A former pro-Brexit Cabinet minister has rubbished predictions of a quick trade deal with the United States to compensate for leaving the EU.
Theresa Villiers said both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump were turning away from free trade, which meant an agreement with the UK would not be a “high priority”, whoever wins the race for the White House.
The prominent Leave campaigner, who was sacked by Theresa May, warned: “A radical reduction of tariff barriers between us and the US will, I think, take some time to achieve.”
The comments may embarrass Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, who has made wooing the United States a key part of his post-Brexit trading strategy.
In July, Dr Fox toured the country to drum up business as he pushed for a “hard Brexit” that would see Britain quit the EU’s single market.
He announced that his department would open offices in the cities of Minneapolis in Minnesota, Raleigh in North Carolina and San Diego in California. And he emphasised his determination to start to “scope out any possible deals that we might want to do” immediately after Brexit is completed in 2019, under the Government’s timetable.
Dr Fox told an audience in Chicago: “I want to reiterate that we have nothing to fear from forging our own free trade environment and breaking out on our own.
“We can start from a blank piece of paper, and use our unique attributes to create a prosperous and more open trading future.”
But Ms Villiers, the former Northern Ireland Secretary, gave a far gloomier prediction at a meeting of the Thatcherite Conservative Way Forward group, at the Birmingham conference.
Referring to the presidential contest, she said: “Unfortunately, neither of the candidates are singing the praises of free trade to say the least.
“It does make it more challenging for the UK and our efforts to get a trade deal. Sadly, I don’t think one with the United States is going be a high priority for them, so it may take some time.
“Of course that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to do business with the United States, but a radical reduction of tariff barriers between us and the US will, I think, take some time to achieve.”
Meanwhile, the group’s chairman, former minister Sir Gerald Howarth, made clear the delight of right-wing Conservatives at the direction taken by the Prime Minister.
He described Ms May’s speech on Sunday – in which she set a course for Brexit by 2019, to make Britain an “independent sovereign nation” again – as “absolutely outstanding”, adding: “I couldn’t have written it better myself.”
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