US and Britain could sign sector-by-sector trade deals, says Bolton
Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, has said Britain and the US could sign sector-by-sector free trade deals prior to a comprehensive agreement as a way of helping the UK cope with the consequences of leaving the EU on 31 October without a deal.
Bolton said the microdeals, focusing on industries such as cars, could be negotiated quickly, and would receive overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress. He was speaking after meeting Boris Johnson and senior British officials in London on Monday.
“The ultimate end result is a comprehensive trade agreement covering all trading goods and services,” Bolton said. “But to get to that you could do it sector by sector, and you can do it in a modular fashion. In other words, you can carve out some areas where it might be possible to reach a bilateral agreement very quickly, very straightforwardly.”
In other areas, such as financial services, he said deals might be more difficult to reach.
It is the first time the US has suggested smaller deals could be reached before a comprehensive agreement, and underlines its stance towards the UK as it faces the potential consequences of trade barriers being raised with the EU, the UK’s largest export market. Previously, the US has resisted sectoral deals with the EU.
Bolton, in a briefing with reporters, repeatedly underlined the US administration’s Eurosceptic tendencies by saying he and Trump were “leavers before there were leavers”. “If there was a no-deal Brexit, that would be a decision of the British government. We would support it enthusiastically,” he said.
His chief message on the trip, Bolton continued, was to convey Trump’s desire to see a successful British exit from the EU, adding: “We are with you.” The Johnson-Trump relationship, he said, had “got off to a roaring start” with five phone calls since the British prime minister was elected leader of the Conservative party 18 days ago.
“Britain’s success in successfully exiting the European Union will be a statement about democratic rule and constitutional government,” Bolton said. “That’s important for Britain. But it’s important for the United States, too. So we see a successful exit as being very much in our interest, and there’s no quid pro quo on any of these issues.”
Asked to expand on this assessment, he continued: “The fashion in the European Union is when the people vote the wrong way from the way the elites want to go, is to make the peasants vote again and again until they get it right. There was a vote – everyone knew what the issues were. It is hard to imagine that anyone in this country did not know what was at stake. The result is the way it was. That’s democracy.”
He brushed aside suggestions, made by the US House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, that a no-deal Brexit might endanger the Good Friday agreement by reinstating a hard border on the island of Ireland. He said there was no threat to the agreement that he could see.
Britain, he said, was “not going to crash out even if there is a no-deal exit. World Trade Organization rules apply. So we’ve got lots of agreements, bilateral and some multilateral within that context, that can be used as models”.
On Iran and other security issues, such as Huawei’s involvement in 5G networks, Bolton said the message the US wanted to convey was that “the US government fully understands that in the next 80 days the UK government has a singular focus on the Brexit issue, so that we’re not pushing for anything on these broad and complex questions”.
However, he claimed the UK had agreed to go back to stage one on Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, an assessment not shared later by British officials.
Lewis Lukens, who served as deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in London until earlier this year, said Bolton might publicly be saying the UK should prioritise Brexit but there would be pressure behind the scenes for it to “get on board” with American policy on China, Iran and trade.
Jack Straw, the former Labour foreign secretary, described Bolton as “far right” and said he was taking the “crude and vulgar view that might is right”. He said the US would be making huge demands on Johnson’s new administration in return for a trade deal.
“This is a highly transactional administration. Strictly business – you do not get something for nothing,” he told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme.
Bolton said the UK had abandoned plans for a separate European maritime security force in the Gulf, saying it had instead recognised it would have to come on board with Operation Sentinel, a US-led maritime force in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman.
In his last act as foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt had proposed a separate EU force, but his successor, Dominic Raab, has said that such a force separate from US assets and surveillance abilities may not be viable.
More broadly, Bolton saw a chance for the UK to leverage itself away from European foreign policy once it left the EU: “In terms of Britain’s overall policy, foreign policy, by definition, once it leaves the EU on 31 October, it won’t be bound by the requirement to seek the common foreign security policy with the European Union. It will be pursuing UK national interest as it sees them.”
An independent UK voice would lead to a stronger Nato, he predicted. “This is something that would be incredibly valuable for the United States and for the western alliance as a whole.”