It was long touted as one of the biggest prizes of Brexit, but Liz Truss has finally been forced to drop the Government’s plan to strike a free trade deal with the US.
The Prime Minister admitted there was no prospect of an agreement in the “short to medium term” as she flew to New York City overnight on Monday and as she prepared to meet President Joe Biden for talks on Wednesday.
It is understood that she has little hope of rekindling trade negotiations before the next election, which is at least two years away.
Ms Truss previously made a UK-US deal her “main priority” on becoming trade secretary in July 2019, but one of her former advisers in that job told ithat “reality” had caught up with her.
Ben Ramanauskas, an Oxford University research economist who advised the Prime Minister on policy at the Department for International Trade, said Ms Truss was a “very tenacious person” and “she did make it a priority” and “she did try very hard with Biden and his trade representative”.
“Boris Johnson made it a priority when he became prime minister so it was definitely following from the top,” Ms Ramanauskas said.
“But she is a pragmatist and I think now she is Prime Minister she sees that Britain has got other things to deal with.”
Mr Ramanauskas said the gaps between the two sides were simply too wide, with US businesses unlikely to drop demands to be able to export chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef to Britain and the UK Government unlikely to ever accept it.
“It’s not going to happen any time soon, the reality is there for the Prime Minister – it’s not going to happen so there’s no point saying it’s a priority.”
Anand Menon, director of the UK In A Changing Europe think-tank, said Ms Truss’s ongoing row with the EU over the post-Brexit trade deal on Northern Ireland had also made the deal even less likely given Mr Biden’s Irish roots and tendency to side with Dublin.
“(Ms Truss’s) Northern Ireland Protocol Bill makes them less keen,” he told i.
Both experts agreed however that it would make little difference to the UK’s post-Brexit economic prospects, which currently look bleak, as a US deal was unlikely to substantially boost trade.
They suggested it could damage support among Leave voters for the Conservatives, but argued there are bigger concerns for voters.
Mr Ramanauskas said: “It’s a blow in terms of the politics of it all as it was seen as one of the major benefits of Brexit and it was hyped up by pro-Brexit people as one of the big wins, and now it’s not happening it’s bad for political reasons, you could argue.
“But in terms of the economy, it makes no real difference.”
Mr Menon added: “It may feed into perceptions that Brexit is being handled badly but I suspect won’t make that much difference with the cost of living crisis looming.”
There was little sign of a revolt among Tory Brexiters at Ms Truss’s admission.
Tory backbencher Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown told i: “I think there were considerable difficulties on both sides, including on agriculture and food, so I don’t think anybody is terribly surprised about that.”
Speaking to journalists on her flight to the US, Ms Truss said her “trade priorities” are now striking agreements with India and joining a trans-Pacific deal with Australia, Canada and Japan.
She added: “There isn’t [sic] 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.”
It came on a difficult day for the so-called special relationship between the UK and US, as Mr Biden highlighted his ideological split over the economy with Ms Truss, criticising “trickle-down economics” in a tweet as the Prime Minister lauded her plan to boost growth with tax cuts.