US President Donald Trump says he will personally discuss the framework for a post-Brexit trade deal with Prime Minister Theresa May today, having failed to appoint a commerce secretary since moving into the White House.
“I’m meeting with the PM tomorrow but I don’t have my commerce secretary and they wanna talk trade – so I’ll have to handle it myself,” Trump said yesterday.
His comments came ahead of the PM’s landmark speech to top US Republicans last night, in which she moved to seize the opportunity of closer economic ties between the UK and America.
“I am delighted that the new administration has made a trade agreement between our countries one of its earliest priorities,” May said.
With a nod to the new President’s so-called “America first” platform, May added: “A new trade deal between Britain and America must work for both sides and serve both of our national interests. It must help to grow our respective economies and to provide the high-skilled, high-paid jobs of the future for working people across America and across the UK. And it must work for those who have too often felt left behind by the forces of globalisation.”
Trump has backed a speedy deal between the countries and one of his top advisers believes the UK need not wait to fully leave the EU before starting talks.
However, his administration has also adopted a strong protectionist stance, tearing up a proposed multilateral Pacific trade deal and insisting Nafta (the North American trade pact) must be reformed.
Last night, as May prepared to make her speech, the President’s top spokesman said Trump favoured a 20 per cent tax on imports from Mexico – a supposed attempt to cover the costs of a controversial wall that Trump has pledged to build along the border.
Nonetheless, people close to Trump believe he could take a considerably more favourable approach to the UK. Ted Malloch, an adviser to Trump who is tipped to become his ambassador to the EU, said last night that “Trump is very enamoured with the US-UK special relationship”.
Malloch added: “Britain has jumped to the front of the queue... The most important and the most timely bilateral deal will be with the UK.”
The framework for such a deal would emerge during the PM’s visit to Washington DC, Malloch said.
During an extensive speech, the PM talked up the benefits of a deal.
“Such an agreement would see us taking the next step in the special relationship... cementing and affirming one of the greatest forces for progress the world has ever known,” she said.
Setting out her vision for the UK post-Brexit, May said: “We have chosen... [to] step up with confidence to a new, even more internationalist role... and continue to act as one of the strongest and most forceful advocates for business, free markets and free trade anywhere around the globe.”