Rishi Sunak blames pandemic and Ukraine war for not striking US trade deal

8 June 2023, 13:37 | Updated: 8 June 2023, 14:15

Mr Sunak has denied breaking a promise to sign a US trade deal
Mr Sunak has denied breaking a promise to sign a US trade deal. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

Rishi Sunak has denied breaking a promise to strike a trade deal with the US, claiming the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have got in the way.

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The Prime Minister is in the US to speak to Joe Biden about economic security and artificial intelligence, but a long-promised trade deal is not in the offing.

Asked about a pledge in the 2019 Conservative manifesto to agree a trade deal with the US within three years of being re-elected, Mr Sunak said the pandemic and Russia's invasion had changed the picture.

Speaking ahead of his meeting with President Biden, Mr Sunak told reporters: "I think you have to look at the macro economic situation.

"It's evolved since then and it's important the economic partnerships evolved to deal with the opportunities and threats of today.

"If you look at what's happening now, we face more threats of our economic security. So it's important that actually the UK and the US are talking about how do we strengthen our resilience, working together, improve the strength of our supply chains."

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Mr Sunak attended a baseball game on Wednesday evening
Mr Sunak attended a baseball game on Wednesday evening as part of his trip. Picture: Alamy

Told that the lack of trade deal still amounted to a "broken promise", he added: "He said: "Since then we've had a pandemic. We've had a war in Ukraine and that has changed the macro economic situation.

"The right response to that is ensure that we're focusing our engagement economically on the things that will make the most difference to the British people."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Conservatives not agreeing a trade deal was a "failure".

Sir Keir said: "In 2019, the Conservative Party had in their manifesto that they'd have a trade agreement with the US by 2022. So, it's clear they've failed on that promise amongst many other promises.

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Sir Keir Starmer criticised the Tories for failing to secure a trade deal
Sir Keir Starmer criticised the Tories for failing to secure a trade deal. Picture: Getty

"But that's not the only failure. They've got no strategy, they've got no way of taking the country forward, and what we need is an industrial strategy, a plan for growth.

"This is what Labour is working on, which is how we take our country forward. So, you've got a Government at the moment that is not only failing on its promises but is also sort of sitting it out."

Mr Sunak, who has announced that the UK will host the first global AI summit, said the UK was "well-placed" to take a leadership role in its regulation.

He said: "I think that UK is well-placed to take a leadership role in shaping the conversation about how we regulate AI so that we can enjoy its benefits, which clearly there are many, but do so in a way that protects our countries and citizens, and make sure it is used safely and securely.

Mr Sunak is meeting President Biden on Thursday
Mr Sunak is meeting President Biden on Thursday. Picture: Alamy

"The UK is research-based, (has the) companies - everything points to us.

"Our ability to move quickly, to put regulation in place, is really important in an industry and technology that itself is changing very rapidly.

"I'll be discussing that with President Biden today. I'm delighted the US is supporting our summit. I've also spoken to the companies involved about this when I convened them in Downing Street a few weeks ago.

"I think they're also keen to support the UK in helping to develop what needs to be a global architecture for regulation ultimately."

During his trip, Mr Sunak has also spoken to members of Congress and local businesspeople, visited a local school - and even attended a baseball match, although he is said to have declined the traditional invitation to throw the first pitch.

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