Ever the optimist, the international trade secretary, Liz Truss, launched the government’s proposals for a UK-US trade agreement by declaring that the British side could walk away from the talks (which have not yet commenced) if they didn’t suit Britain. Indeed, warming to her theme as the UK and EU trade negotiators sat down in Brussels for their first formal talks, Ms Truss went further: “We will walk away in both cases if there is not a deal that suits the UK.” Full marks for bravado, Ms Truss.
Of course, this could just be a matter of tactics, the UK pretending to be larger than it really is when faced with two trading partners, each with populations and national incomes roughly 10 times the size of Britain’s. Perhaps Ms Truss was mimicking nature, when smaller, weaker creatures have a range of instinctive defensive measures they take when confronted with a powerful predator, puffing themselves up to prevent being eaten alive. It remains to be seen whether such tricks also work in international economic diplomacy.
Certainly, if size does matter, the UK is at a distinct disadvantage. Given that exports to the EU and the US together account for about two-thirds of the UK’s total exports, and around a fifth of GDP, threatening to flounce out of the two sets of talks simultaneously might be seen as a risky approach, even in the hands of so obviously skilled a player as Ms Truss. Britain needs America and Europe far more than they need Britain.
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