Brexit: Minister ‘begging’ for trade deal in speech urging US to wake up and ‘make choice’

‘I want to awaken you to an opportunity’, Penny Mordaunt tells US audience – after Joe Biden slammed the brakes on talks

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 15 December 2021 18:22 GMT
Delaying a trade agreement would be to the ‘detriment’ of the US, Penny Mordaunt argued
Delaying a trade agreement would be to the ‘detriment’ of the US, Penny Mordaunt argued (PA Archive)

A minister has been accused of “begging” for a US trade deal, after a speech in which she urged Washington to wake up to Brexit and “make a choice”.

Penny Mordaunt raised eyebrows by telling an event in Atlanta that she wanted to “awaken you to an opportunity”, calling for a “response that recognises this moment”.

Joe Biden has slammed the brakes on trade talks, embarrassing Brexit supporters who argued an agreement would be easy and the biggest win from leaving the European Union.

But speaking in the state capital of Georgia, Ms Mordaunt hailed the two countries’ “shared cultural DNA”, pointing to “wealth creation, open trading systems, protection of property rights”.

“The most critical partner for us is the US. For the US to wait to seize this opportunity would be to all our detriment, but also to its own,” the trade minister said. “You need to increase opportunities for business and attract investment. Want the prospect of a best-in-class deal on agriculture? Think you will get that from the EU?”

Arguing Brexit has allowed the UK to “plug ourselves back into the global economy”, Ms Mordaunt told the World Affairs Council: “That is our choice. Now America has a choice to make. How will you respond?”

The head of the Best for Britain group, which campaigns for a better Brexit deal called the speech “embarrassing”, when firms were struggling to cope with the “failed deal with the EU”.

“It’s embarrassing for the government who said the US would be clamouring for a deal to now be begging for one,” Naomi Smith said. “And, given their track record of ditching standards to get other trade deals over the line, this level of desperation should ring alarm bells for anyone who cares about the health service, farming and food standards in the UK.”

Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow trade secretary, said: “The 2019 Conservative Party manifesto promised a UK-US trade deal within three years.

“As the clock ticks down to this deadline, it is a sorry indication of the lack of progress that a government trade minister is having to go to the United States to remind American politicians of an ‘opportunity’ to reach an agreement.”

Tony Spisak, head of policy at the Tony Blair Institute, called it: “A solid candidate for the most embarrassing speech delivered by a government minister in 2021.”

The Atlanta speech came after the US blocked a deal to remove tariffs on UK steel and aluminium, because of anger over threats to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the trade secretary, also speaking in the US, admitted that Brussels, which did get tariffs lifted, enjoyed – as the larger trading partner – greater muscle in Washington.

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