US avoids post-Brexit trade deal talks with UK during Biden visit

Britain is looking to strike trade agreements following its departure from the European Union, but Mr Biden’s administration has put talks on ice

Archie Mitchell
Wednesday 12 April 2023 13:32 BST
Mr Biden met Rishi Sunak in Belfast, but the pair did not discuss a free trade agreement.
Mr Biden met Rishi Sunak in Belfast, but the pair did not discuss a free trade agreement. (REUTERS)

Joe Biden has dodged talks about a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK during his visit to Northern Ireland.

The US President met Rishi Sunak in Belfast on Wednesday, but the pair did not discuss a free trade agreement, a White House official said.

Ahead of the meeting, National Security Council Senior Director for Europe Amanda Sloat said: "I don’t anticipate that the two leaders are going to be talking about a free trade agreement on this trip.”

But Ms Sloat added: "We’re continually looking for ways to engage with the UK on a range of economic issues." And she confirmed Mr Biden has invited Mr Sunak to Washington in June, where they will discuss economic topics.

Despite failing to secure talks on a free trade pact, the PM insisted the UK’s relationship with the US is “in great shape” and described the country as “very close partners and allies”. He added that he had a “very good discussion” with Mr Biden around economic investment in Northern Ireland and foreign policy issues.

“That comes on the back of a meeting I had with him last month in the US, I’m seeing him again next month at the G7 and then I’m going to Washington in June; we’re very close partners and allies, we co-operate on a range of things, whether that’s supporting Ukraine or economic security,” he said.

“I think actually the relationship is in great shape, and the President and I have lots that we’re working on together.”

Ms Sloat also rejected a claim by the DUP that Mr Biden is anti-British and hates the UK as “simply untrue”. She added: “The fact that the President is going to be engaging for the third time in three months and then again next month and then again in June with the prime minister of the UK shows how close our cooperation is with the UK." She said the "track record of the President shows that he's not anti-British".

Britain is looking to strike trade agreements following its departure from the European Union and Brexiteeers have previously claimed a deal with the US would be easy to secure and suggested that it was a major benefit of leaving the EU’s customs union.

But successive prime ministers including Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss all failed to pin down a deal with the US.

Mr Sunak’s new Windsor Framework pact with the EU raised hopes that tensions with the Democrats in the US could ease, paving the way for talks.

But last month Mr Sunak downplayed the prospect of talks on such a deal being struck, insisting that trans-Atlantic trade was “growing massively anyway”.

He told GB News: “It’s just people should actually know that our relationship with America economically is very strong, our exports are growing massively anyway and we’re concluding agreements with states.”

Mr Biden arrived in Belfast on Air Force One on Tuesday evening to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

The White House last week said the visit to Belfast would “mark the tremendous progress” since the agreement was signed. It added that the visit would “underscore the readiness of the United States to support Northern Ireland’s vast economic potential to the benefit of all communities".

Mr Biden is expected to make several stops north and south of the Irish border, including a visit to Dublin where he will address Irish parliamentarians and meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

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