Having once said the UK would be "first in line" for an agreement with Washington, the prime minister now says he wants to make "incremental progress" in improving trade between the two countries.
Image: 'The Biden administration is not doing free trade deals around the world right now,' the PM said
Boris Johnson has indicated that a comprehensive free trade deal between the UK and US is some way off – having once said London would be “first in line” for an agreement with Washington.
Speaking on the third day of his US trip, the prime minister said he wanted to make “solid incremental steps” in improving trade between the two countries.
“What we’re going to get from the United States now is a lifting of the decades old ban, totally unjustified, discriminating on British farmers and British lamb,” Mr Johnson said outside the US Capitol building in Washington DC.
“It’s about time too. And what we’re wanting to do is make solid incremental steps in trade.”
But he poured cold water on hopes of a free trade deal anytime soon, adding: “The Biden administration is not doing free trade deals around the world right now but I’ve got absolutely every confidence that a great deal is there to be done.
“And there are plenty of people in that building behind me who certainly want a deal.”
Mr Johnson met Joe Biden in the Oval Office on Tuesday, with the president telling reporters: “We’re going to talk a little bit about trade today and we’re going to have to work that through.”
There was a warning for the PM from Mr Biden that the row over the Northern Ireland Protocol must not end in a “closed border” on the island of Ireland, with the president having previously stated that any impact on the peace process would scupper hopes of a trade deal.
But Environment Secretary George Eustice said Mr Biden does not “fully appreciate” the details of the row and was “wrong” to have concerns, remarks Mr Johnson later said he did not agree with.
The PM’s latest comments differ markedly from what he said as foreign secretary back in 2017 when Donald Trump was US president.
At that point he asserted that the UK would be “first in line” for a deal.
Questioned by Sky News political editor Beth Rigby about the prospects of a full trade agreement, Mr Johnson refused to commit to securing one before the next general election.
Asked if he would get the post-Brexit agreement by 2024, the PM said: “We will keep going with free trade deals around the world, including in the United States.
“I have plenty of reason to be optimistic about that. But the Americans do negotiate very hard.”
Pressed on whether he may not get a trade deal with America done by the time his spell in Downing Street ends, Mr Johnson said: “We’re going to go as fast as we can.”
His remarks to Sky News came after he told reporters travelling with him to the US on RAF Voyager that Joe Biden has “a lot of fish to fry”.
A senior government figure has suggested that an alternative route to boosting trans-Atlantic trade could be the UK joining the existing free trade agreement between the US, Mexico and Canada, known as USMCA.
Another option could be pursuing a series of smaller UK-US deals on separate issues, they added.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner mocked the PM in the Commons, telling MPs he had “made absolutely zero progress on the trade deal that he promised us”.Internet Explorer Channel Network