United Kingdom

Boris Johnson dampens hope of signing US trade agreement any time soon

Boris Johnson last night admitted he faces an uphill battle to persuade Joe Biden to sign a post-Brexit trade deal – saying the President had other 'fish to fry'.

Speaking ahead of his first White House summit today, Mr Johnson said a number of longstanding trade issues had been resolved, such as tariffs on Scotch whisky and the ban on British beef.

But he played down hopes of an imminent trade deal, which was on the cusp of being agreed when Donald Trump left office last year.

Although he said his relationship with Mr Biden has not 'been very long in gestation', he told reporters en route to the US: 'On the free trade agreement (FTA), the reality is that Joe has a lot of fish to fry. He's got a huge infrastructure package, he's got a build back better package.

'We want to do it – but what we want is a good FTA, a great FTA. And I have quite a lot of experience of American negotiations and they are pretty ruthless, the American negotiators.

'And I would much rather get a deal that really works for the UK than get a quick deal.'

Speaking ahead of his first White House summit today, Mr Johnson (pictured on Monday) said a number of longstanding trade issues had been resolved, such as tariffs on Scotch whisky and the ban on British beef

Mr Biden was vice-president when Barack Obama issued his notorious threat to place Britain at the 'back of the queue' for a US trade deal if it voted for Brexit.

He has also made no secret of his concerns about UK efforts to unpick parts of the Brexit trade deal with the EU relating to Northern Ireland.

Downing Street yesterday refused to say whether the Government believes it can strike a deal before the crucial midterm elections in the US in November next year.

But Mr Johnson will try to smooth the path to a deal during talks with Congressional leaders in Washington today.

The PM will also meet with Vice-President Kamala Harris before seeing Mr Biden in the evening.

Mr Johnson will today become only the second European leader to visit Mr Biden at the White House, following Angela Merkel's trip in July.

The President was scathing about Mr Johnson during his election campaign in 2019, describing him as a 'physical and emotional clone' of President Trump.

However, the two men appeared to strike up a decent working relationship during the G7 summit in Cornwall in June.

But Mr Johnson acknowledged they had not yet formed the deep bond sometimes seen between British PMs and US Presidents in the past.

When asked about the personal relations between the two men, Mr Johnson said: 'Look, I've only had long conversations with Joe Biden either on the phone or at Carbis Bay and then Nato.

Although he said his relationship with Mr Biden (pictured together with Australian PM Scott Morrison in June) has not 'been very long in gestation', he told reporters en route to the US: 'On the free trade agreement (FTA), the reality is that Joe has a lot of fish to fry. He's got a huge infrastructure package, he's got a build back better package'

'It hasn't been a relationship that's been very long in gestation. But it's terrific, I mean genuinely terrific. We see eye to eye on all sorts of things.

'Have we bonded over any particular thing? He's a bit of a train nut, as am I. He likes trains, which is a good thing.'

Mr Johnson said relationships with the US were 'about as good as they have been at any time in decades'.

And that a number of 'pebbles in the shoe' had been removed in recent years, particularly on trade.

He also pointed to the formation of the new AUKUS security pact agreed last week. The deal commits the UK and US to assisting Australia in countering the threat posed by China.

Mr Johnson is also expected to try to patch up the relationship with President Biden over Afghanistan today.

The PM is said to have felt 'let down' over the rapid withdrawal, which saw the Taliban seize power.

But US diplomatic sources said Mr Johnson had work to do after 'whingeing in public'.

One said the decision to withdraw had first been made by Mr Trump following negotiations with the Taliban which were not opposed by the UK.

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