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Wednesday , September 30 2020

Boris Johnson wins Trump nod for a tough approach to Brexit

President Donald Trump and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, speak to the media before a working breakfast meeting at the Hotel du Palais on the sidelines of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (Erin Schaff, The New York Times, Pool)

BIARRITZ, France, Aug 25, (Agencies): British Prime Minister Boris Johnson won US President Donald Trump’s approval Sunday for his plans to take a tough approach in talks to leave the European Union after a chummy meeting on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit in France. Johnson glowed as Trump said he gave him a vote of confidence in carrying out the Brexit talks. The British prime minister has vowed to bring his country out of the EU on Oct 31 no matter what, an approach that has raised worries about a chaotic divorce that could cause chaos and hurt the economy. Trump promised that he and Johnson would work out “a very big trade deal” between their nations once the United Kingdom leaves the EU. “I’m very grateful for that,” Johnson said. “And we’re looking forward to having some pretty comprehensive talks about how to take forward the relationship in all sorts of ways, particularly on trade. We’re very excited about that.” But the pair were barely past the elegant winding staircase at the Hotel du Palais when it became clear that each had a different vision of what a trade deal might look like. The United States has said it is ready to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK in pieces – rather than London’s wish of a comprehensive pact. Johnson pledged a “fantastic deal once we clear up some of the obstacles in our path.” Trump interrupted promising “lots of fantastic mini-deals.” The British prime minister badly needs a trade deal with the United States. After taking power last month he vowed that Britain would leave the EU on time with or without a divorce deal, cutting the country off from the EU’s single market of 500 million people. A no-deal Brexit would see new tariffs and border checks on trade between Britain and the EU, seriously disrupting business.

Market
Supporters of Brexit say a free trade deal with the United States can help make up for any reduction in commerce with the EU after Britain leaves the bloc’s single market for goods and services. In 2018, Britain did almost half its trade with the EU, while the US accounted for 18% of UK exports and 11% of imports. “We’re working on a very big trade deal and I think it’s going to work out,” Trump said. The meeting between the leaders came a day after Johnson warned that getting a trade deal with the United States won’t be “plain sailing” as he bemoaned barriers to the United Kingdom’s goods in American markets.

Speaking to reporters as he flew to France for the Group of Seven meeting, Johnson cited examples small and large of British goods that struggle in US markets for bureaucratic reasons. He cited things like cauliflower, English wine, pillows, rail cars and even parts for showers. It wasn’t just goods on Johnson’s radar, but professional services, which far and away make up most of Britain’s economy. “If you want to sell insurance in the UK you only need to speak to two regulators,” Johnson fumed. “If you want to sell insurance in the US you have to speak to 50 regulators. The same point can be made about architects and many other professions.” But even though he needs a deal, Johnson was at pains to say he wasn’t giving away the store. Some sectors of the UK economy would remain off limits to any deal. Johnson has promised the National Health Service will be off-limits and that animal welfare standards would be safeguarded.

Meanwhile, Johnson said on Sunday that if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal, it will no longer legally owe the 39 billion pound ($47.88 billion) divorce bill agreed by his predecessor Theresa May. Earlier British media reported Johnson would use a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk on the sidelines of the G7 Summit to set out that Britain would pay less than 10 billion pounds of the settlement if it leaves without a deal.

Pay
Sky News said the figure was 9 billion pounds, while the Sunday Times reported British government lawyers had concluded the amount Britain was legally obliged to pay could be as low as 7 billion pounds. “I think what the entire European Union understands is that if we come out without a deal then…the 39 billion is no longer legally pledged,” Johnson told Sky News, when asked if he had told EU leaders this week he planned to withhold the money. “As I’ve said many, many times we will therefore on November 1 have very substantial sums available from that 39 billion to spend on supporting our farmers…and indeed for investment in all sorts of areas.”

In June, a source close to French President Emmanuel Macron said that failing to pay the Brexit bill would amount to a sovereign debt default and on Wednesday an official in his office said that leaving without a deal would not remove Britain’s obligation to pay. “There is no magic world in which the bill no longer exists,” the French official said on Wednesday. The EU has repeatedly said it will not start negotiating a new trade deal with Britain before the issues of money, the Irish border and citizens rights are settled, so it is likely to return to the fore as a precondition for the EU to start trade talks after Brexit if Britain refuses to pay. Ahead of their meeting on Sunday, Johnson and Tusk traded barbs over who would be to blame should Britain leave without a deal at the end of October.

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