Trump casts doubt on UK-US trade deal

Trump casts doubt on UK-US trade deal

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Media captionTrump: Brexit agreement “great deal for EU”

Donald Trump has suggested Theresa May’s Brexit agreement could threaten a US-UK trade deal.

The US president told reporters the withdrawal agreement “sounds like a great deal for the EU” and meant the UK might not be able to trade with the US.

No 10 insisted the deal is “very clear” the UK would be able to sign trade deals with countries around the world.

Meanwhile, the PM will say her deal “delivers for every corner of the UK” in visits to Wales and Northern later.

It comes after she fought off heavy criticism of her Brexit deal from MPs on all sides of the Commons on Monday, insisting the agreement “delivered for the British people” by regaining control of laws, money and borders. MPs will vote on whether to accept the deal on 11 December.

Hours later, Mr Trump said the US had to “look seriously [at] whether or not the UK is allowed to trade”.

“Because right now if you look at the deal, they may not be able to trade with us. And that wouldn’t be a good thing. I don’t think they meant that,” he said.

It would appear Mr Trump was suggesting the agreement could leave Britain unable to negotiate a free-trade agreement with the United States.

However, responding to Mr Trump’s comments, a Downing Street spokesman said the Brexit withdrawal agreement struck on Sunday would allow the UK to sign bilateral deals with countries including the US.

“We have already been laying the groundwork for an ambitious agreement with the US through our joint working groups, which have met five times so far,” the spokesman added.

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Analysis

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By BBC North America editor John Sopel

Theresa May took a kicking in the House of Commons and then her closest ally, in the shape of Donald Trump, puts on his size 12 hobnail boots and joins in.

When Donald Trump fired a broadside at Theresa May’s Brexit deal there was nothing accidental or off the cuff about it.

Senior members of his administration maintain close contacts with prominent eurosceptics in the Conservative party.

But when the president says the agreement could jeopardise trade with the UK, it’s hard to see what he means. During the transition period, business with the US would presumably carry on in exactly the same way as it does now.

Yet all the time that Britain is in some way yoked to EU rules then there are limits to what can be negotiated in terms of a free trade deal – all points that have been made by those who campaigned for a more decisive Brexit.

This intervention, coming post deal and pre-Commons vote, can only be interpreted in one way – the president is siding with the prime minister’s critics.

Billions of pounds in trade already flows between the UK and US – Britain’s largest single export market.

During Mr Trump’s UK visit in July – days after the British prime minister unveiled the proposals that formed the basis of the Brexit agreement – the US president suggested an “ambitious” US-UK trade deal would “absolutely be possible”.

But under the deal agreed in Brussels, the UK would continue to trade with the US under EU rules until at least the end of the “transition period” in December 2020.

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Media captionTheresa May on Northern Ireland backstop: “This is an insurance policy no-one wants to use.”

As part of her two-week push to convince MPs and the British public to back her deal, Mrs May will tell politicians and employers in Wales that they will have more power after Brexit, with more than 150 areas of policy passing to devolved parliaments and assemblies.

She will also highlight the potential benefits to farmers of leaving the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

Later, she will tell representatives of the five main political parties in Northern Ireland her deal will allow employers to “trade freely across the border with Ireland and have unfettered access to the rest of the United Kingdom’s market”.

The issue of the backstop – which aims to prevent the return of customs posts on the Irish border in the event no UK-EU post-Brexit trade deal being agreed – has led Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which props up Mrs May’s government, to accuse the PM of breaking her promise that Northern Ireland would never be treated any differently from the rest of the UK.

Mrs May has said the backstop was an “insurance policy no-one wants to use” and insisted the UK would have the right to determine whether it came into force.

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Media captionJeremy Corbyn: “Even the prime minister’s own cabinet can’t bring themselves to sell this deal.”

Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, the DUP and many Tory MPs have said they will vote against the Brexit deal.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the “botched deal” would “leave the UK worse off”.

The SNP’s Iain Blackford said the agreement was “full of ifs and buts” which would result in Scottish fishermen being “sold out” while the Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas both called for another referendum.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019.