Former US treasury secretary Larry Summers has said he does not believe that a “desperate” UK would manage to secure a post-Brexit trade deal with Washington, as Dominic Raab, the new foreign secretary, heads to the US to scope out the potential for such an agreement.
Summers who was a senior official under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama said the UK was in a weak position when it came to negotiating with trade partners. “Britain has no leverage, Britain is desperate … it needs an agreement very soon. When you have a desperate partner, that’s when you strike the hardest bargain,” he said in a radio program. Summers’ remarks came as Raab headed to Canada, the US and Mexico to “fire up” talks about trading relationships.
Despite warm words from Donald Trump about a trade deal, Summers said: “We have economic conflict with China and, even on top of that, the deterioration of the pound is going to further complicate the negotiating picture. We will see it as giving Britain an artificial comparative advantage and make us think about the need to retaliate against Britain, not to welcome Britain with new trade agreements.”
Even if the two countries could come to an agreement, Summers said, the UK was in a weak negotiating position. “Britain has much less to give than Europe as a whole did, therefore less reason for the United States to make concessions,” he said. “You make more concessions dealing with a wealthy man than you do dealing with a poor man.”
The foreign secretary said Asian counterparts he met in Thailand last week expressed a “consistent warmth” for the UK and a “desire to work more closely with us”. The former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith sought to dispute Summers’ warning, saying: “This is a classic attempt by Larry Summers to use Brexit for domestic point-scoring.
“Forty-five Republican senators have signed a letter to the prime minister pledging to back a trade deal with Britain once we have left the EU. The president (Donald Trump) himself has expressed his enthusiasm for a UK-US deal.”
The US senator Tom Cotton said Britain should be at the “front of the queue” for a trade deal with the US. “Many of my colleagues in the Congress would say that Great Britain should be in the front of the queue given everything our nations have gone through together,” he told. “Obviously it wouldn’t be a matter of days or weeks for such negotiations, it might be months, but I would suspect it would be months not years.”
The key point of contention in any trade deal is whether the US would be able to sell food or other products with lower environmental, animal welfare and safety standards into the UK. There is also the issue of whether big US health corporations would demand easier access to NHS contracts. On a visit to London, Trump said everything, including the NHS, would be on the table in trade talks, although he later walked back on that suggestion.