U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the incoming U.S. administration of Donald Trump wants to complete a trade deal “fast” as Britain prepares to leave the European Union.
Meetings with the president-elect’s advisers and congressional leaders in the U.S. on Sunday and Monday showed enthusiasm for an agreement, Johnson told lawmakers in the House of Commons in London on Tuesday.
“There was a huge fund of goodwill for the United Kingdom on Capitol Hill, a large measure of understanding that now is the time to do a free-trade deal,” Johnson said, hours after his return from a whirlwind visit to New York and Washington. “They want to do it fast and that understanding was most vivid on behalf of the incoming administration.”
The U.K. is seeking to build new ties ahead of its exit from the EU and Prime Minister Theresa May and Trump plan to meet early this year. Johnson’s report of the enthusiasm for a trade deal marks a contrast with the stance of outgoing President Barack Obama, who said during the Brexit referendum campaign that Britain would be “at the back of the queue” for such an accord if it voted to leave the bloc.
“We hear that we’re first in line to do a great free-trade deal with the U.S.,” Johnson said in a video statement released before his appearance in Parliament. “It’s going to be a very, very exciting year for both our countries.”
Johnson held talks with Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and the president-elect’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, before meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan and a trio of senators—Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Ben Cardin of Maryland—according to the foreign secretary’s office.
“My enthusiasm is nothing compared to the enthusiasm of our friends on the other side of the Atlantic,” Johnson told lawmakers. “We will get a good deal, but it’s got to be a good deal for the U.K. as well.”
Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the U.K. will “take a front seat,” the BBC reported. It will be the U.S. priority to “make sure that we deal with them on a trade agreement initially but in all respects in a way that demonstrates the long-term friendship that we’ve had for so long,” the broadcaster quoted him as saying.
Johnson said he also discussed relations with Russia during his talks in the U.S. and told lawmakers that it is “pretty clear” that the hacking of Democratic Party computers was carried out by the Russians.
“The point we’ve made to the incoming administration—and indeed on Capitol Hill—is that we do think that the Russian state, the Putin Kremlin, is up to all sorts of very dirty tricks such as cyber warfare,” Johnson said. “But it would be folly for us to further demonize Russia or push Russia into a corner.”
Russia’s Embassy in London accused the U.K. of preparing “an official anti-Russian witch hunt.” In a statement published on its website Tuesday, the embassy said the U.K. was widely expected to brief the incoming Trump administration “against Russia.”
‘Height of Insanity’
Johnson also told lawmakers of his conviction that the U.K. would secure a good post-Brexit trade deal with the rump EU, saying “it would be the height of insanity” to imperil investments in both Germany and Britain that underpin hundreds of thousands of jobs.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded Monday that the U.K. adhere to EU rules on freedom of movement if it wants to stay in the bloc’s single market. Johnson said Tuesday, though, that he’s “completely” in agreement with fellow Conservative lawmaker Julian Brazier, who argued that “we shouldn’t have to make deals on immigration and free movement in order to secure a good trade agreement with our allies and friends in Europe.”