Joe Biden put Boris Johnson back in his box

'Johnson will now have to properly explain why there will be no trade deal with the US for the foreseeable future given it was the glittering Brexit prize promised'

Boris Johnson

Tony Burke is Assistant General Secretary at Unite.

Joe Biden put Boris Johnson back in his box at the Washington talks this week, with Johnson left red faced after conceding that “Joe had bigger fish to fry.”  The prime minister was left to do all the talking and is now at the ‘’back of the line” on trade deals – as Obama told him he would be following Brexit.

Johnson will now have to properly explain why there will be no trade deal with the US for the foreseeable future, given it was the glittering Brexit prize promised to the electorate once we were outside of the EU.

Faced with the fact that Biden didn’t even give Johnson a glimmer of hope, some Tories decided to revert into ‘boosterism’, publicly speculating that there could be a US back door for the UK to sneak through.

Hard line Brexiteers such as Lord Daniel Hannan said on BBC Newsnight there was a possibility that the UK could join the US/Mexico/Canada (USMCA) deal. ‘Not so’, responded Democrat Representative Brendan Boyle on the same programme.  Boyle who sits on the House Committee on Ways and Means which deals with trade told viewers: “We have no planned meetings of any sort on a US-UK trade deal” 

Boyle said he hadn’t heard “one word” about it – leaving Hannan to jibe that perhaps Boyle may not have been told about it.

Later in a tweet Boyle sent out the following message: “Some seem to be confused so let me explain. About 30% of US trade is with Canada & Mexico. China accounts for another 13%. As for the UK, it is 2.5%, the same as Taiwan, Vietnam, & India. So, when some are confused why a trade deal with the UK isn’t a high priority, now you know.”

In reality, the chances of a deal to join USMCA are remote. There is no accession clause in the USMCA deal; the USMCA deal has only just begun to get bedded down and the US trade representative Katherine Tai recently made it clear as to what the US expects from any new trade deal in a speech to the AFL-CIO and reaffirmed to the TUC.

She said the US wanted a “worker centred trade policy”. Given Johnson’s government has done little to directly involve UK unions, I think we can take Ms. Tai’s comments to mean all trade deals including the USMCA.

Any UK attempt to join USMCA would face major political and procedural obstacles and will be interpreted as another clumsy effort by Johnson. 

Another suggestion coming from disappointed Tory sources is that the UK could do a series of mini deals with the USA. But Johnson said himself the US are ‘tough negotiators’ – we can expect them to be just as tough on mini deals.

The talks on joining the CTPPT (eleven Pacific Rim countries) are also touted as being concluded by the end of 2022 – again this is wishful thinking by those who will want to sign up for any trade deal no matter how bad – just to say a deal has been done and Brexit is working.

However, our current frosty relationship with China may not help – particularly as last week China applied to join the CTPPT, swiftly followed by their arch enemy Taiwan.  And talks with India, likely to be difficult are due to start in November. 

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