PM plays down expectations of speedy US trade deal ahead of Trump talks

Striking a trade deal with Donald Trump will not be "plain sailing", Boris Johnson warned ahead of his first meeting with the US President.

The Prime Minister will sit down with Mr Trump on Sunday at the G7 summit in Biarritz, following weeks of public praise from the US leader for the new man in Number 10.

But Mr Johnson said a trade deal – which both sides have said they want – would require compromise from Washington while keeping key UK interests including the NHS off the table.

The US president says he is a big fan of the new PM (Brian Lawless/PA)
The US president says he is a big fan of the new PM (Brian Lawless/PA)

As well as his meeting with Mr Trump, the Prime Minister will also discuss Brexit with European Council president Donald Tusk after the pair clashed on Saturday over who would be to blame if no divorce deal was struck before the UK's exit from the European Union on October 31.

Ahead of the meeting with Mr Johnson, the US Government had talked up the prospect of a new era in the special relationship.

But Mr Johnson told reporters accompanying him at the G7 summit that while there was "a massive opportunity" for Britain, "it is not all going to be plain sailing".

"There remain very considerable barriers in the US to British businesses which are not widely understood," he said.

Mr Johnson said he had discussed the problems with Mr Trump in an eve-of-summit phone call, and highlighted barriers to the sale of British goods including shower trays, cauliflowers and Melton Mowbray pork pies.

"It is very important if we are going to do a fantastic free trade deal that it is a free trade that works in the interests of British business," the Prime Minister said.

"There are massive opportunities for UK companies to open up, to prise open the American market.

"We intend to seize those opportunities, but they are going to require our American friends to compromise and to open up their approach because currently there are too many restrictions.

"It goes without saying that there are sectors of the UK economy, not least the NHS, which remain completely off limits as far as any trade deal with America goes.

"We will not allow the NHS to be on the table at all."

Mr Johnson indicated he would be willing to have talks with the US about a tax on tech giants – the UK currently has draft plans on the table on the issue.

The US President is already involved in a major diplomatic spat with France over that country's digital tax.

Mr Johnson said: "Frankly, we must do something to tax fairly and properly the online businesses that have such colossal sales in our country. We must do something to ensure we tax them properly.

"I am open to discussion about how we do that and I am willing to listen to our American friends about the modalities – but we must do something to tax them fairly."

The US President's close relationship with Mr Johnson has led him to claim the Prime Minister is described as "Britain Trump".

Mr Johnson suggested the president may be more popular in the UK than is commonly believed.

He said: "President Trump has pioneered a quite remarkable way of communicating directly with the electorate. My impression is that is also popular with large numbers of people in our country."

Mr Trump has been joined by First Lady Melania on the G7 trip, but Mr Johnson's partner Carrie Symonds has not travelled with the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister's other main meeting on Sunday will see him set out face-to-face with Mr Tusk his absolute commitment to the October 31 deadline, even if that means leaving without a deal.

On Saturday, Mr Tusk said he hoped the Prime Minister would not go down in history as "Mr no deal".

But the Prime Minister shot back by suggesting that failure to reach a Brexit agreement would also reflect badly on Mr Tusk.

In comments as Mr Johnson prepared to board his plane to France, Mr Tusk warned he would no co-operate with a no-deal Brexit, an apparent sign the European Union would not be willing to create a series of side deals to manage the impact.

Mr Tusk said: "One thing I will not cooperate on is no deal. I still hope that Prime Minister Johnson will not like to go down in history as `Mr no deal'.

"We are willing to listen to ideas that are operational, realistic and acceptable to all member states including Ireland, if and when the UK Government is ready to put them on the table."

Tomorrow I meet PM @BorisJohnson. I hope that he will not like to go down in history as "Mr. No Deal". The EU is ready to listen to operational, realistic ideas acceptable to all Member States including Ireland, if and when the UK government is ready to put them on the table.

— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) August 24, 2019

On the way to Biarritz, Mr Johnson gave his response, telling reporters: "I have made it absolutely clear I don't want a no-deal Brexit.

"But I say to our friends in the EU if they don't want a no-deal Brexit then we have got to get rid of the backstop from the treaty.

"If Donald Tusk doesn't want to go down as 'Mr no-deal Brexit' then I hope that point will be borne in mind by him too."

Mr Johnson said he expected talks on his alternative to the backstop "in the coming weeks", with discussions "in great detail" .

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