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Former Treasury Secretary slams likelihood of a post-Brexit UK-US trade deal

Ben Gartside
UK prime minister Boris Johnson (L) and US President Donald Trump. Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Barack Obama’s former trade secretary Larry Summers has cast doubt upon a potential US-UK Trade agreement post-Brexit.

Summers told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he could not see an agreement between the UK and the US being made.

He said even if a deal was sealed, it would be on significantly worse terms than the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement — a proposed trade agreement between the European Union and US.

“I don’t see that Britain could gain very much [from a trade deal with the US], the most thorough evaluation of the issue was done by scholars at my centre at Harvard,” said Summers.

“Their study concluded that there really wasn’t that much in it for Britain, certainly relative to what Britain might lose [with the EU]. I find it unlikely there would be a substantial increase in British-US trade, and close to inconceivable that there would be an increase nearly so large to make up with what Britain is losing in terms of reduced access to the EU.”

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Summers also predicted that the UK would not receive an easier negotiation process despite US president Donald Trump’s favourable view towards new prime minister Boris Johnson.

“[Former UK prime minister Henry] Palmerston used to say nations are driven by their interests not by their friendships, so I think a personal relationship is at best a small factor,” said Summers.

“Much more important for a trade agreement will be economic interests — I have some ideas in areas like chlorine chicken and genetically modified foods with what the United States will want.

“I suspect the bar for Britain will be higher than its bar for [the EU] in its earlier negotiations. I’m not sure what Britain want from the United States, that it can plausibly imagine the United States will give.

If Britain thinks that the American financial regulators, who have great difficulty coming together on anything are going to come together to give greater permissions and less regulations of UK firms, I would call that belief close to delusional.”

Summers’ intervention comes as 45 Republican Senators sent a letter of support to Johnson over his Brexit strategy, and pledged future agreements even in the case of a no-deal Brexit, contradicting previous statements made by House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Larry Summers thinks a US-UK trade deal wouldn't be the best deal for Britain, regardless.

Secretary Summers, who also served under Bill Clinton, said he believed an agreement would not be ratified between the UK and US, due to poor negotiating conditions and a lack of a sense of priority in the US.

“When you have a desperate partner you strike the hardest bargain. The last thing you do is quit a job before you look for your new one. In the same way, establishing absolutely in a matter of sacred principle that you’re leaving [the EU] has to be the worst way to give you leverage with any new potential partners,” he said.

“There will not be a completed agreement that is submitted for ratification would be my best guess. I think you need to recognise that while this is the top of your agenda, in the US we have an election that would be more pre-occupying than any Presidential election in the last 50 years, we have economic conflict with China, and even on top of that the deterioration of the pound is going to further complicate the negotiating picture as we will see it as giving Britain an artificial comparative advantage and make us think about the needs to retaliate against Britain not to welcome Britain with new trade agreements.”

There are 86 days until the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal.