Trump said May's Brexit plan would kill off US trade deal because he failed to fully understand it, claims Liam Fox

The minister had to explain to US officials what the PM’s proposals meant before the president's press conference with her

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Saturday 14 July 2018 10:20 BST
Liam Fox clarifies Chequers agreement and future UK trade relationship with USA

Donald Trump’s claim that Theresa May’s Brexit vision might scupper a US trade deal were made because he had not “fully understood” her plans, Britain’s trade secretary has said.

Liam Fox said that after the president publicly questioned the prime minister’s proposals in an interview, he had taken some time to help US officials get their heads round exactly what Ms May’s proposals meant.

The cabinet minister’s intervention came ahead of a press conference in which Mr Trump then appeared to do a 180-degree about turn on his view of Ms May’s plans, saying instead that they are “OK with us”.

In his interview with The Sun, published Friday morning, Mr Trump initially said he had told Ms May to approach Brexit talks differently, and complained that her plans agreed by ministers at Chequers last week might torpedo a US trade deal – causing the pound to fall by half a percentage point in the process.

Trump accuses The Sun of 'fake news' and insists whatever Theresa May does with Brexit 'is ok with me'

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if he had subsequently explained the proposals to the president, Dr Fox said: “We’ve been discussing with American officials exactly what the agreement that we came to in Chequers meant.

“And I think there were some who perhaps had not fully understood the freedoms that the United Kingdom will have. For example, they were talking about agricultural goods and they were saying, ‘Would we have the ability to make concessions on agricultural goods if we wanted a trade agreement?’.

“And of course the truth is that we have complete freedom over tariffs, we have complete freedom over quotas, and although it’s true that we won’t be able to make changes in regulation in areas covered by the common rulebook on agriculture – that’s on agricultural standards – we have made very clear we have no intentions of reducing the standards that we give to our consumers in the UK.”

It comes amid the ongoing internal row over Ms May’s Brexit plans, with several votes expected in the commons next week in which Tory Eurosceptic rebels may try to force her to change tack, or at least put on a show of strength as a warning to her leadership.

 I think there were some who perhaps had not fully understood the freedoms that the United Kingdom will have

International trade secretary, Dr Liam Fox

Brexiteers claim the 98-page document, which prompted the resignation of Boris Johnson and David Davis last week, sets out a significantly “softer” version of Brexit than the 2016 referendum mandated for.

Ms May’s plans entail an “association agreement” – first reported by The Independent three weeks ago – involving the UK accepting a “common rulebook” on trade in goods, and a commitment to ongoing harmonisation with EU regulation.

Brexiteers argued this was tantamount to staying in a single market, stymying the UK’s ability to conduct trade deals elsewhere – something ministers denied, claiming instead that it would help frictionless trade with the EU.

Under the proposals, the UK would also make continued payments to the EU for participation in shared agencies and programmes.

Trump says May found his Brexit advice 'too tough'

An independent arbitration panel set up to resolve UK-EU disputes, would be able to seek guidance from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on the interpretation of EU law.

But Brexiteers claimed the loose wording of the document pointed to the UK remaining under the ECJ’s jurisdiction.

There would be new arrangements for services, giving each side the freedom to set its own rules and meaning potentially less access for the UK into the EU’s markets in these sectors.

On immigration, the plans mooted new “mobility” rules which could see deals on visas done as part of a trade negotiation and visa-free travel for tourism and temporary work.

Mr Trump flew out of England to go and spend time on his Scottish golf courses as part of his official visit to the UK, with the British taxpayer picking up the security bill.

However, he will be followed by the Donald Trump baby blimp, which will be flown at a protest in Edinburgh.

The 20ft inflatable depicting the president as a nappy-clad baby holding a mobile phone has been brought north of the border, after flying above Parliament Square in London on Friday.

It prompted Mr Trump to say it made him “feel unwelcome” in the city, on his second day of a four-day UK visit.

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