Observations of an ex pat: Trump is right

Trump is right. He is wrong about most things and there is insufficient space to list them all in this article. But he is bang on the money when he says that the deal that Boris Johnson has negotiated with the EU makes a US-UK trade deal less likely—at least the “great deal” that the public have been promised by governments on both sides of the Atlantic.

Boris has dismissed Donald’s claims. His friend the president, he said, is “patently wrong.” The deal that he negotiated with Michel Barnier allows Britain to do trade deals with whomever they want. Well, yes and no, but in practical terms mainly no as far as the US is concerned.

The deal is in two parts, the withdrawal agreement which sets out the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union and is politically binding. That includes such things as the cost of the divorce bill and the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU.

The second half is the political declaration which is not legally binding and is meant to set down the parameters for a future UK-EU free trade agreement. Included in the political declaration is a clause which under Theresa May’s deal was in the legally binding withdrawal agreement. It says that that both sides will keep the same high standard on state aid, competition, social and employment standards, the environment, climate change and relevant tax matters.

It is this clause that bothers Trump. He does not like the EU restrictions which he regards as non-tariff barriers that can put a block on controversial American exports such as chlorinated chickens.

Downing Street’s response is to say that the UK negotiators will no longer be legally bound to abide by the EU rules to create what is termed the EU-UK “level playing field.” It can chop and change and play one set of trade talks against the other to achieve the best deal for Britain. This is coming from the same people who said Northern Ireland was not a problem: We could have our cake and eat it too and Britain was leaving the EU “do or die, dead in a ditch on 31 October”.

The fact is that negotiating a complex web of trade deals will be even more difficult than the three and a half years it has taken to reach the current impasse. Britain will want to maintain as much as possible of the $350 billion a year in exports to the EU. To do that it needs to adopt most of the EU’s regulations and non-tariff barriers which makes the UK a less attractive trade destination for the US which currently imports $125.9 billion worth of British goods. President Trump says he can treble or quadruple US-UK trade, but there are no guarantees and it is uncertain if the balance be to the benefit of Britain or America.

Larry Summers, President Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, is certain that it will be to America’s advantage. The UK, he argues, is desperate, and “when you have a desperate partner, that’s when you strike the hardest bargain.”

Certainly history is on the side of Mr Summers. Since World War I, Britain has been carrying the begging bowl to Washington. America has filled it but then demanded half a dozen bowls back in payment. In 1919 Britain owed the US a total of $4.3 billion—a staggering amount at that time. London offered to cancel its loans to other Allied countries which totalled $7.8 billion if the US would do the same with their British debt. Washington not only refused but insisted that Britain pay a higher rate of interest than any other debtor nation.  Because of the high interest, the amount outstanding was still at $4 billion when Britain finally suspended payments in December 1933 at the height of the Great Depression.

The altruism of Lend Lease during World War II came with a price tag. The UK had to turn over bases in the Western Hemisphere as well as valuable technology and patents involving atomic weapons, jet engines and microwaves.  The abrupt cancellation of American Lend Lease at the end of the war nearly sank the British economy. Disaster was narrowly diverted with the $6 billion Anglo-American Finance Agreement which provided cash but tied sterling to the dollar and increased America’s economic stranglehold on the British economy. This provided the Eisenhower Administration with the financial weapon needed to force British withdrawal from Suez.

The United States is not a philanthropic organisation. It is a powerful nation whose elected officials retain office because they strike the best deals for the people who put them there. Quite simply, the US negotiators will start any US-UK  trade talks from an “America First” position—and stick to it.

* Tom Arms is membership secretary for Tooting Lib Dems. He also broadcasts on foreign affairs for US Radio, regularly contributes to Lib Dem Voice, lectures and is working on a book on Anglo—American relations which is due to be published next year.

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10 Comments

  • John Marriott 8th Nov '19 - 10:15am

    Mr Arms is stating the bleeding obvious. But, “So what?”, ask many people. We’ve been a satellite of the USA for many years and have espoused much of its culture in the meantime. Just a couple of small examples. In the 1950s we drank Vimto and Tizer, now it’s Coke and Pepsi. In the 1950s we went round collecting ‘a penny for the guy’, now it’s ‘trick or treat’ – nobody mentioned Halloween back then. I could go on.

    Let’s be honest, we owe the USA a massive debt for coming to our rescue in two world wars, although in the second it probably had as much to do with self interest as anything else. However, we have relied upon US dollars and military hardware to ‘keep us safe’ for quite a while now. The price we have had to pay is to accept much of US culture, some of which grates for some people. It’s not all bad, though. For me, my musical life would never have been the same without the likes of Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson or Elvis Presley (sorry, Sir Cliff) and my appetite would never have been as well satisfied without a triple Whooper Cheeseburger! (Fish and chips, however, is still my default position – and it’s better value for money!)

    Seriously though, surely Suez should have shown us that, when Uncle Sam snapped his fingers, John Bull has had to jump. Wilson and Heath were prepared to stand up to Johnson and Nixon respectively, although the latter made a mistake, in my opinion, in joining too enthusiastically in Nixon’s so called ‘War on Drugs’ by passing the Misuse of Drugs Act in 1971, which has largely stymied reform here ever since. Our only hope, should we be forced to do a trade deal with the USA, would seem to be a change of personnel on the other side of the table. However, whether the face in front of us Belongs to Mike Pence, Joe Biden or even Hillary Clinton, you would still be faced with a David and Goliath situation. In this case, unfortunately, the former doesn’t have that sling and stones at his disposal.

  • nigel hunter 8th Nov '19 - 10:18am

    Yes, the US is for the US. We have no better deal than the one we have with the EU.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Nov '19 - 2:52pm


    It is this clause that bothers Trump. He does not like the EU restrictions which he regards as non-tariff barriers that can put a block on controversial American exports such as chlorinated chickens.

    Well, there we are. When there’s a discussion on what Brexit means, this is one of the things that keep getting brought up – being in the EU stops us being able to have American chlorinated chicken.

    So, that’s the most important issue in politics is it? Seems to be, now that so many people think the main issue is staying in the EU or leaving it. We’re having an election which is all about us being able to have or not, chlorinated chicken.

  • We did not so much adopt EU rules, as jointly with our partners in Europe write rules. All part of a democratic organisation.
    There will be no democratic element in any new trade deal with the USA.

  • Peter Martin 10th Nov '19 - 4:17pm

    How about setting our own standards for food treatment and animal welfare independently of both the EU and the USA?

    In case anyone is of the opinion that the present EU arrangements are fine, they might like to watch this:

  • Peter Martin 10th Nov ’19 – 4:17pm:
    How about setting our own standards for food treatment and animal welfare independently of both the EU and the USA?

    Where we are allowed to, we already do. To take your example, gavage is banned in the UK, but EU rules prevent us from banning the import and sale of foie gras. UK food standards are generally higher than most other European countries…

    ‘Why There is Nothing Wrong With American Food Standards’:
    https://techround.co.uk/business/american-food-standards/

    Which Countries Have the Highest Food Standards?
    Various studies have been conducted into ranking the food standards of different countries, taking into account not only safety, but also quality, affordability and availability. A study conducted by the Global Food Security Index (GFSI) found the following 10 counties to have the top overall scores for affordability, availability and quality and safety:

    1. Singapore
    2. Ireland
    3. United States (tied with the UK)
    4. United Kingdom (tied with the US)
    5. Netherlands
    6. Australia
    7. Switzerland
    8. Finland
    9. Canada
    10. France

    The study sets out to evaluate the “three core pillars of food security” throughout 113 different countries, these three pillars being the previously mentioned affordability, availability and quality and safety.

  • @Peter Martin

    This is exactly what irritates me about Europhilles who constantly spout about eu standards in protection for animal and environmental standards and how we must not lose this.
    The EU standards are a joke
    They have Industrial Factory farming with wide use of antibiotics, considering how resistant superbugs are becoming to antibiotics and there overuse and the dangers this poses to human health and yet the Europhilies do not seem to have anything to say about it, but mention the word Chlorine and OMG watch out.

    Sow stalls which are Illegal in the UK and yet used by some EU member states it permits for sows to be kept in sow stalls from weaning of the previous litter until the end of the first 4 weeks of pregnancy. (A sow stall is a metal cage – usually with a bare concrete/slatted floor – which is so narrow that the sow cannot turn around, and she can only stand up and lie down with difficulty.)

    Farrowing Crates
    Shortly before she is due to give birth (referred to as ‘farrowing’), a sow is typically moved to a farrowing crate. This is similar to a sow stall except that there is space to the side for the piglets. Bars keep the sow out of the piglets’ lying area to prevent crushing. Like sow stalls, farrowing crates also severely restrict the sow’s movement and frustrate her strong motivation to build a nest before giving birth. They prevent the sow from being able to get away from her piglets, for example if they bite her teats. It is common for piglets to have their teeth ground down or clipped, without anaesthetic, to minimise biting injuries.

    And yet despite all this cruel and inhuman treatment we still have europhilles spouting on about the EU standards as being some kind of holy grail.

  • @Peter Martin

    This is exactly what annoys me about those who constantly spout about eu standards in protection for animal and environmental standards and how we must not lose this.
    The EU standards are disgraceful
    They have Industrial Factory farming with wide use of antibiotics, considering how resistant superbugs are becoming to antibiotics and there overuse and the dangers this poses to human health and yet the eu champions do not seem to have anything to say about it, but mention the word Chlorine and OMG watch out.

    Sow stalls which are Illegal in the UK and yet used by some EU member states it permits for sows to be kept in sow stalls from weaning of the previous litter until the end of the first 4 weeks of pregnancy. (A sow stall is a metal cage – usually with a bare concrete/slatted floor – which is so narrow that the sow cannot turn around, and she can only stand up and lie down with difficulty.)

    Farrowing Crates
    Shortly before she is due to give birth (referred to as ‘farrowing’), a sow is typically moved to a farrowing crate. This is similar to a sow stall except that there is space to the side for the piglets. Bars keep the sow out of the piglets’ lying area to prevent crushing. Like sow stalls, farrowing crates also severely restrict the sow’s movement and frustrate her strong motivation to build a nest before giving birth. They prevent the sow from being able to get away from her piglets, for example if they bite her teats. It is common for piglets to have their teeth ground down or clipped, without anaesthetic, to minimise biting injuries.

    And yet despite all this cruel and inhumane treatment we still have people spouting on about the EU standards as being some kind of holy grail.

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