Report: U.S. Officials Frustrated with Lack of Progress on UK Trade Deal

US President Donald Trump and US First Lady Melania Trump travel along the mall in their motorcade after leaving Buckingham Palace to travel to Westminster Abbey in central London on June 3, 2019, on the first day of the US president and First Lady's three-day State Visit to the UK. …
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. officials have become frustrated with the lack of progress on a free trade agreement with the UK, according to leaked documents seen by The Telegraph.

The documents detail two years of meetings and reveal that a communication breakdown and lack of coordination between the British government’s own departments had led to agencies working “at cross purposes”.

Significantly, the leak revealed that Whitehall had issued an ‘amber-red alert’, signalling that trade discussions were “falling behind schedule”. The newspaper suggests the change in Brexit schedules may have compounded the instability.

One email from a British official, from late 2018, noted that the Trump administration had begun sending “less senior” officials in negotiations. Another document noted the shift in perception of the seriousness the UK was taking a future FTA came in July last year, when the UK failed to get the “right people in the room”.

This observation was backed up on one Whitehall source who told The Telegraph that a lack of expert trade officials in British negotiating teams is a “chronic problem”.

The leaks echo observations made in June by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who expressed concern that the Tory government’s international trade department had not given an indication that they had done “any serious work… at all” and noted “how much work America has done, and how little we’ve done”. Mr Farage has said he would form his own trade delegation to work with U.S. officials, to make progress where the government has failed.

The Telegraph said that the documents show the U.S. trying to pull the UK out of the EU’s sphere of influence, with British negotiators saying that the Americans were “paint[ing] the EU Commission as the bad guys”.

Tory MP and former Brexit minister David Jones said that the American animosity to the European Commission was understandable, telling the newspaper: “…the EU has operated as a cartel. It is protectionist, it is an exclusive economy.”

Britain’s Department for International Trade rejected the assessments made in the leaked documents, saying: “We are well prepared for trade negotiations with our biggest trading partner. To suggest otherwise is completely and demonstrably false.”

The leaks come less than a week after leaked diplomatic cables from 2017 revealed British ambassador to the U.S. Sir Kim Darroch had called President Donald J Trump “insecure” and his administration “inept”. Sir Kim has since resigned.

President Trump has backed the British decision to leave the EU since the historic vote, and has said on a number of occasions that he wanted a strong, mutually-beneficial FTA with the UK; however, U.S. officials have warned that remaining in close regulatory alignment with the EU could put a U.S.-UK FTA at risk.

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