Boris Johnson Says U.S. Trade Deal Won’t Be Forged Quickly

Alex Morales and Kitty Donaldson
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Corbyn Plan to Become U.K.’s Caretaker Prime Minister Falls Flat

(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson, the favorite to succeed Theresa May as U.K. prime minister, said a trade deal won’t be reached with the U.S. soon after Brexit, predicting discussions will be “tough” and “robust.”

“A deal with the U.S. is not going to be done in a trice,” Johnson said late Wednesday at a Tory hustings event in London. “It’s not going to be something that adds several percentage points to U.K. GDP, but it will substantially boost our GDP over time,” he said, adding: “it’s not something that’s going to be done instantly.”

Johnson’s latest comments seek to manage expectations on what can be achieved early in his premiership, if, as widely predicted, he beats Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to the Conservative Party leadership next week. A U.S. trade deal was held up by Brexit campaigners -- including Johnson -- as one of the great prizes of leaving the European Union, and the Times reported earlier this week that Johnson would seek a limited agreement with the world’s biggest economy soon after Brexit.

“The U.S. are very tough negotiators, and we will also have to be very tough,” Johnson said. They will “make some very robust demands, and we’ve got to be prepared to be very robust in exchange, and we certainly will be.”

Brexit Deal ‘Dead’

Johnson also said the Withdrawal Agreement that May struck with the EU is “dead” and “needs to be junked.” Hunt told the same audience that he’ll leave “no stoned unturned” to get a new Brexit deal with the EU, but that the backstop -- a fallback position to guarantee the border with Ireland remains open -- “has to go.”

In what’s likely to be her last set-piece speech as premier, May on Wednesday warned against the “absolutism” and failure to compromise that meant her Brexit deal was unable to win the support of Parliament. “When opinions have become polarized and driven by ideology it becomes incredibly hard for compromise to become a rallying point,” she said.

May’s successor will be announced next week, and the new prime minister will face the same Parliamentary math that saw her Brexit deal rejected three times in the House of Commons. Both candidates have said they’ll seek a new deal -- something the EU has indicated won’t be available.

In a sign of the difficulties the new premier will face, the government faces a showdown in Parliament on Thursday, with the House of Commons set to vote on a measure intended to stop May’s successor from suspending Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit. The provision was added to a bill on governance in Northern Ireland by the House of Lords on Wednesday.

It sets specific times when Parliament must be sitting to receive reports on progress made toward restoring the power-sharing government of Northern Ireland. As a result it will be difficult for Parliament to be suspended, or “prorogued,” as the process is known. The Lords amendment built on a change to the bill that earlier scraped through the House of Commons by a single vote -- suggesting it will be tight again Thursday.

Hunt has said he wouldn’t suspend Parliament, though Johnson has failed to rule it out. He added to speculation that he might take that course of action in the hustings on Wednesday by refusing to comment on the timing of a new legislative program to be laid out in a Queen’s Speech. Traditionally a fresh legislative session is started by such a speech, with Parliament suspended a fortnight in advance.

Hunt, for his part said if he lost, it would be “a huge honor” to serve in Johnson’s cabinet.

Johnson also:

Suggested he sees signs of the Parliamentary math changing, saying he thinks “MPs are now psychologically ready to get this thing over the line.”Told ITV he envisages a “standstill period” of zero tariffs and zero quotas with the EU after Brexit. It would end “in the next couple of years” and “well before the next election.”Said if the EU won’t give the U.K., such a standstill period, “O.K. fine, we’ll have to live with it.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net;Kitty Donaldson in London at kdonaldson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Robert Jameson

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