Seeking to prod US President Donald Trump into concessions on trade while reminding Brussels that Britain is ready for a “no deal” Brexit, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson charged around the G7 summit on Sunday as he battled to prepare for departure from the European Union.
Trump lavished praise on Johnson as the “right man” to lead his country into Brexit while the new UK premier also held a prickly meeting with EU Council chief Donald Tusk after a bitter exchange the day earlier.
Johnson wants Trump to lift restrictions on UK trade to the US to help achieve a mega post-Brexit trade deal. At the same time, he is trying to pressure the EU into concessions while brandishing the threat that Britain is ready to leave the bloc without a deal.
The G7 summit in Biarritz represented Johnson’s first major international meeting since he took office in July on a mandate to deliver Brexit and restore the self confidence of his nation.
But while Johnson and Trump exhibited characteristic bonhomie in their first face-to-face meeting since Johnson got the job, it may not be plain sailing for the “special relationship” between the UK and US in the run-up to Brexit.
Even before the meeting, Johnson vowed to press Trump on eliminating the “considerable barriers” that could impede a trade deal with the United States.
– Britain’s ‘anchor’ on ankle –
Sitting down with Trump over a breakfast of veal sausages, Johnson lambasted the fact that British beef, lamb and pork pies — a traditional English delicacy of chopped meat surrounded by jellied stock in a pastry coating — were not allowed in the US market.
“I know that there will be some tough talks ahead,” said Johnson.
“And there are clearly huge opportunities for the UK to penetrate the American market in the way that we currently don’t,” he said.
Trump boasted that “a very big trade deal, bigger than we’ve ever had” would be realised “quickly”.
He added that Britain “won’t have the anchor around their ankle because that’s what they have” in an apparent jibe at the EU.
Johnson urged Trump to allow cabotage — the transport of goods between two points in one country by an operator from another country — by British ships in the United States.
“Donald, what we want is for our ships to be able to take freight, say, from New York to Boston” Johnson said, pressing Trump directly.
In a sign of the tough talks ahead, Trump declined to take the bait. “Many things — many things we’re talking about,” he said, without committing.
– ‘Mr No Deal’ –
Johnson met Tusk a day after he and the EU council chief exchanged barbs over who would be known as “Mr No Deal Brexit” in case Britain left the bloc without a deal on October 31.
He said the pair were in complete agreement over a host of international issues, from Hong Kong to Ukraine.
“A demonstration of the closeness of the UK to our European friends which will persist beyond October 31, whatever happens,” Johnson said. Tusk replied: “I couldn’t agree more.”
Johnson made clear to Tusk that Britain wanted a deal but a new withdrawal agreement had to be negotiated, something the EU has so far resisted, a senior British government official said.
– ‘Way through the rock’ –
In an interview with the BBC, Johnson said while the EU understands there is a chance to do a deal “I think it’s going to be touch and go”.
In another interview with Sky News, Johnson said that he thinks the “chances of a deal are improving”.
“But there’s got to be a great deal of realism on the part of our friends that the withdrawal agreement is dead,” he added.
The prime minister, an enthusiastic morning sportsman, used as an example a morning swim he took in the Atlantic waves in the rocky coast around Biarritz.
“I swam round that rock this morning,” he told ITV on the shorefront.
“From here you cannot tell there is a gigantic hole in that rock. There is a way through. My point to the EU is that there is a way through, but you can’t find the way through if you just sit on the beach.”