexit gain “bites the dust”.
Labour’s shadow secretary of state for international trade Nick Thomas Symonds said: “The admission there is no prospect of a trade deal with the USA is terrible news for the UK economy — it is costing billions in lost potential trade opportunities and holding back growth.There is no doubt the blame for this mess lies at the door of the Prime Minister, who tarnished the UK’s international reputation as Foreign and International Trade Secretary. This is an embarrassment for Liz Truss.”
Backers of Brexit argued the decision to leave the EU in 2016 would pave the way for a free trade agreement with the US to dwarf deals with other nations and make up for any economic blow caused by leaving the EU single market.
But hopes of a quick deal with the US have been partly thwarted by strained tensions between London and Washington over post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.Although relations between the UK and Brussels have eased in the past few weeks, Britain has alarmed the Biden administration by pushing ahead with new laws to scrap large parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which established checks on some goods travelling between Britain and the region. The EU says this would break international law.
When Boris Johnson last visited the US, Mr Biden played down the chances of a trade deal as he warned against tampering with the “Irish accords”.
Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan insisted on Tuesday that the hold-up on a US deal was not linked to the dispute with Brussels over Northern Ireland. “Absolutely not,” she said. “We have a strong relationship with America that is a long, long relationship as a special friend and ally. We want to cement that.”
Ms Truss highlighted other trade deals the UK is pursuing including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes Australia, Canada and Japan, and the Gulf Co-operation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia.
Mr Johnson and Indian PM Narendra Modi had set a deadline for a deal between the two countries by Diwali, the Hindu celebration on October 23.