Winston Churchill – who was, after all, half-American – famously described the relationship between the UK and US as “special.” Britain’s current leader, Theresa May, claims no American ancestry. Our respective leadership, business, and negotiating styles may – like our cars – hew to different sides of the road.
Nevertheless, a post-Brexit UK-US trade deal must reflect a friendship that, despite the Trump administration’s head-scratching effort to link Whitehall to baseless spy allegations, needs to remain resolutely special. Most US elites still see the world through London’s prism.
Like all trade deliberations, UK-US talks are guaranteed to get caught up in details. But surely the countries that forged a partnership to defeat fascism, neuter communism, and wage war on terror can work out differences on trade.
Any agreement will be based on principles that have long animated the alliance: free and fair trade, open markets, unencumbered travel, and, where possible, reduced tariffs. It will be two years or more before the UK completes its separation from the EU. Negotiators should use the intervening months to try to unstick the stickiest issues.
Experts say that resolving discrepancies in food safety and financial dispute resolution will require much time and energy. Britons are worried about importing US meat and genetically modified products that don’t meet UK safety standards. Similar concerns stalled the Obama administration’s efforts to complete a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the EU. The UK, moreover, doesn’t want health-related trade to undermine the British healthcare system.
Still, the biggest hurdle might be US trepidation over how a post-Brexit UK plans to continue adhering to EU regulatory standards or adopt its own. If the UK goes solo, the process with the US could prove arduous. The earlier both sides can contemplate ways to ease tensions, the better the prospects for an expedited deal.
Institutions with a stake in UK-US trade should start shaping deliberations now. Corporations should break down the siloes between their government affairs and communications divisions; assemble their best quantitative data; produce videos and infographics; draft white papers; issue briefs, speeches, and op-eds; enlist such champions as academics, economists, and think tank officials; and aggressively tell their stories to print, broadcast, and digital media.
In a transparent age with an US President who seems to enjoy creating conflict, having bipartisan champions and social media memes is as crucial as traditional lobbying. So is understanding respective cultures and business folkways. Many a transatlantic alliance or transaction has foundered over cultural misunderstanding.
No one knows how long it will take to complete a bilateral deal. But a special relationship calls for special attention. Wading through minutiae won’t be easy. But planning and executing D-Day was a lot harder. Brexit or no Brexit, Trump or no Trump, the US-UK bond must endure.