So the prospect of an all-singing, all-dancing Broadway show of a trade deal with the United States has been . After three prime ministers, as many presidents and a whole lot of grandstanding, Boris Johnson has been forced to admit it was more an ambition than a geopolitical reality.
During the Prime Minister’s time with Joe Biden in Washington, the US President talked “a little bit” about the potential for an FTA.
Many will mourn the promise of what could have been, but many conveniently forget it is still possible to trade without a trade deal. In fact, trade across the Atlantic was at a record high in 2019 – worth US $140bn.
Yes, the pandemic has ruptured that growth and we need to reap the rewards of tighter relations with America, but getting carried away with the flight-of-fancy that was an FTA has wasted precious energy.
Even Johnson admitted Biden had “a lot of fish to fry”. One of those is surely taking his UK counterpart to task over the Northern Ireland Protocol. The other should be the famed Siamese fighting fish, which hates to share a tank: Beijing.
With trade talks on the backburner, we can focus on the geopolitical prizes of 2021, not those down the road. That’s a united front on China – on everything from human rights to climate change.
They have started that process with the awkwardly named but strategically vital AUKUS deal, albeit putting Gallic noses squarely out of joint in the process.
Next they should target China’s record on the environment – promising this week not to build coal-powered stations abroad, but planning dozens domestically. The treatment of minorities and intellectual property abuse, too, should be on the list.
The special relationship doesn’t need a trade deal. Perhaps it just needs a shared goal or two.