Biden downplays hopes for US trade deal and refuses to deny UK is 'back of the queue'

22 September 2021, 12:38 | Updated: 22 September 2021, 14:26

Prime Minister Boris Johnson met US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House
Prime Minister Boris Johnson met US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House. Picture: Alamy Live News

By Daisy Stephens

US President Joe Biden has played down hopes of a trade deal between the UK and the US, and did not deny a claim that the post-Brexit UK was at the "back of the queue" for an agreement.

The comment was made by former US President Barack Obama in the run up to the EU Referendum in 2016.

Mr Biden missed his opportunity to deny the remark when asked about it at a press briefing in the White House on Wednesday, answering simply with: "We're going to talk about trade a little bit today and we're going to have to work that through."

Read more: Biden pledges extra $11bn for poorer countries to tackle climate crisis

Read more: Foreign Secretary to confront Russia and China over future of Afghanistan

He later said a US-UK trade deal was "continuing to be discussed", but failed to muster the enthusiasm that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had, having previously said "great progress" had been made in talks.

However even the Prime Minister has since had to admit a major downgrading of his ambitions for the trade deal, conceding on Wednesday that he is only currently looking to make "incremental steps" towards an agreement.

Ministers are also considering whether to join an existing pact with the US, Mexico and Canada to boost transatlantic trade, in a major departure from their prior ambitions.

However, Mr Johnson welcomed news that a ban on British lamb imports in the US would be lifted, telling reporters outside the US Capitol building: "What we're going to get from the United States now is a lifting of the decades-old ban, totally unjustified, discriminating on British farmers and British lamb.

He added: "It's about time too."

Mr Biden, who is proud of his Irish roots, raised concerns about the situation involving Northern Ireland.

The UK is seeking to renegotiate the terms of the Brexit deal with the EU.

The protocol means Northern Ireland is effectively in the EU's single market for goods, to avoid a hard border with Ireland, which creates a trade barrier for products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain.

Read more: PM hails 'great progress' in UK-US trade deal as he meets with Joe Biden

Read more: Martin Lewis' stark warning on 'outrageous' gas price rise

The President issued a fresh warning for the UK not to damage the peace process in Northern Ireland as a result of the UK's departure from the EU, saying he felt "very strongly" about the issues there.

"I would not at all like to see - nor, I might add, would many of my Republican colleagues like to see - a change in the Irish accords, the end result having a closed border in Ireland," he said.

Mr Johnson said "that's absolutely right", adding: "On that point, Joe, we're completely at one, nobody wants to see anything that interrupts or unbalances the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement."

Back in the UK, Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner grilled Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab on Mr Johnson's failure to make progress on a trade deal.

"Can I begin by offering my commiserations to the Prime Minister after he flew away to the US and made absolutely zero progress on the trade deal that he promised us," said Ms Rayner, opening a back and forth between her and Mr Raab that would cover Universal Credit, gas prices and comments made by the Justice Secretary calling British workers the "worst idlers in the world".

The Deputy Prime Minister in response: "Can I just say to the right honourable lady, for a start, I think it's excellent news that because of the engagement we've had with the US they have immediately given us the boost to trade and businesses by reinstating travel from the UK to the US."