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Pompeo: US ready with ‘pen in hand’ to sign Brexit trade deal with UK

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The US will be “on the doorstep, pen in hand” to sign a new trade deal with Britain after Brexit, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has claimed, despite warnings from multiple congressional lawmakers that such a deal could be blocked if Prime Minister Boris Johnson presses on with plans for a no-deal Brexit.

Pompeo made the comment following a meeting with British foreign secretary Dominic Raab, a close ally of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is visiting Washington this week in a bid to strengthen bilateral relations.

“We support the United Kingdom’s sovereign choice, however Brexit ultimately shakes out,” Pompeo said. “And we’ll be on the doorstep, pen in hand, ready to sign a new free trade agreement at the earliest possible time.”

Boris Johnson, who became prime minister in July, hopes that his warm relationship with President Donald Trump will lead to a bilateral trade deal with the US.

The president himself has promised “a very substantial trade agreement” that would increase trade “four or five times”.

But there are a number of huge barriers to a potential UK-US trade deal, most particularly the large number of American-Irish politicians who wield influence over US trade policy.

Congressional leaders last week warned that they would block any UK-US trade deal if Brexit affected the Irish border and jeopardizes peace in Northern Ireland.

That presents a significant problem for Boris Johnson’s administration, whose no-deal Brexit plans could lead to new checks on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) has opposed a trade deal between the UK and US.
Aaron Bernstein

Richard Neal, a member of the US House of Representatives, is Democratic chairman of the Friends of Ireland caucus and the House ways and means committee, which can block or approve any UK-US trade deal.

“The American dimension to the Good Friday agreement is indispensable,” he told the Guardian.

“I would have little enthusiasm for entertaining a bilateral trade agreement with the UK, if they were to jeopardize the agreement.”

Raab said the UK was “absolutely resolved” to leave the EU by October, and said that Trump — who he met at the White House on Tuesday — was “effusive in his warmth for the United Kingdom.”

Read more: ‘Britain has no leverage. Britain is desperate. Britain has nothing else’: Trump will exploit the UK in trade talks, former US treasury secretary says

He also repeated the new UK government’s insistence that Brussels must renegotiate the Brexit deal struck by Theresa May.

“If the EU’s position is that there can be no change to the Withdrawal Agreement, then that will be a choice that they’ve made,” he said.

Larry Summers, a former US treasury secretary, also warned last week that the United Kingdom would struggle to secure a generous trade agreement with the United States because Brexit would leave it “desperate” and “without leverage.”

He claimed that the US would only agree to a deal which was weighted heavily in its own favour.

“Britain has no leverage. Britain is desperate. Britain has nothing else. It needs an agreement very soon. When you have a desperate partner, that’s when you strike the hardest bargain,” he told BBC Radio 4.

“The last thing you do is quit a job before you look for your new one,” he said.

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