UK must ‘concede everything’ for US trade deal

The US steel industry could benefit from new tariffs on imports. Photograph: Getty
The US steel industry could benefit from new tariffs on imports. Photograph: Getty
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The UK will have to “concede everything” to get a trade deal with Donald Trump’s America, US policy experts have warned MPs.

Taking evidence in Washington this week, MPs on the Commons defence committee were told that Britain was in a weak position and would be used as a “guinea pig” for a “harsh” new US trade policy.

Concerns have also been raised across the Atlantic about the UK becoming a “little England” on defence if it is forced into further cuts to defence spending as a result of a post-Brexit downturn, putting its position as the America’s foremost military ally at risk.

The warnings come in the week that President Trump imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminium, hitting struggling British industries while sparing America’s “real friends”, Canada and Mexico.

US authorities also warned that vital aviation agreements with the UK could be downgraded after Brexit, while American business leaders demanded Britain give up EU protections for such as Scotch whisky and allow competition from cheaper foreign imitations.

SNP MP Martin Docherty-Hughes, who sits on the committee, said: “We were told by senior advisers to the Trump administration that they have great respect for the UK, but if you can’t move a division to the front within 10 days, you aren’t really able to do very much.”

He added: “We’re not even out of the EU yet and we’re being hit with trade tariffs, and we are afforded no protection by being in the so-called special relationship.

“It’s whimsical, wishful thinking to believe that Brexit will lead either to greater trade or more investment in our military.”

Dr Tom Wright, director of the Centre on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution think tank, said the US had “maximum leverage” in any trade negotiation and would demand the UK open its market to American imports and adopt lower standards and regulations.

“In these bilateral trade talks, the Trump administration’s policy is to see Britain in a relatively weak position and to try to maximise their advantage,” he told MPs.

“[President Trump] believes that the US ought to be in surplus with every country in the world… the British deal is a guinea pig for what they would want.”

Dr Wright added: “When you add it all up, [US Trade] Secretary Ross is essentially saying, ‘The US will do a deal with the UK, you just basically need to concede everything.’”

On defence, MPs were told by former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Affairs Victoria Nuland that “if you end up with serious economic repercussions from Brexit, you may not be able to afford what you are currently spending, let alone the reinvestment that is required.”

She added: “The hope is that out of all of this comes a greater Britain, not a little England, because we will be very lonely out there defending the planet if that is what happens.”