The US ambassador today tried to defuse the bitter row over Donald Trump’s Brexit deal attack – insisting he is ‘enthusiastic’ about a trade agreement with the UK.
Woody Johnson tried to cool the spat that erupted after the president’s extraordinary jibe at the package thrashed out with Brussels.
Mr Trump risked throwing Theresa May into chaos by saying it looked like a ‘great deal for the EU’, and suggesting it will torpedo UK trade ties with the US.
The intervention drew a frosty response from the PM, with Mrs May insisting Britain will have an ‘independent trade policy’ after leaving the bloc. Downing Street also made clear her anger by declaring that the two leaders will not be holding bilateral talks at the G20 summit this week.
Writing in The Times today, Mr Johnson signalled that the US believes trade links can be stronger after Brexit.
‘He hopes there will be room for an ambitious trade deal with the United States,’ Mr Johnson wrote.
‘The Prime Minister shares this goal and has pledged that the UK will be free to negotiate its own trade deals as soon as you leave the EU.’
Woody Johnson (pictured) tried to cool the spat that erupted after the president’s extraordinary jibe at the package thrashed out with Brussels
President Trump told reporters outside the White House last night that the deal ‘looks great the EU’ as he warned about the impact it could have on UK-US trade
Speaking to reporters in Washington on Monday night, Mr Trump jibed that the agreement was ‘great’ for the EU – an institution he has accused of being a protectionist cartel.
In a barb that struck at the heart of Mrs May’s vision for the UK’s future outside of the bloc, he added: ‘I think we have to take a look seriously whether or not the UK is allowed to trade.
‘Because right now if you look at the deal, they may not be able to trade with us. And that wouldn’t be a good thing. I don’t think they meant that.’
The President said he hoped Mrs May would be able to address the problem. ‘I don’t think that the Prime Minister meant that,’ he said. ‘And, hopefully, she’ll be able to do something about that.
‘But, right now, as the deal stands she may not, they may not, be able to trade with the US. And, I don’t think they want that at all.’
Senior Tories and Eurosceptics seized on the barbs from the White House with glee – saying it could not be ‘brushed off’ and Mrs May must reopen negotiations with Brussels. Jacob Rees-Mogg said Mr Trump was stating an ‘obvious’ fact.
On a visit to a winter fair in mid-Wales yesterday, Mrs May flatly dismissed Mr Trump’s attack, saying the package thrashed out with Brussels was ‘very clear we will have an independent trade policy’.
‘If you look at the political declaration that sets out the future framework for our relationship with the European Union, it clearly identifies we will have an independent trade policy and we will be able to negotiate trade deals with countries around the rest of the world,’ she said.
The intervention came just hours after the Prime Minister (pictured at a winter fair in Powys today) spoke in the Commons to defend the withdrawal agreement, which was signed off by the EU on Sunday
As the government reeled from the blow yesterday, one minister highlighted a tweet claiming Mr Trump wanted to ‘finish off’ Mrs May, while Cabinet Office minister David Lidington said bluntly that he was ‘wrong’.
Asked if Mrs May would try to explain the situation to Mr Trump at the summit on Friday and Saturday, the PM’s spokesman said she would hold bilateral talks with other leaders, but had ‘none planned’ with the US commander-in-chief.
‘It is not something that we have requested,’ the spokesman said. The Prime Minister’s diary is agreed in advance and she is meeting with a number of world leaders to discuss issues like trade and security.
‘We have met with the president on a number of occasions in recent months and the bilaterals that are agreed for the G20 are done so in advance, and they don’t include the US president.’