Fox eyes ‘big prize’ of U.S. trade deal, says lots of issues in the way

LONDON (Reuters) – The quicker Britain can reach a post-Brexit trade deal with the United States the better but there are a lot of issues in the way of doing so, British trade minister Liam Fox said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox delivers a statement to media regarding the resignation of Kim Darroch from his position as British Ambassador to the United States, in central London, Britain July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

The close allies were caught in an escalating spat last week after memos from Britain’s ambassador to Washington describing Donald Trump’s administration as inept infuriated the president, ultimately leading to the envoy’s resignation.

Asked whether the row would damage the prospects of a UK-U.S. trade deal, Fox, who was in Washington meeting with Ivanka Trump the day before the ambassador resigned, said appetite in both countries to reach a deal was still strong.

“It’s a big ambition and it’s a big prize for Britain to get a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. and of course, the quicker we can do so, the better,” Fox told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of a UK-India trade event in London.

The Times newspaper reported on Monday that Boris Johnson, the frontrunner to become Britain’s new prime minister next week, planned to meet Trump within the first two months of taking office and could seek to secure a limited trade agreement before Britain leaves the EU at the end of October.

Fox said that would not be possible because Britain is not allowed to negotiate trade deals with other countries until it has left the bloc.

There are also other issues in the way of reaching a deal, he said.

“We are entering the final year of an American presidential term where thoughts tend to turn to campaigning more than anything else and there a lot of issues in the way, would Britain introduce a digital services tax, what would the reaction be to a no deal and the implication for the Northern Ireland border, these things will have an impact potentially on an FTA.”

Prime Minister Theresa May is due to stand down on July 24 and it is expected her successor will choose Britain’s new ambassador to the United States, with some calling for it to be a Brexit supporter.

Fox, who backed leaving the EU at the 2016 Brexit referendum, is among those who have been suggested in British media although typically ambassadors are chosen from within the non political ranks of diplomatic public servants.

Asked if he wanted to be Britain’s next envoy to Washington, Fox said: “No.”

Reporting by Angeline Ong, Writing by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Guy Faulconbridge

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