Boris Johnson faced disappointment as US President Joe Biden downplayed the prospect of a one-on-one trade agreement in a meeting at the White House
Image: AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson is looking at trying to join a US trade agreement with Mexico and Canada as hopes of a bespoke deal for the UK faded.
The PM’s dreams of a post-Brexit pact with the US appeared to be dashed as President Joe Biden downplayed the prospect of a one-on-one agreement between both countries.
As the pair met at the White House, Mr Biden told reporters: “We’re going to talk about trade a little bit today and we’re gonna have to work that through.”
He also failed to reject the assertion from his predecessor Barack Obama’s that Britain would be at the “back of the queue” for a deal.
Mr Johnson had previously insisted the UK would be “first in line” for a free trade deal – which was touted by some Brexiteers as one of the major benefits of leaving the EU.
But attempts to kickstart trade talks on his first trip to the US since becoming PM appeared to fizzle out.
Government insiders suggested Britain would look at other options including asking to join the the existing US-Mexico-Canada agreement (USMCA) instead.
A diplomatic source said: “There are a variety of different ways to do this. The question is whether the US administration is ready.
“The ball is in the US’s court. It takes two to tango.”
Ex-President Donald Trump, who oversaw the USMCA pact, was more enthusiastic over the prospect of a free trade deal with Britain which he said would be “fantastic and big”.
But the PM has sought to dampen expectations of an imminent agreement with Mr Biden.
Environment Secretary George Eustice struck a downbeat note over the hopes of an UK-UK trade deal.
He said that the UK “still very much hope to be able to put together an agreement with the United States” but “it’s just not a priority” for the Biden administration.
Mr Eustice also risked a row with the US when he said Mr Biden was “wrong” over Brexit.
The President, who is proud of his Irish roots, had raised concerns about the impact of part of Mr Johnson’s EU trade deal on peace on the island of Ireland.
The Northern Ireland protocol, a key part of the deal, has created a trade border in the Irish Sea by effectively keeping it in the EU’s single market for goods.
During his White House summit with the PM, Mr Biden said he felt “very strongly” about any issues to the peace process.
“And I would not at all like to see – nor, I might add, would many of my Republican colleagues like to see – a change in the Irish accords, the end result having a closed border in Ireland,” he said.
Mr Johnson said “that’s absolutely right”, adding: “On that point, Joe, we’re completely at one, nobody wants to see anything that interrupts or unbalances the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.”
But back in the UK, Mr Eustice said the President is “probably at the moment just reading the headlines”.
He told Sky News: “We think he is wrong because the truth is that unless we have a sustainable solution that enables trade to continue between GB and Northern Ireland then we are going to have issues, and that itself would become a challenge to the Belfast Agreement.
“We will obviously explain to the United States effectively it is tantamount to saying that potatoes grown in one part of the United States can’t be sold in another part of the United States.
“When you explain some of those provisions in detail, it is understood by the US government that that clearly does not make any sense and therefore should be revisited.”
Mr Eustice said the protocol was “very complicated” and “I’m not sure he (Mr Biden) does fully appreciate all of that”.